Review Summary: Goddesses of Light, of Sea and Sky and LandIt 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 predictability 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...
Thus begins the story of Clockwork Angels
, Rush's 20th studio album and possible magnum opus. The first track, "Caravan" begins with the ringing of bells, which soon erupts into a monstrous riff courtesy of Alex Lifeson. The journey has begun.
"In a world lit only by fire / Long train of flares under piercing stars / I stand watching the steamliners roll by
Yes, our nameless hero, who "can't stop thinking big," begins his journey here, praying to get away from his boring life, to seek bigger and better things. But, as the saying goes, "be careful what you wish for." Our hero doth not know of what awaits him in this vast and mysterious land....
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." None of it seemed right to me...
In "BU2B," our hero, perhaps for the first time, begins to question his beliefs, the beliefs imposed upon him by the omnipotent Watchmaker. He was brought up to believe that whatever fate awaits him is what he deserved, that the universe has a plan, and it is not his to understand. Ah, yes. A classic tale of rebellion begins to unfold. Rush, again, delivers the story in the form of a pounding prog-metal masterpiece.
The place I had most wanted to see - Chronos Square, at the heart of Crown City. I had seen many images of the city before, but nothing could convey its immensity - the heaven-reaching towers of the Cathedral of the Timekeepers, or the radiant glory of the Angels - Land, Sea, Sky, and Light - bathed in the brilliant glow of the floating globes.
Here stand the Clockwork Angels, the goddesses of Light, of Sea and Sky and Land, here to aid the Watchmaker in imposing order upon the world.
“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”
It is the mission of the Clockwork Angels to foster ignorance, to control the populace. As our hero has learned, blind faith is the status quo. In questioning the beliefs imposed upon him, he is making himself into an outcast. The song reaches its climax four minutes in, when Lifeson breaks into an amazing solo. A strange, bass-driven banjo breakdown follows; yet another truly astounding song.
A foggy woodland road, a crowded village square, the busy streets of Crown City - a wandering pedlar travels the land, uterring the ageless call. "What do you lack?"
Walking among the people - who are so content, so blind - the Anarchist hears the pedlar's call, and sneers derisively. "What do I lack? Ah . . . vengeance?"
The story cuts to the tale of The Anarchist. This is a man who, like our hero, is questioning, and furthermore, rebelling against the strict set of beliefs set upon him by the Watchmaker. The Anarchist realizes what he lacks... vengeance. It is his mission to take his revenge on the Watchmaker, for keeping the people of the world in the dark for so long. This is, again, a truly fantastic song - Geddy Lee delivers one of his most memorable basslines in a long, long while, and Lifeson's main riff in the song is easily one of the highlights of the entire album. Yes, Clockwork Angels
is not only a lyrical masterpiece - it also a musical one. But should we expect any less from Rush, a band with no less than three classic albums to their name? I think not.
I found work with a traveling carnival, and for the Midsummer Festival in Crown City, our games and rides were set up right in the middle of the Square, beneath the Angels. One night, amid the noise and confusion of the crowded midway, I saw a man working with wires and wooden barrels. He stood and turned - the Anarchist! - holding a clockwork detonator in his hand. I called out to warn the crowd, then suddenly he threw the device at me, and I caught it automatically - just as the people turned to look my way. I escaped, but in disgrace, and fled down the Winding Pinion River to the sea.
The nameless hero, finding work with a carnival, again runs into the Anarchist. The Anarchist reveals himself as a man who hold similar beliefs to our hero, but has much darker intentions. His wish is to instill terror into the world that shaped him, the world that lives in the shadow of the Watchmaker. The throwing of the clockwork detonator frames our hero as the true villain in this scene. Now known as a terrorist, our hero must flee. "Carnies" is another great song, although sonically it is not very different to the songs before it. Lerxst lays down another phat riff, and, of course, the Professor is still at his best.
I had fallen helplessly in love with one of the performers. She was no different from "the girl I left behind," and I was beginning to understand I had only pretended she was right for me. I pursued my beautiful acrobat obsessively until she let me be with her - then I suffered her rejection and contempt. Once again, I had created an ideal of the perfect soulmate, and tried to graft it onto her. It didn't fit. Such illusions have colored my whole life.
"Halo Effect" presents the first ballad of Clockwork Angels
, and what a great one it is. The nameless hero finds himself with an attractive performer from the carnival, but realizes that she is not right from him. This is also an overarching metaphor which refers to his life as a whole; it has been "colored by illusions" - the illusions of the Watchmaker. It is easily one of the highlights of Clockwork Angels
- and believe me, given what company it has, that is saying a lot.
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 famous City of Gold: Cibola. Its name had sounded in my dreams since childhood.
"Seven Cities of Gold" is another mini-epic in the vein of "Clockwork Angels" before it, chock full of meaty riffs and prog-rock goodness: our hero feels beckoned to search for the seven cities of gold - why, exactly, is not entirely clear. The lyrics mention "A man can lose himself, in a country like this
;" perhaps our hero set out on this journey to do just that - lose himself. Forget his many problems, forget the malevolent Watchmaker. This also raises interesting questions about the universe of Clockwork Angels
- what, exactly, are alchemy mines? Are they places where the alchemist-priests retrieve the ingredients needed to produce coldfire? What, exactly, is coldfire? These are fascinating questions that simply can't be answered in a sixty minute album - no doubt these will be addressed in the upcoming Clockwork Angels
Narrowly escaping a frozen death in that desert, I made my way back to Poseidon, and found a berth on a homeward ship. Caught in a terrible storm, we seemed to find salvation in an unexpected signal light. Steering toward it, we soon learned it was false - placed by the denizens to lure ships to their doom on the jagged reefs. They plundered the cargos and abandoned the crews and passengers to the icy waves. I was the only survivor
This tale, the subject of the eighth track, "The Wreckers," finds our hero becoming the only survivor of a tragic shipwreck. It strongly recalls Homer's epic poem The Odyssey
- the signal light that lures the sailors to jagged reefs is similar to the Sirens that would drive Odysseus's men to their deaths, if they heard its call. And, as in The Odyssey
, our hero is the only survivor at the end of this (although Odysseus's men would die later on into that story). Musically, "The Wreckers" had me doubtful at first - the opening riff of the song seems very un-Rushlike to my ears, but all is forgiven when the chorus of the song hits; it is easily one of the most emotional and memorable of the band's career. "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 / To everything in life you thought you knew.
Thinking back over my life, and telling stories about my "great adventures" - they didn't always feel that grand at the time. But on balance, I wouldn't change anything. In the words of one of our great alchemists, Friedrich Gruber, "I wish I could do it all again."
"Headlong Flight" is yet another seven minute epic, and it is easily one of the finest songs on Clockwork Angels
. Here, the hero, done with his journeys, reflects on the events of life, wishing he could "live it all again."
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 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."
These words are self-explanatory. "BU2B2" acts as little more than a brief reprise of the themes of "BU2B," but it works as an effective segue into the album's penultimate track, "Wish Them Well."
Victimized, bereaved, and disappointed, seemingly at every turn, I still resist feeling defeated, or cynical. I have come to believe that anger and grudges are burning embers in the heart not worth carrying through life. The best response to those who wound me is to get away from them - and wish them well.
Indeed, "All that you can do is wish them well
." That is exactly what the hero does on this track - unlike the Anarchist, who vowed revenge on those who wronged him, our hero knows the virtues of a peaceful resolution. He does not hold grudges against those who brought him up to believe; instead, he walks away from them. On the musical side of things, "Wish Them Well" is unfortunately one of the weaker songs on the album, although it is still quite good. Maybe it's because Rush sound a little less inspired when they go soft and mid-tempo, but such is how it is. Fortunately, though, the final track of Clockwork Angels
follows, and it closes out the story in a beautiful manner.
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." I have now arrived at that point in my own story. There is a metaphorical garden in the acts and attitudes of a person's life, and the treasures of that garden are love and respect. I have come to realize that the gathering of love and respect - from others and for myself - has been the real quest of my life. "Now we must tend our garden."
No more words are necessary.