Another one of the albums in my Top Ten for 2012 is Rush’s Clockwork Angels.
Stories like “Xanadu” and “Cygnus X-1” were what first enthralled me. So it is a dream come true to have a full-blown concept album from Rush after all these years. And with an accompanying novel, no less.
“Though Rush has often embraced huge themes and stories, sometimes over several albums, this is the first time the band has attempted a full concept. The story, nearly sixty-seven minutes long, follows the journey of a young man finding his own voice in a society ruled by indeterminate god-like fates (the Watchmaker and the Clockwork Angels), a rule-based conformity but peopled by a number of eccentric persons and subcultures,” writes Brad Birzer.
The story seems to be ever ancient (obviously it’s an epic remake of Red Barchetta, and Subdivisions, and [insert your favorite Rush song here]), yet ever new: “a very Calvinistic set of gods attempt to control all through mechanized precision, while alchemy, rather than science, has progressed. The album is divided into twelve songs, each represented by an alchemic symbol positioned at each hour of a twelve-hour clock.” (Brad Birzer on the story)
Brad also notes:
What is especially fascinating is that Rush—in music and lyrics—has with Clockwork Angels created an all-embracing mythos, referencing their own works and music going back to the band’s very first album. There are hints, some overt and some not, from albums across the past four decades, and the protagonist must—as with Aeneas and a number of other classical heroes—experience, survive, and outwit the gods.
In Clockwork Angels, though, the hero realizes one very vital thing: the divine will always control time. The gods might not control our individual fates—despite what the priests and politician tells us—but, in the end, Chronos devours all. But, within that given time in the world, man can do many things, and he can even dream and pursue the highest of all things.
In other words, Neil Peart continues to inspire. As Brad has noted elsewhere, “Neil was the big brother who introduced us to the literature our teachers seemed to have misplaced: classical myth, Voltaire, Coleridge, Twain, Dos Passos, Hemingway, Rand, Tolkien, Eliot, and others.”
Brad’s tribute to Rush there hits the target:
In the late 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s many of us lovingly thought of ourselves as the younger brothers of Peart. He was the genius kid with integrity, who always walked through the halls with two hilarious, equally smart (if not overtly intellectual) and infinitely loyal friends. One of his friends had parents who had survived the Holocaust camps of the Nazis. The other friend had folks who had escaped the prison camps of the Communists. Now, the three were free to express themselves in any way they so decided on this side of the Atlantic.
These three confidently confronted the world as a perfect trio, unbreakable and ever mutually re-enforcing and inspiring.
We looked up to all three as those who could understand our failures and successes, our desires and our alienation, our rejection of conformist culture and our drive to better ourselves.
Going where I want, instead of where I should
I peer out at the passing shadows
Carried through the night into the city
Where a young man has a chance of making good
A chance to break from the past
The caravan thunders onward
Stars winking through the canvas hood
On my way at last