Toronto prog-rock veterans Rush have finally written their Tommy.
Or so singer-bassist Geddy Lee agrees when the comparison to The Who's rock opera is offered up about Rush's first official concept disc - and 20th studio album - Clockwork Angels, in stores Tuesday (June 12), followed by fall shows in Canada.
"You know, so many of our albums were really concept albums, we just didn't say it out loud," said Lee, 58, while seated in his manager's offices in Toronto recently.
"This is more overt. We're admitting to it ... I think (Tommy's) a good reference to me because what I love about Tommy is you pull songs off Tommy and they stand on their own ... They're rock songs that are not necessarily dependent on the other rock songs on that album to be good and to be valid and that was something I was after with this album."
Clockwork Angels, which features drummer Neil Peart's lyrics about a protagonist in a fictional steam-punk sci-fi world (that will also be turned into a novel by Kevin J. Anderson for release later this year), was recorded mostly at the new Revolution Studios in Toronto with co-producer Nick Raskulinecz, who worked on Rush's last studio album - 2007's Snakes & Arrows.
But two new songs, Caravan and BU2B, were recorded years earlier in Blackbird Studio in Nashville when the group wanted to have some new material for the 2010-11 Time Machine tour.
"I kind of felt weird about doing a tour without new songs," said Lee, who says rehearsals for the Clockwork Angels shows - which he predicts will run three hours long - start in July.
"Everybody was up for the challenge and Nick, our producer, of course, says yes to everything. 'Yes, let's do it! Yes, let's go! Yes, let's be spontaneous!' He's just effusive and unsinkable."
Spontaneity - and improvisation - turned out to be two key words when it came to Clockwork Angels which is really saying something when it comes to the collective perfectionists that are Rush, rounded out by guitarist Alex Lifeson.
"We're still structure fiends really," said Lee with a smile. "What we discovered about ourselves on the last tour was that we allowed a few moments in the show that were unscripted. And we just let it fly. And there were some moment that we achieved during those sections that were really exciting as players and we learned from that."
The one major sad note on the Clockwork Angels cycle was the loss of longtime Rush photographer Andrew McNaughtan who died of a heart attack at the age of 47 just days after shooting the band's new album portraits in L.A.
"He shot us on the Monday and I guessed he passed away on Wednesday morning," said Lee, quietly. "It was a big, huge shock. I've known him since he was 15 so he was a lifelong buddy of mine, really. The last 35 years I've known him. It was a terrible blow to lose him. I just miss him and it just feels wrong that he's not here. I just can't believe he's gone frankly. It just doesn't make sense."
RUSH CANADIAN TOUR DATES
26-Sep-12, Winnipeg, MB, MTS Centre
28-Sep-12, Saskatoon, SK, Credit Union Centre
30-Sep-12, Edmonton, AB, Rexall Place
14-Oct-12 and 16-Oct-12, Toronto, ON, Air Canada Centre
18-Oct-12, Montreal, QC, Bell Centre