The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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August 17, 2012

New album brings Rush closer to the heart

JOPLIN, Mo. — Ever since I heard the first chords of “Headlong Flight” on the radio, I’ve been excited for Rush’s newest album.

Almost five years in the making, reviews for “Clockwork Angels” have been glowing -- or at least as glowing as reviews for a prog-rock band can be, anyway. See, that’s a big deal, because reviewers have NEVER liked Rush. But even Rolling Stone, which has never taken much of a shine to the trio, gave this album a favorable review.

Ever since it pushed Adele to No. 3 on the Billboard charts, “Clockwork Angels” has been earning some high praise. It’s well deserved, but I’m amazed that the critics love it.

This album has everything that popular music critics hate: long song lengths, intelligent, poetic lyrics, instrumental proficiency -- heck, the thing is a concept album. Yet the reviews are good, and sales are better.

I’ve been listening to the album almost nonstop. Every song is strong -- even the 8-minute ones. The lyrics are some of the most evocative in lyricist and drummer Neil Peart’s history, and the melodies combine just the right amount of prog-rock wankery with soaring chord structures.

Though vocalist and bassist Geddy Lee can’t hit the same high notes he used to, he still has an incredible, unique voice and sings masterfully. Alex Lifeson’s ability to go from solid chords to intricate melodies is still awe-inspiring.

It’s easily their strongest album since the critically acclaimed “Moving Pictures,” which featured legendary songs “Tom Sawyer,” “Red Barchetta,” “Limelight” and the instrumental “YYZ.”

I don’t know if it’s my favorite Rush album ever -- I’m pretty attached to “Power Windows.” But I’ve listened to this album more than any other the band has released since 1993’s “Counterparts.” And it has me geeked out about Rush again.

Though I’ve always been a big fan of the band, I never could get into their most recent albums. “Presto” and “Roll the Bones” sounded mundane compared to the band’s usual style; “Test for Echo,” “Vapor Trails” and “Snakes and Arrows” never got enough of my attention for me to even buy the albums. And I don’t need any of the retrospective compilations they’ve released over the last few years.

It feels good to be excited about Rush again. I had no idea what made “Clockwork Angels,” the band’s 20th album, so unique until I found a story about the album on The Sun. Instead of charting and crafting intricate orchestrations, the band played off the cuff for a lot of the sessions.

Lee told The Sun that during the most recent tour, band members were channeling their inner Dave Matthews and improvising more on stage.

“That great feeling of not quite knowing where you were going or how you were going to get out of it,” Lee said in an interview with The Sun. “It was really exciting. We were really pushing ourselves. Later we said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have those moments on record, too?’”

So Peart, long known for his almost OCD-like composition, just played. All of them did. Instead of sticking to a score, they improvised, experimented and jammed.

And man, what a result. The title track is a beautifully syncopated song with a soaring chorus and bluesy jam. “The Wreckers” starts out like an upbeat jam, then becomes a brilliantly orchestrated ballad. “Halo Effect” is over too quickly, and “Headlong Flight” deserves every bit of airplay it’s getting.

I’ll be listening to this album for a while.

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