Rush have enjoyed quite the late-career resurgence, ever since reconvening in 2002 after a personal double-tragedy struck drummer Neil Peart and put a huge question mark over the band's future. Perhaps improbably, their popularity has reached new heights these past few years, thanks in part to a well-received documentary (2010's Beyond the Lighted Stage) as well as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's continued shunning of the band, which seems to have only gotten more people talking about them with each passing year. While they remain a tremendous and popular live act, Rush should be commended most for continuing to surge forward with new albums every several years, when they could have easily resorted to being a "legacy act" that just tours with their old songs every now and again.
Clockwork Angels has been a long time in the making (its first two songs were released in 2010, long before the rest of the album would be written and recorded) and it's notably their first "concept" album in a quite a long time, as every song contributes a piece of one overarching story. Musically, the band is in top form as usual; they (along with co-producer Nick Raskulinecz) continue to push and challenge each other, and the results are sometimes staggering. Where the album comes up short has to do mainly with vocalist Geddy Lee who, while continuing to prove his superiority as a bassist, often struggles to find any discernible melody from singing Peart's often wordy and ambitious lyrics. While some entries do provide some subtle pop flavor ("Caravan," "The Wreckers"), too many find the scale tipped so much in favor of the music that you find yourself almost ignoring the vocals and lyrics (oddly enough, this is the first Rush album in a long time not to include an instrumental). Contrast this with their late '70s to early '90s output, which provided loads of memorable songs that coupled hummable lyrics & melodies with an ever-changing and often-challenging musical backdrop. Fortunately, there's enough strong material here to overshadow any shortcomings, and by quite a big margin in the long run.