My name is Michael and I'm a Rush fan. Phew. While that admission would usually result in one being ridden out of town on a rail, in recent years rock's holy triumvirate have (whisper it), gotten kinda cool. First came the hip TV appearance on The Colbert Report, then the excellent documentary, Beyond The Lighted Stage, followed by the movie, I Love You, Man, and rave reviews for their most recent live tour.
Emboldened, perhaps, by this unexpected acceptance, Rush has decided to turn their 20th studio offering, Clockwork Angels, into a - no sniggering at the back- concept album.
Of course, the band has previous here. Both 2112 (1976) and Hemispheres (1978) boasted tracks that filled a complete side; while Fountains of Lamneth on Caress of Steel lasts longer than the average Labour Party Conference. This is the first time, however, that the trio has maintained a concept - one young man's quest for order amidst chaos (or something) – over the course of an entire album.
If those earlier works were partly influenced by drummer/lyricist Neil Peart's then interest in all things Ayn Rand, Clockwork Angels owes a debt to Voltaire, Conrad and Du Maurier. We're talking about a Steampunk world of alchemists and anarchists, carnies and cut-throats, where watchmakers scheme, pedlars offer gnomic advice and cities of gold remain just beyond reach.
The album opens with Caravan and BU2B, muscular tracks that will be familiar to fans from the band’s recent Time Machine tour. The trio really hit their straps, however, on the multi-layered title track, where Lifeson's swirling work on the Gibson Telecaster is punctuated by Peart's pounding percussion and Lee's plaintive vocals.
Elsewhere, Seven Cities of Gold finds Geddy slappin’ da bass like a good ‘un; while the powerful single (only Rush would release a single with a running time of 7 minutes, 20 seconds) Headlong Flight recalls Bastille Day with its strident drum sequences and soaring guitar riffs, during which Lifeson utilises his trusty Dunlop cry-baby wah pedal.
For the stately finale that is The Garden (think Candide), the boys go all orchestral, adding lush strings and pianos to the mix. I don't smoke, but when Alex started to pluck that acoustic twelve-string, I rushed out to buy a lighter just so I could hold it aloft.
With Rush this bulletproof, don't be surprised to see them dust off their silk kimonos and double-necked guitars in time for the next tour. In the meantime, would someone please induct these guys into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?