For any Rush fans who have been living under a rock for a while (hey, I get it, work and life in general tends to get in the way!) the Canadian progressive rock legends will be releasing a new album on June 12th and embarking on yet another tour starting right here in New Hampshire on the 7th of September. It’s clear that these guys are no slouches when it comes to hard work! Once you start working your way into your late fifties, touring is bound to be a lot more difficult than it was in 1981. As someone who has eased into his early fifties, I can tell you that it’s significantly easier to get hurt and takes longer to heal so the only thing I have left to say on that subject is rock on, fellow geezers!
In a recent interview, front man and unofficial band spokesman Geddy Lee sat down to talk about the group’s new album and subsequent tour. After noticing that one of the topics of conversation was supposed to be about “steampunk,” I became a little more excited about reading the interview. As a Rush fan of many years, I should probably not admit this, but I don’t have any idea what steampunk is! I guess I’ve been too lazy to look it up and I had hoped this interview would help explain it. Not so much.
So, in order to put this to rest once and for all, I decided to look it up. I knew it had something to do with the design elements that have been incorporated into the group’s equipment and such, but I finally reached the point where I want an explanation of this!
OK, a quick visit to the all-knowing Wikipedia has me up to speed on this whole steampunk thing. I’m fairly sure I got it, but in case you have been as negligent as I was regarding your understanding of it, check it out here since I really don’t think I’m up explaining it any better than Wikipedia did, and they even have pictures!
Now that we’ve got that out of the way and hopefully minimized the impact of my ignorance somewhat, let’s consider what Geddy Lee had to say about the new album, Clockwork Angels.
Perhaps the most important thing to understand about Clockwork Angels is that it is another concept album, or as they are framing it these days, “a narrative.” Don’t ask me what the difference is because I don’t know, but I have a feeling it’s roughly akin to the difference between album and record. You get the point. Whether or not I do is subject to scrutiny, I suppose.
What’s different about this new concept album (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!) is that the group worked hard to ensure that each individual track could stand on its own outside the context of the album in its entirety. This is something that resulted in some occasional frustration on the part of drummer/lyricist Neil Peart which seems understandable given the insistence that each individual song have the ability to be pulled off the album and listened to while still making sense.
Being someone who obviously has a deep love for writing, this may have been a bit of a challenge for Peart since he has authored a few books and is probably more accustomed to having the chapters flow together nicely and not worrying about crafting each one into a story that would hold up outside the confines of the entire book. I have not heard the album but for the two songs they released early, but if I’m going to give anyone the benefit of the doubt, it would be Neil Peart. After all, he’s got a reputation to uphold! Look up sarcasm if you missed my point on that one!
Another interesting new element to this album is improvisation. Rush fans – if they’re anything like me – have great respect for the group’s ability to stay true to their own music. Whether it’s a live show or a TV appearance, when Rush performs one of their songs, what you get is usually exactly what you expect to get. As Lee himself points out, “…we are very much creatures of structure.” He then adds that it may have been something that hindered their records. I’m not so sure, but the new album should help put that argument to bed.
Rush may throw a little improvisation into the mix from time to time but it isn’t all that much compared to how a lot of other bands cut loose when performing live. I never had a problem with that, in fact I always kind of preferred it. I suppose it might be more of a “How the hell are they going to improve on that?” kind of thing for me.
Anyway, it seems they may have broken their own rules a bit with Clockwork Angels and have revealed that they allowed some improvisation to make its way into the creation of the album. They allowed themselves to exercise a little more musical freedom during the writing process and worked themselves into more of a jamming mindset to unleash some of that spontaneity that they feel they have been lacking. It will be fun and interesting to see how this manifests itself when we get a chance to sit down and give the new album a good listen.
Getting back a bit into the whole “steampunk” thing, Lee says they’re sticking with it and going to expand on it. He says that they plan to, “…have fun with that whole kinda machinery and we’re designing rear-screen things and have a fun little movies. Hopefully it can all tie together in some ludicrous way.”
Having viewed my share of Rush DVDs, there’s no question about their willingness to take ludicrous to new levels! There’s no doubt that they are fun-loving guys and although their brand of humor doesn’t always tickle my funny bone, I love their willingness to be silly and poke fun at themselves. And look like they’re having one hell of a good time while they’re at it!
Like the rest of the fans out there, I’m anxious to hear the new album in its entirety. On the other hand, I’d forego listening to the album for a year in exchange for a chance to hang out with those guys for a little while. I don’t say that about every rock star or celebrity, in fact, there are many I’d go out of my way to avoid, but I’m pretty sure an evening hanging with Rush would be intellectually stimulating, educational as hell and just plain fun. A guy can dream, right?