Rush’s ‘Clockwork Angels’ becomes a farewell
Rush released their first true concept album on June 12, 2012 – although at the time they were unaware that it would also be their final workshop scrapbook.
The Canadian trio were certainly no strangers to conceptual greatness before Clockwork Angels, having produced lengthy side sequels such as “2112” and “Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres” on previous albums. And upon the release of their new album, guitarist Alex Lifeson said this writer that “all of our records are thematic – perhaps not as overt as Clockwork Angelsbut all of our records have a connection and fluidity running through them.”
But, he added, “This one is a bit more overt, and there’s a bit more history and I think that gave [drummer and lyricist] Neil [Peart] an opportunity to express yourself on a larger platform.”
Clockwork Angels was the longest record Rush had ever made. According to Peart, the talks began over dinner in December 2009, when he pitched Lifeson and vocalist, bassist, and keyboardist Geddy Lee to the idea of a concept album based on a story he had come up with. friend and science fiction writer Kevin J. Anderson. — the future collaborator of the drummer on a Clockwork Angels series of novels and comics. The theme was “a young man’s quest to follow his dreams” in a world battling against them, and in January 2010 Peart sent a batch of lyric ideas to Toronto for his bandmates to start work with.
“We got the gist of the story, and of course it evolved over a few years,” said Lifeson, who co-founded Rush with Lee in 1968. (Peart replaced original drummer John Rutsey in 1974.) “We understood that it was the story of a journey, and with that singular thought in mind, that’s kind of how we approached the music. We wanted to make it quite cinematic and have the feeling like going to those places and feeling those vibes as the journey continues.”
Rush started recording Clockwork Angels in April 2010 at Blackbird Studios in Nashville, again working with Nick Raskulinecz, who co-produced 2007’s snakes and arrows. The early sessions yielded a pair of songs – “Caravan” and “BU2B” – which Rush posted online and performed on their Time Machine tour which began this summer and ran through 2011, while the sessions for the album resumed in the fall and early winter of that year at the Revolution Recording studio in Toronto.
Watch Rush’s “The Wreckers” Video
“It was very different for us,” Lifeson acknowledged. “Usually when we commit to a record, that’s all we focus on, and we kind of dive into it and…do it all at the same time. So breaking it up like that was something very different. and again for us.
“But it was good because we could live with it. [the songs] for a little while, and we came in with a different vibe and a different attitude every step of the way,” he continued. “It really made writing this record an absolute joy. We were positive throughout the experience. He never got bogged down. It was a lot of work, and I think we all put a lot of effort into making it the best album possible, but at the same time, we were having so much fun.”
Adding to the bonhomie are the string arrangements by David Campbell, who also ran the recordings section. “When we were doing the string sessions for ‘The Garden’, I mean, we were all sniffling and in tears,” Lifeson recalled. “It was so beautiful in there. But it works so well on the record, and it’s so dramatic and uplifting. I’m really glad we did it.” Rush ended up bringing a nine-piece string section on the road for the Clockwork Angels tour, under the direction of Campbell.
The album took Rush’s already huge ambitions up a notch. Lifeson said they were only too happy to do it and weren’t worried about who came along for the ride – especially radio, who had only sporadically embraced the band over the years for songs like “Closer to the Heart”, “Spirit of Radio”, “Tom Sawyer” and “Limelight”. “We never think about radio or if something is commercially accessible,” Lifeson said.
“We’ve never done that, and this album was certainly no exception.” Clockwork Angels‘ first single, “Headlong Flight”, clocked an imposing seven and a half minutes. “Our expectation was [radio] probably wouldn’t play it,” Lifeson said, “and there was pressure to do a radio-edited version that was about five and a half minutes long…and yet there’s a lot of play and draws attention to the album. So we’re getting by without radio, really, although it’s wonderful to have the support if you can get it.”
Listen to “Caravan” by Rush
Clockwork Angels certainly got a lot of fan support. The album debuted at No. 1 in Canada and No. 2 on the Billboard 200, tied for 1993. Counterparts for Rush’s highest entry to date. It also debuted atop Billboard’s Top Rock Albums and Top Hard Rock Albums charts and was named Rock Album of the Year at the 2013 Juno Awards in Canada – just three days after Rush was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Clockwork Angels had an active afterlife once he was released: Clockwork Angels Tour, a $27.2 million road trip document supporting it, was released in November 2013; the Clockwork Angels novel, meanwhile, debuted at No. 18 on The New York Times List of hardcover fiction bestsellers; a film adaptation was mooted but never transpired.
Rush would never return to the studio for another album. The band reunited once again in droves, for the 2015 R40 Live Tour. Peart announced his retirement at the end of that year, citing physical problems from decades of battery wear. The trio remained close friends, however, and Peart’s death from brain cancer on January 7, 2020 ended any hope of a change of heart.
Ranked Rush Albums
We take a look at Rush’s 19 studio albums, from the self-titled muscular release of 1974 to a string of notable late-career triumphs.