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“We wanted something that was bold and stripped down,” says guitarist Alex Lifeson of Rush’s Clockwork Angels. “The goal was to make it real in your face and very much the sound of a three piece – a hard rock record in the classic sense. I’m happy to say that it really did come out the way we anticipated and hoped for.”
Prior to recording the bulk of the album, Lifeson and his Rush mates – bassist-vocalist Geddy Lee and drummer-lyricist Neil Peart – got together with co-producer Nick Raskulinecz (whom they collaborated with for 2007’s Snakes & Arrows) in Nashville and knocked out a smashing pair of teasers, Caravan and BU2B, both of which make the full set in remixed form (the latter song has a previously unheard intro).
After the group wrapped the Time Machine tour last fall, they hunkered down with Raskulinecz in Toronto to wade through the various demos and jams that Lifeson and Lee had been amassing. Several weeks into the sessions, a storyline by Peart emerged, one based in a dystopian steampunk world and fusing sources such as Joseph Conrad, Voltaire and Daphne Du Maurier.
“It is a concept record,” says Lifeson. “We haven’t done something like this in a while. All of our albums are thematic, but this is a little more direct. I think the songs stand on their own, though. I can listen to them independently of the story, but when I hear everything from front to back, it really makes sense to me. So it works on lot of levels.”
Despite its conceptual core, Clockwork Angels never gets weighed down by plot. The songs race by, packing considerable musical jabs and kicks as they go, and they’re aided by a mix that is knock-down heavy but surprisingly airy.
When it came to recording his tracks, Lifeson says that he kept it simple: “I tried to pull myself back from yielding to the temptation of layering so many guitars and things that are kind of inconsequential. It’s really about the basic rockiness of the songs, so it was a lot of double-tracking and beefing things up. No six tracks of guitars, no rhythm guitar and solos – simple little changes that made the sound more impactful.”
Lifeson awards high marks to his bandmates, noting that the process of marrying music to words isn’t always an easy one: “A lot of times, Ged would look at something and say to Neil, ‘I love that line, that phrase. Can we use that as our staring point and kind of rebuild around it?’ That’s a big, big deal. And as always, Neil came through – he never complained.”
Although Rush are revered for their superlative instrumental chops, Lifeson says that he’s most happy with Clockwork Angels for its overall tunefulness. “Let’s face it, the payoff to any song is the chorus,” he says, “and these songs have very strong choruses. If you can create something that’s memorable in terms of melody and ‘singability,’ then you’ve nailed it. And I think we did that – a lot.”
Rush's Clockwork Angels will be released on 12 June. On the following pages, Alex Lifeson walks us through the record track-by-track.