Friday, March 20, 2015

Rush R40 Countdown at No. 12: Did 'The Wreckers' salvage 'Clockwork Angels?'

Notice something about the clock? It's 9:12 p.m. -- or, in military time, 21:12.

Our R40 Countdown continues as we work our way from the least-glorious Rush album until "Moving Pictures." We're smack in the middle now, with some tough choices -- and spanning from the first real Rush album to the most recent!.

No. 12: “Clockwork Angels”
Released 2012

Highlights: “Clockwork Angels,” “The Wreckers,” “Wish Them Well.”

Least-glorious moments: “BU2B”

Cool Neil Peart lyrical moment:

“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
Everything in life that you thought you knew.
All I know is that sometimes you have to be wary
‘Cause sometimes the target is you”
-- The Wreckers

The world can be a dark place when you think your all-time favorite band is like a ballplayer whose skills have eroded yet remains on the field, a shadow of his former self.

I was worried about Rush after the disappointment of “Vapor Trails.”  And “Snakes & Arrows” was an ever bigger disappointment. Other than the pre-released “Far Cry,” I strained to remember anything from the album. None of the songs crept into the subconscious. After a while, I just gave up trying to like it.

So maybe I somehow predetermined that “Clockwork Angels” wasn’t going to be any good, and I’d be buying Rush CDs out of loyalty.

The band released two songs – “Caravan” and “BU2B” – far in advance. “Caravan” was OK, but not a special Rush song. And I didn’t really like “BU2B.”

So when the full “Clockwork” was released, I anxiously gave it a spin. The songs seemed better, but nothing was connecting. And after a week or two, I was starting hitting other playlists on the iPod. I started to think that Rush was never going to be the same.

Then, maybe a month later, I was driving somewhere and a melody and chorus started wafting from the subconscious.

“All I know is that sometimes you have to be wary, of a miracle too good to be true.”

What song is that?

“All I know is that sometimes the truth is contrary, everything in life that you thought you knew.”

I remember that I liked it but had no idea what it was from.

“All I know is that sometimes you have to be wary, ‘cause sometimes the target is you.”

I was totally stumped, but the song kept slipping into the back of my thoughts. Not in a bad, earworm kind of way. But I couldn’t figure out the song or the group.

Then, I’ll never forget the moment. I was driving to work on U.S. 131 and the song started poking out again.

“All I know is that sometimes…”

Then it hit me – that’s Rush! It’s a song from “Clockwork Angels!” I plugged in the iPod and started skipping through the songs until I found the magic chorus of “The Wreckers.”

It was a tremendous relief. My favorite band did not suck.

“The Wreckers” became the key that unlocked the rest of the album. I started getting into the title song, “Wish Them Well,” “Halo Effect” and “Headlong Flight.”
Here's the live version of "The Wreckers." 

Will gets credit for opening the door all the way; pointing out that the album was based on Voltaire’s “Candide.” I had rearranged the order of the songs on my iPod playlist to lead with “The Wreckers” and the others I liked best and missed the story line.

Our protagonist feels like the world is passing him by – “Caravan” finally made sense -- goes off and has adventures, meets some very bad people, decides at some point that what he left behind wasn’t as bad as he first thought and goes home to work in his garden.  

Of course, Neil spells this all out in the CD booklet, with the main character even quoting “Candide,” right there on the page for the final cut, “The 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.’

OK, one of the challenges of iPods is that we no longer study these booklets. We buy the CD, download it into iTunes then see only the cover and song title as we play it. It’s not my fault.

Now I know it’s a strong album. It’s not up there with my all-time Rush favorites yet – though “The Wreckers” will always hold a special place.

But it’s a relief to know that the favorite ballplayer isn’t washed up. He was just in a slump. 

And Will jumps in:

Man, some harsh words for Rush. I guess I'm an old fart. I DO buy CDs still, and I DO look at the liner notes on first listen. Like Dave, most times I need a jump-off point to get into an album fully.
The last time I liked an album from the first note to the last on first listen was "Fear of a Blank Planet" by Porcupine Tree. I highly recommend it.

With Rush, however, I'd come to recognize that their studio albums might not generate much in the way of repeat listens initially. I had to hear the songs live and breathe on stage. As a result, I found some good things on "Vapor Trails" and "Snakes & Arrows" that weren't apparent on first listen. I had no doubt "Clockwork Angels" would work the same way, although it already had a head start in that I really liked "The Garden" on first listen. That's precisely what happened. "The Anarchist" and "Halo Effect" in particular came to life and the rest of the album followed.

Of course, I already talked about that album. So without any further digression ...

No. 12: Fly By Night
Released in 1975

The first real Rush album, as Dave and I noted, and all you need to know that it is is by taking a gander at the eight-minute multi-track song that closes side 1: "By-Tor & the Snow Dog."

I'm so sure that Rush will play at least something off "Fly By Night" that I'm willing to bet Dave's entire Mets collection that it'll happen, and I hope it'll be the title track. It's funny: When I was in high school, I hated "Fly By Night." You know how radio is: A band has only one or two songs worthy of airplay, and Rush's one song was Fly By Night. All the burnouts at my high school loved it; I didn't. I had discovered Hendrix by this time and needed something a little more than a three-chord ode to loving and leaving (I know it's more than that now) to appeal to me. When Moving Pictures came out, that started to open my eyes to Rush, but it was to the shiny, progressive Rush, not the gritty, burnout Rush.

In fall 1981, I went over to Wabash College for the first time for a weekend visit, and I stayed with a guy who had gone to my high school, who I knew from umpiring little-league baseball the previous summer. At one point, we were hanging out in his room, and he put on All the World's a Stage. I knew it was Rush--I knew "Bastille Day" and "Fly By Night" and a few other things--but I didn't like burnout Rush. Then Side 3 came on. The first song, of course, is By-Tor, which I'd never heard. It had some cool hooks in there for the progressive. Then the next song blew me away. It was "In the End."

I'd heard "In the End" before. In junior high, at the talent show, one guy played "In the End" solo. Actually, more accurately, it played him. He struggled with it the first night, walking off stage in frustration, before succeeding the second night. Now, I was hearing it in all of its professional glory, and it was stunning. When I got home, I did two things: I applied to Wabash and I bought "All the World's a Stage," almost solely for "In the End."

OK, so technically, All the World's a Stage was my entryway into burnout Rush, but it was because of songs that originated on Fly By Night that I thought to buy that album. My Rush love was now full-on.

Now, 30 years later, I'd love for Rush to play "Fly By Night." Why? They don't play it live. I've seen Rush every tour since 1990. I've seen them do a portion of "Anthem" a few times, a large chunk of By-Tor once but not even one note of what arguably is their most popular song, at least in terms of radio play. Can you think of any other band where that might be the case? If it were up to me, I'd make "Fly By Night" the final song of the final encore. It would blow the roof off the joint ... and give a tip of the toque to the burnouts who kept the band alive until the effetes like me could jump on the bandwagon.
Here's the countdown so far:
No. 15: Fly by Night (Dave) and Counterparts (Will)

No. 16: Vapor Trails (Both of us)

And speaking of well-loved bands of our youth, very sad today to hear about the passing of Twisted Sister drummer A.J. Pero. Will always remember finally being old enough to see the legendary Twisted at Hammerheads before the band broke through -- and introducing the fellow residents of Mizzou's Cramer Hall to live Twisted concert tapes from WBAB broadcasts.

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