RUSH – Clockwork Angels

Clockwork AngelsClockwork Angels is the 20th studio album (including the EP Feedback) from the best power trio in the world, Rush. It has been five long years since Snakes and Arrows, the band’s last studio album. This is advertised as a concept album, as the band used to do in the old days (one side of Caress of Steel, 2112, A Farewell to Kings and Hemispheres come immediately to mind), with the added bonus that Rush lyricist Neil Peart (and an author in his own right) will collaborate with Kevin J. Anderson on a book based on the album lyrics.
In a quote about the book from KJA:

In a young man’s quest to follow his dreams, he is caught between the grandiose forces of order and chaos. He travels across a lavish and colorful world of steampunk and alchemy, with lost cities, pirates, anarchists, exotic carnivals, and a rigid Watchmaker who imposes precision on every aspect of daily life.

Some of the themes and lyrics remind me of a mature-man’s 2112; instead of a young man fighting against the Priests of Syrinx, he is questioning the “lack of free will” mantra that he was taught growing up. Free will is a consistent Peart theme so there is no surprise that it is included here. The concept of a conflict between order and chaos reflects the logic vs. emotion conflict that was part of the Hemispheres album. The album cover, with the clock and the alchemist’s symbols ( a great discussion here), fits well with the lyrics and the forthcoming novel. The clock symbols look like they correspond with the 12 tracks on the album…coincidence, I think not!
Hazarding guesses at the plot of the novel based on lyrics is tricky. Luckily, the Digital Booklet that comes with the album has an intro paragraph for each tune in the liner notes. Piecing it all together, I would guess it is the story of a man who is either a rebel or is chosen as a champion, brought up in a world where everything is run like clockwork (and everyone expects it to run that way (brought up to believe)). He longs for something bigger, and sets out on some sort of quest. He meets the “Clockwork Angels”, the ones who run the joint, pulling back the curtain like the Wizard of Oz. Once he gets over his “god-worship” based on how he was brought up, he is either indoctrinated as an apprentice, sent out on a quest (Seven Cities of Gold) or enlisted/tricked in a fight against something that threatens to bring down the Clockwork Angels (order vs. chaos!). Along the way, he finds out secrets/background about the Clockwork Angels (All I know is that sometimes, you have to be wary Of a miracle too good to be true). Perhaps he is disillusioned by what he discovers about the workings of the world, and seeks to travel to places where they do not maintain control (The Wreckers). In the end, he looks back on his life (which is now no doubt a story of legend) and through trials and tribulations, wouldn’t change a thing. He passes on, into the Garden (which may just be a many worlds jumping off point, so he can do it all over again).
How’d I do, KJA?
Though the lyrics are sweet, let’s not forget the music. The boys in da band are nearing their late fifties (looks at self) but their musicianship is still individually and collectively superb. I subscribe to the martial arts way of training – practice, practice, practice; a 50 year practitioner is so skillful that age doesn’t come into it. In the same tone, these three Rush martial masters are obviously Sifus of their chosen weapons.
Notes on each track after the break. Hope it is not five more years, gents!
Caravan: Our protagonist, a man ready to escape the “normal” life, who watches the Caravan leave. This song and the next were released long before the album.
Liner Notes:

IT SEEMS LIKE A LIFETIME AGO — which of course it was, all that and more. For a boy, life on the farm was idyllic, but for the young man I became, that very peace and pre- dictability were stifling, unbearable. I had big dreams, and needed a big place to explore them: the whole wide world.

Near our village of Barrel Arbor, the steamliners touched down and traveled on rails along the Winding Pinion River toward Crown City. Watching them pass in the night, how I prayed to get away . . .

Selected Lyrics:

I can’t stop thinking big
I can’t stop thinking big
In a world where I feel so small
I can’t stop thinking big

BU2B: This song describes the culture of the entire society, where they are brought up 2 believe that their lives were run like clockwork, no “free will”. The lyrics introduce the “Watchmaker”, who “loves us all to death.”
Liner notes:

WE WERE ALWAYS TAUGHT that we lived in “the best of all possible worlds.” The Watchmaker ruled from Crown City through the Regulators; the alchemist-priests gave us coldfire for power and light, and everything was well ordered. We accepted our various individual fates as inevitable, for we had also been taught, “Whatever happens to us must be what we deserve, for it could not happen to us if we did not deserve it.”

Selected Lyrics:

I was brought up to believe
The Universe has a plan
We are only human
It’s not ours to understand

All is for the best, believe in what we’re told
Blind men in the market, buying what their sold
Believe in what we’re told, until our final breath
While our loving Watchmaker loves us all to death

Until our final breathe, the joy and pain that we receive
Must be what we deserve
I was brought up to believe

Clockwork Angels: Our protagonist who escapes his normal life on the “Caravan” ends up in the place of power. Still in the grasp of his old beliefs, he is in awe of those who run the world, seeing them for the first time. The lyrics “ignorance is well and truly blessed” certainly set the stage for breaking some rules. I really enjoy the start of this tune, with the angelic chorus in the background, ultimately interrupted by Lifeson’s frantic guitar, sliding into a smooth single note line before adding an equally frantic Geddy bass line.
Liner Notes:

Selected Lyrics:

Lean not upon your own understanding,
Ignorance is well and truly blessed
Trust in perfect love and perfect planning
Everything will turn out for the best

Stars aglow like scattered sparks,
Span the sky in clockwork arcs
Hint at more than we can see
Spiritual Machinery

The Anarchist: Different from the first three songs, this one appears to be from a different perspective, perhaps from the one in control of “chaos” named the Anarchist. Or it could be one who is aware of the control of the Clockwork Angels who wants to bring them down, a rebel in the form of chaos. The starting bass at the beginning of this tune is one of the facets that always sets Rush apart musically from many other bands: the bass is seen as an instrument, not a background piece to try and set some structure (though they certainly use it that way as well).
Liner notes:


“What do you lack?”

Selected Lyrics:

I lack their smiles and their diamonds;I lack their happiness and love
I envy them for all those things, I never got my fair share of
The lenses inside of me that paint the world black
The pools of poison, the scarlet mist, that spill over into rage

The things I’ve always been denied
An early promise that somehow died
A missing part of me that grows around me like a cage

Carnies: why do many travelers and questers in fall in with gypsies and carnies? Simply because (a) these are the best people to convey hidden histories since they past most of their history down verbally, and (b) there is always a way to have a love interest to show character growth! The lyrics show our protagonist finally starting to understand the reality of the control of the world around him. But the Liner Notes talk about the Anarchist, and the last few lyrics talk about “a dangerous device” and a “ticking box”. Perhaps he is being brought over to the side of chaos by being branded one in front of the carnies. Carnies is a great rock and roll song, can’t wait to hear this one in concert.
Liner notes:

Selected Lyrics:

How I prayed just to get away
To carry me anywhere
Sometimes the angels punish us
By answering our prayers

Halo Effect: seeing the curtain drawn back…on what though? When I first listened to these lyrics, before reading the liner notes, my impression was that this was the revelation moment, the event when our protagonist gets to see the Clockwork Angels for the controlling manipulating power class that they really are. Instead, the liner notes talk about the love of a girl, different from the ones he had known back home. This could be a metaphor, but I placed out of Freshman English in college, so I’ll have to leave those comparisons to the smart English majors. As far as the Music goes: this and the Garden are the Lifeson acoustic parts that all the cool kids (looks at Anaelio) have already learned.
Liner Notes:

Selected Lyrics:

What did I know, fool that I was
Though little by little I learned

Seven Cities of Gold: obviously referring to the myth of “Cibola” but whether this is a throw-in song, or is this a myth that has been inserted into the protaganist’s mind by the powers on the “Chaos” side of the conflict. It would certainly lead into the Wreckers, the next song in the cycle. Great line in the lyrics “Canyons and cactus, endless and trackless” describes the country around the Grand Canyon perfectly. Another great opening bass line from Mr. Lee followed by a great signature lick by Lifeson…it’s almost like these guys have played together for a while.
Liner notes:

THE LEGEND HAD PASSED DOWN FOR GENERATIONS. Far across the Western Sea, where the steamliners could not fly, lay a wilderness land hiding seven cities of gold. I dared the crossing on one of the stout ships that followed the trade route to Poseidon, a tough port city. I worked there for a while on the steamliners that served the alchemy mines, then eventually set out into the Redrock Desert. The stones were sculpted into unearthly monuments, and the country grew cold as I traveled north in search of the most famous City of Gold: Cíbola. Its name had sounded in my dreams since childhood.

Selected Lyrics:

That gleam in the distance could be heaven’s gate
A long-awaited treasure at the end of my cruel fate

The Wreckers: Great tune, but somewhat confusing where it fits in the story line. The liner notes convey that it is simply an adventure, but the line in the lyrics about “salvation in a human chain” makes one wonder who these people are: agents of chaos? simple land pirates luring ships to doom? or something more?
Liner Notes

I was the only survivor.

Selected Lyrics

CHORUS: All I know is that sometimes, you have to be wary
Of a miracle too good to be true
All I know is that sometimes, the truth is contrary
Everything in life you thought you knew
All I know is that sometimes, you have to be wary
Of a miracle too good to be true
All I know is that sometimes, the truth is contrary
Sometimes the target is you

Headlong Flight: This appears to be a summation of Peart’s life story/philosophy, and probably that of the lead character in the book. There are not many lyrics, but they fit for this tune. In one of his interviews, Geddy Lee stated that this was going to be an instrumental, but Peart’s lyrics fit so perfectly. The music not as complex as YYZ or La Villa Strangiata, nor does it have as many time signature changes but would have made a good instrumental in that vein sans lyrics. All runners take heed: makes a great power song, with its Lifeson driven signature line.
Liner Notes:

Selected Lyrics:

All the highlights
Of that Headlong flight
Holdin’ on with all my might!

Some days were dark
I wish that I could live it all again
Some nights were bright
I wish that I could live it all again

BU2BU2: the shortest song in the set, put in here to make an even twelve so they could put the clock on the cover (:)) and to show, with a modification of the B2BU lyrics, an older, more jaded/experienced man’s version of what he thinks in laters years about what he was brought up to believe. The line “No philosophy consoles me In a Clockwork universe” tells how many would feel if they felt like choice and free will had no impact on their lives or the universe…or if they are one of the few who determined that they had free will, only to realize that if others go about there lives in ignorance, one man with free will can have little impact.
Liner notes:


The ever-wandering pedlar.

“What do you lack?”

THOSE FATEFUL WORDS, “What do you lack?” spark an inner monologue about all that I have lost. No more boundless optimism, no more faith in greater powers, too much pain, too much grief, and too much disillusion. Despite all that, I realize the great irony that although I now believe only in the exchange of love, even that little faith follows the childhood reflex that “I was brought up to believe.”

Selected Lyrics:

I was brought up to believe

Belief has failed me now
The bright glow of optimism
Abandoned me somehow
Belief has failed me now
Life goes from bad to worse
No philosophy consoles me
In a clockwork universe

Life goes from bad to worse
I still choose to live
Find a measure of love and laughter
And another measure to give
I still choose to live
And give, even while I grieve

Though the balance tilts against me

I was brought up to believe

Wish Them Well: Live and let live.
Liner Notes:

The Garden: Peart pulls the many-world theory out of the hat for the summation song. Yet another appearance by the Watchmaker in these lyrics. As for the Music: break out the synthesizers! On my first few listens through the album, I mistakenly heaped this song onto the Rivendale pile (Rivendale was the song to skip on Caress of Steel; how many scratched LPs out there from picking up the needle and skipping this song). But the more I listened, the more I enjoyed the acoustic feel of the song.
Liner Notes:

LONG AGO I READ A STORY FROM ANOTHER TIMELINE about a character named Candide. He also survived a harrowing series of misadventures and tragedies, then settled on a farm near Constantinople. Listening to a philosophical rant, Candide replied, “That is all very well, but now we must tend our garden.”

“Now we must tend our garden.”


The treasure of a life is a measure of love and respect
The way you live, the gifts that you give
In the fullness of time, it’s the only return you expect

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2 Responses

  1. August 23, 2012

    […] [For additional background, see the review of the Clockwork Angels album by Rush] […]

  2. August 25, 2012

    […] RUSH – Clockwork Angels | Dusk Before the Dawn […]

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