Two tracks, “Caravan” and “Brought Up to Believe,” were introduced during the band’s Time Machine tour and released as digital downloads in 2010 (although you can also get a limited-edition vinyl release of “Caravan”). The album was originally intended for early 2011 release but writing was delayed to make time for an extension of the Time Machine tour. Snakes and Arrows co-producer Nick Raskulinecz is producing the album with Rush, with Rich Chycki engineering. Long-time Rush collaborator Hugh Syme is once again doing the artwork.
The title track is a multi-part piece about a young man’s quest to follow his dreams, according to sci-fi writer Kevin J. Anderson, who’s writing a novelization of the concept for release later this year. The young man is “caught between the grandiose forces of order and chaos. He travels across a lavish and colorful world of steampunk and alchemy, with lost cities, pirates, anarchists, exotic carnivals, and a rigid Watchmaker who imposes precision on every aspect of daily life.”
The sections of the story are identified by ancient runic symbols, which Neil became interested in. The symbols can be seen on the album cover clock face (above), which are arranged at 09:12, which, as some have pointed out, is Neil’s birthday and is also 21:12 in military time. What do the runes mean? Click here.
Clockwork Angels (7:31)
The Anarchist (6:52)
Halo Effect (3:14)
Seven Cities of Gold (6:32)
The Wreckers (5:01)
Headlong Flight (7:20)
Wish Them Well (5:25)
The Garden (6:59)
“We started with a 10-minute song idea that then turned into a concept and it’s feeding off itself,” Alex says. “It’s like that question that Steven Colbert asked us. Are your songs so long that by the end you’re influencing yourself? I think we’re doing that now. We’re like a feedback loop, influencing ourselves now. We’re spending so much time on this concept. It’s been fun, because we haven’t gone down that road in a while. Let’s see if we can pull it off!” The quote is from issue 16 of Classic Rock’s Prog magazine, which was partly tanscribed by Rush is a Band. The article is transcribed in its entirety on Cygnus-X1.
In that same issue, Neil said he wants the album to be his highest achievement as a lyricst and as a drummer. “I feel a certain urgency. I really want to get that record made while I’m still able to. It was hard for me to set the album aside to tour. This really means a lot to me. I intend it to be my highest achievement lyrically and drumming wise, so I really want to get it done while we still can.”
Peart in another interview with Prog Magazine said he started writing the lyrics from scratch rather than drawing on his notebooks of passing ideas (what he calls his “Scrapyard”). Here’s a portion of that interview:
He drew inspiration from authors as diverse and Voltaire and Cormac McCarthy, with Michael Ondaatje and Joseph Conrad channelled on The Anarchist, and Daphne Du Maurier firmly in mind on The Wreckers. Peart also became fascinated by ancient traditions. “Soon I learned about an entire set of runic hieroglyphs for elements and processes. As the lyrical ‘chapters’ came together I chose one symbol to represent each of them:’ These can be seen on the clockface on the sleeve.
Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson originally worked on the music together in a basement studio, sometimes with Lifeson giving Peart two demos of a tune – one with a drum machine illustrating rhythmic ideas, the other a click-track. “Alex had put together one collection of ideas that turned out to be most of the song Clockwork Angels,’ says Peart. “As soon as I heard its rhythmic feel, which was so different for us, my response was ‘I want to play that!'”
Carnies and Headlong Flight were of ‘furious jams’, and there was an ‘immediate spark of connection’ with Seven Cities Of Gold, Alex Lifeson says, “We talked about having a raucous beginning that related to the middle ‘solo’ section, and as the song evolved it took on the appropriate character; entering the city with all the wild, dangerous sensory experience it offers.” Peart asserts that Lifeson’s solo on The Garden was, “A few takes recorded casually and assembled into an improvised performance that remains his personal favourite.” Audiences throughout the Time Machine tour will have already heard the opening tracks, first single Caravan and its B-side BU2B, which were written early in the process. The Wreckers was the result of Lee and Lifeson swapping instruments during writing sessions but, “Once we switched into recording mode,” says Peart, “it was back to the same old us.”
Neil has also said that the drum parts will be more spontaneous, an effect he achieved by having Raskulinecz “conduct” him during the recording sessions.