"Clockwork Angels", the 20th studio album legendary Canadian rockers RUSH, was not only the renowned trio's first new collection of original material in over five years, it was also the band's return to a concept LP, loosely based around the story of a young man's quest to follow his dreams and all of the good, the bad, the magnificent and the horrible that he encounters along the way.
Commenting on how the "Clockwork Angels" concept came together, RUSH drummer Neil Peart told Macleans.ca, "This started as a simple [idea] — the steampunk image and aesthetic I liked, I suggested to the guys as the basis for some kind of extended work. It built up to [the album] piece by piece by organic expansion. All the music was created by Geddy [Lee, bass and vocals] and Alex [Lifeson, guitar] jamming in the studio, and many of the lyrics were just extemporized over email. There's so much life experience in this story — it's not just a far-blown fantasy. [The song] 'Wish Them Well' [offers] a very mature response to the world that it took me a long time to learn. In a lot of our early stuff, my lyrical inspiration was anger, for sure. [laughs] There's still a lot I'm angry about, a lot of human behavior that's appalling and despicable, but you choose what you can fight against. I always thought if I could just put something in words perfectly enough, people would get the idea and it would change things. That's a harmless conceit. With people too, you constantly think, 'If I'm nice to people and treat them well, they'll appreciate it and behave better.' They won't, but it's still not a bad way to live."
One of the highest-charting albums of RUSH's illustrious 38-year career, "Clockwork Angels" deals with concepts of fate, circumstance, and free will, which Neil — as the band's primary lyricist — has been writing about since he joined RUSH in the mid-'70s. Asked what his thoughts are on these issues now, Peart told Macleans.ca, "I remain the optimist: you just do your best and hope for the best. But it's an evolving state of mind. I still totally believe in individual rights and individual responsibility and in choosing to do good. On the liberal side of things, they go to an extreme of how people need to be led, and they can't handle freedom. Pure libertarianism believes that people will be generous and help each other. Well, they won't. I wish it were so, and I live that way. I help panhandlers, but other people are, 'Oh, look at that — why doesn't he get a job?' While I believe in all that freedom, I also believe that no one should suffer needlessly. A realization I had lately: it is impossible to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and be a Republican. It's philosophically absolutely opposed — if they could only think about what they were saying for a minute. That's when you get caught up in the webs of what people call themselves and how they behave. You just become adaptable and try to lead a good life in ways that make sense, regardless. Because I know at the end of it, if I'm going to meet Jesus or Allah or Buddha, I'm going to be all right."