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suddenly you were gone, from all the lives you left your mark upon

 

Rush

 

Nerds of the world, unite!

Okay, okay, just joking.

Seriously, though, Rush is pretty badly pigeonholed into the genre of "second generation prog-rock". Bunched in with the likes of Kansas and Styx. Really, though, Rush weren't a prog band for very long -- I'd say from Caress of Steel to Hemispheres, a stretch of only four albums. They were a synthpop band for about the same amount of time! (Signals to Hold Your Fire)

Anyway, I'd say Rush's weakest link is Neil Peart's lyrics. Half the time they're listenable (or ignorable), but the other half they're atrocious, featuring either Ayn Rand delusions or clumsy social commentary.

Warning: Rush were my first favorite band, so nostalgia or something like that may cause the ratings to be a little high.

lineup: Geddy Lee (shrieking and screaming, kickass bass, new age keyboards); Alex Lifeson (kickass guitar); Neil Peart (kickass drums and crappy lyrics); with drummer John Rutsey on the first album.

review index: Rush / Fly By Night / Caress of Steel / 2112 / All the World's a Stage / A Farewell to Kings / Hemispheres / Permanent Waves / Moving Pictures / Exit: Stage Left / Signals / Grace Under Pressure / Power Windows / Hold Your Fire / A Show of Hands / Presto / Roll the Bones / Counterparts / Test for Echo / Different Stages / Vapor Trails

solos & sides:

Geddy Lee: My Favorite Headache
Victor: Victor

missing albums: amazingly, none

apex: Moving Pictures
nadir: Roll the Bones or Hold Your Fire (your choice)
overlooked: Caress of Steel


...reader comments...

Kevin (Cygnus2112@aol.com) writes:

I read you're whole review page of Rush's career. In conclusion, you are a moron. Obviously there are some aspects of Rush you can't comprehend. I suggest you give up trying to understand why Rush's early albums are absolutely amazing, and go listen to Poison or something. You have no right to even listen to music,

Cole Responds:

Thank you for writing, Kevin. I appreciate your comments, and obviously the brilliantly complex sociopolitical commentary of Rush's masterwork 2112 is quite beyond me, as is their heartfelt concern for their fellow man on Counterparts. Not to mention their opus "Cygnus X-1", a sci-fi tale that Isaac Asimov himself could never have topped. You're right that I should quit trying to understand the highbrow artistry of their albums. I'd agree with you that I don't have any right to listen to music, but then I'd have to stop doing this page! And how would I get more enlightening letters like yours?

Oh, by the way, that should be "your" in your first sentence, not "you're". Make sure you get it right for that doctoral thesis!

Dan Morgan (vsigns@rochester.rr.com) writes:

Surfing the web I came upon your Rush review.  Its laughable.  Neil Peart's lyrics are understood best by people who think at a higher level than the every day norm,  not on the beavis and butthead level that most kids and young adults today understand.  You most likely could get more out of a song with lyrics that mean nothing.  From your review,  I would say nothing is what you will understand best.

Cole Responds:

Is a Beavis and Butt-head reference really a propos, Dan? I mean, it's not 1992 anymore. I can't really imagine "people who think at a higher level" are the ones that take Peart's lyrics to heart. More like pretentious, gawky, pseudo-intellectual teenagers who want to appear deep and cultured. And to be honest, I prefer a song with meaningless lyrics if it has a good melody and is well-performed, especially when compared with "deep", "introspective" mush like Hold Your Fire.

Keith (AlphaSQ1@wmconnect.com) can connect words to make sentences coherently!:

Just recently I read your unabridged review of the "Rush" catalog.  Some of it I agree with; some I don't (isn't that always the case with life).  There's a certain inconsistency in your review system that I can't really be qualified.  After reading your review of "Vapor Trails" it seems nonsensical that you would rate "Different Stages" several marks higher.  I don't own "Vapor Trails"....one headphone trial in a record store and it was no-go.  However I do own "Different Stages" and it's pretty much the same formula.  As one friend of mine one quoted "it sounds like polished grunge music".  That's a fair approximation.  "Different Stages" is outright hideous.  The only obvious reason is that the band has run it's course.   Maybe they should consider retirement.  The instruments are obviously tuned down several pitches to compensate for Geddy's inability to throw the high pitches and the guitars are so muddy you can't really tell if Alex is soloing or it's just feedback.  All in all a great band though just not what they used to be.  I think you were a little harsh on "Hold Your Fire" they were in effect complying with the market.  Ever since they were signed by Atlantic Records they've sort of fallen from grace.


Rush - 1974

Rating: **1/2
Best songs: Finding My Way, Working Man, Here Again
Worst songs: Before and After, Take a Friend, What You're Doing

 

On their first album, Rush (with some guy named John Rutsey on drums) penned two instant classics -- "Finding My Way" and "Working Man". Why don't we just leave it at that?

Anything else good on this album? Depends on your point of view, probably. My favorite of the rest is "Here Again", a long (though a bit too long) bluesy piece. The only problem is Lifeson never really cuts loose on the solo section. "In the Mood" is also pretty good, even though Blue Oyster Cult ripped off that cowbell track.

And the rest... uh... Well, I'm hard-pressed to find anything I like in "Take a Friend" or "What You're Doing". And "Before and After" starts out with a nice little guitar intro, but then runs out of interesting parts when it gets to the actual song.

Well, I never said I liked all of Rush's albums!


Fly By Night - 1975

Rating: ***
Best songs: Fly By Night, Anthem, In the End
Worst songs: By-Tor and the Snow Dog, Rivendell

 

Better. Neil Peart enters here, but his lyrical influence hasn't poisoned the whole album. He is partially responsible for the two worst songs on the album, however: "By-Tor and the Snow Dog" is a silly, "mythological" story with very little going for it. It starts off okay, but then devolves into pointless jamming, and ends with some silly "start-stop" riffing. The other miss is "Rivendell", which sounds more suited to a Jon Anderson solo album than a Rush album.

But hey! There's more good songs this time! "Fly By Night" is about the catchiest song 70's Rush ever wrote, "Anthem" is a butt-kicking hard rock number, and "In the End" is a cool sort-of ballad. There's also the acoustic-driven "Making Memories" and the uptempo "Beneath, Between & Behind". Better!


Caress of Steel - 1975

Rating: ****
Best songs: Bastille Day, Lakeside Park
Worst songs: none, really

 

Hello, prog-rock!

Well, you won't figure that out until the fourth song. The first three are conventional-length rock songs -- one about the French revolution, one about baldness, and one about a place in Ontario. I'm serious. They're all good. Can we move on?

Good. Next we have "The Necromancer", a medieval fantasy that's a sort-of sequel to "By-Tor and the Snow Dog". The difference? This doesn't suck. The first part is probably my favorite -- it's slow and moody, with some backwards guitar courtesy Alex Lifeson. And the "battle" part in this song is an interesting jam, rather than the bunch of weird noises and silly "start/stop" playing that made up the middle of "By-Tor".

Finally, we come upon the side-long epic, "The Fountain of Lamneth". Like Rush's other side-long suites, it's more a collection of several different songs strung together than one continuous composition. That doesn't make it any worse, however -- just think of it as a six-song long concept album, and it's pretty easy to swallow. "In the Valley" starts with a pretty melody with surprisingly soft vocals by Mr. Lee, then goes into a "majestic" section. "Didacts and Narpets" contains one of the few drum solos that I actually find interesting. "No One at the Bridge" is my favorite part of this suite, with its desperate atmosphere. And it's one of the few times when you'll hear Geddy Lee playing his bass so slowly and quietly!

Sadly, the second half of "Lamneth" isn't as good as the first. "Panacea" is a dull love ballad, "Bacchus Plateau" is a decent (though unexceptional) riff-rocker, and "The Fountain" is mainly a reprise of "In the Valley". It was a good effort, though, and is pretty underrated by most Rush fans.


2112 - 1976

Rating: ***1/2
Best songs: 2112:Overture, A Passage to Bangkok, Tears
Worst songs: 2112:Discovery, Something for Nothing

 

Oh no, not the "fan favorite"!

Okay, okay, I'll do it anyway. Rush went and did another side-long epic, this time based on some Ayn Rand BS. The beginning and end kick all sorts of butt, but the middle is a little...ehh. Part three ("Discovery"), in particular, is awfully thin in the interesting music department. Whose brilliant idea was it to record two minutes of Alex Lifeson tuning his guitar? The actual 'song' part isn't much better, either. And "Soliloquy" doesn't really excite me, other than the fact that the thing's about to end!

Oh, and to avoid all sorts of hate mail from a certain Rush fan: "Presentation" is cool. I like the fast part in particular. Happy, Mr. K?

As for those other songs, they're generally good. "A Passage to Bangkok" is a rockin' riff-fest, though it's played a whole lot better on Exit: Stage Left. "Tears" is a pretty ballad (look, Geddy Lee doesn't scream all the time!) In fact, the only really crappy song is "Something for Nothing", another of Peart's little rants set to a rather generic melody.

Overall, this seems something of a step down from their previous album. Luckily, Rush would only dwell on derivative art-rock for two albums more. Let's move on!


All the World's a Stage - 1976

Rating: ***
Best songs: Anthem, Bastille Day
Worst songs: By-Tor and the Snow Dog, Something for Nothing

 

I hate reviewing live albums like this one. It's just a selection of songs from the last four albums. Nothing new, nothing special. A second boring version of "By-Tor and the Snow Dog". A drum solo. A truncated version of "2112" -- hey, maybe this isn't all bad! Oh well, at least "Anthem" still rocks out.


A Farewell to Kings - 1977

Rating: ***
Best songs: Xanadu, A Farewell to Kings, Closer to the Heart
Worst songs: Cyngus X-1

 

Is this overrated or underrated? I can never tell. "Xanadu" rocks. "Cygnus X-1" sucks (what's the worst part: the affected vocals at the beginning, the "By-Tor"-esque stop/start part, or the screaming at the end?). The rest ranges from good ("A Farewell to Kings"), to okay ("Closer to the Heart"), to gone-before-you-notice-it's-there ("Madrigal"). And I'm a fan of the usually-overlooked "Cinderella Man" -- check out that funky middle part!

Can you tell I'm sick of reviewing the early Rush albums?


Hemispheres - 1978

Rating: ***1/2
Best songs: La Villa Strangiato, Hemispheres:Prelude, Circumstances, The Trees
Worst songs: none, really, but the rest of Hemispheres is rather dull

 

Great, another side-long suite. A lot of people, even Rush detractors, peg this as one of their best early-period albums, but I'm not a big fan of it. It starts off with some cool 2112-ish riffing in "Prelude", but the rest is a little...ehh. The shopping-list lyrics don't help out, either. "I bring love, I bring peace, I bring eggs, I bring milk, I bring bread and I bring steak..." (And Peart: shame on you for rhyming 'night', 'flight', 'fight' and 'light' in four lines!) It's not bad in the way that some parts of "2112" were, but it doesn't give me the urge to pull the album out very often.

But hey, the other side is awesome! There's two kickin' songs, "Circumstances" -- check my Police page for a rant about French lyrics and pretentiousness -- and "The Trees". Then there's "La Villa Strangiato", probably the best instrumental Rush has ever recorded. It blends folk, rock, classical, and Warner Brothers incidental music into an incredible 10-minute tour de force. Plus, let me reiterate: it's instrumental! No Geddy Lee shrieking! So yes, side 2 is a whole lot better than side uno.

This album is notable because Rush begins to pull itself out of its art-rock rut. Thank goodness for that. Find out what they do with Permenant Waves next time!


Permanent Waves - 1980

Rating: ****1/2
Best songs: The Spirit of Radio, Jacob's Ladder, Freewill
Worst songs: none, really

 

Rock on! Rush finally gets its act together and produces an undeniable classic. It kicks off with the guitar/synth blast of "The Spirit of Radio", which has become one of their all-time best. "Freewill" is another FM radio staple, and though it's really nice and catchy, Neil Peart's lyrics all but ruin it for me.

Okay, so Rush didn't expunge art-rock from its repetoire totally, but instead they compressed the sprawl of the past few albums and turned out two great prog-ish songs, "Jacob's Ladder" and "Natural Science". The former has a stormy vibe, and modifies the bassline from "Mars: The Bringer of War" as performed by King Crimson. The latter is another of those tricky multi-part things, but all three sections are actually GOOD for once!

And what of those oft-overlooked songs on the second half? Well, "Entre Nous" is a cool little pop-rocker with a somewhat unmemorable chorus, and "Different Strings" is a nice ballad with probably the last set of lyrics written by Geddy Lee until his solo album.

Look, for once Rush makes an album with no crappy songs on it! Huzzah!


Moving Pictures - 1981

Rating: ****1/2
Best songs: Limelight, Tom Sawyer, etc.
Worst songs: none

 

WARNING! WARNING! INCOMING CLICHÉ!

Lightning strikes twice with Rush's Moving Pictures. They create a second (and, unfortunately, final) masterpiece with no filler. And of these seven songs, only two venture past the five-minute mark. Apparently someone finally explained the virtues of concise songwriting to the boys.

The synths are more prominent than they were in the preceding album (who isn't familiar with "Tom Sawyer"'s opening synth burp?), but are well-balanced by Alex's guitar playing -- in fact, this record contains some of his most inspired moments. See, for example, the absolutely thrilling guitar solo in "Limelight", or the cool use of hammer-ons just before the synths enter in "YYZ", or the tasteful harmonics in "Red Barchetta".

And as for the actual songs, well, "Limelight" and "Tom Sawyer" are deserved of their reputation as radio classics, "YYZ" is a rather odd little instrumental based on morse code, "Vital Signs" proficiently switches between synth-pop and pseduo-reggae, and the rest...well, just listen for yourself.

Complaints? Well, just two minor ones: "Red Barchetta" has more of Peart's dumb sci-fi lyrics (and why do 'aircars' need to use a bridge?), and "The Camera Eye" drags in the beginning, but when it gets to the actual song -- look out!

Good work, guys! Too bad your other albums suck.

No, no, just kidding. Except for Roll the Bones.


Exit: Stage Left - 1981

Rating: ****
Best songs: Xanadu, The Spirit of Radio, etc. etc.
Worst songs: YYZ (because of the drum solo)

 

As you may have noticed, I'm not a big fan of reviewing live albums. Rarely is a live album released that contains new, obscure, or otherwise unreleased material on it. And I'm not too jazzed up about hearing alternate performances of songs, unless if the live performance is a whole lot better than the studio version was. That's not usually the case.

So, is anything notable about this particular album? Well, 90% of the material is from the preceding four albums, and they generally choose good songs from the rather hit-or-miss A Farewell to Kings and Hemispheres albums ("La Villa Strangiato" and "Xanadu" are on here; "Hemispheres" and "Cygnus X-1" are not). In fact, I would be hard-pressed to find anything on here that sucks. Sure, "Freewill" still annoys me, but everyone else likes it, so I won't hold it against them.

Also notable is that Rush, known for playing quite strict arrangements of their songs live, actually dare to be a little different on a few songs, adding a choir to "Closer to the Heart" and an acoustic guitar intro to "The Trees" called "Broon's Bane". And Peart's boring drum solo is stuck in the middle of "YYZ", requiring the use of the fast-forward button.

What else is there to say? Nothing. Bye!


Signals - 1982

Rating: ****
Best songs: Subdivisions, Analog Kid, New World Man
Worst songs: Losing It, Countdown

 

Mediocrity has not yet set in. The album in question contains three undeniable classics -- the suburban alienation tale "Subdivisions", "New World Man", Rush's only top 40 hit in the US, and "Analog Kid", with its beautiful chorus part. (I love that synth choir!) The rest of the album also contains some good material -- "Chemistry", with Rush's only band-written set of lyrics, and "The Weapon", featuring a pulsing synth line.

Speaking of synths, they're getting more prominent in the mix. However, Alex isn't drowned out yet -- his presence is certainly felt in "Subdivisions" and "Analog Kid". It's not until the next album when he starts to get trampled by Geddy's keyboards.

The album kind of grinds to a halt near the end, unfortunately. "Losing It" is an attempt at some sort of requiem for people who have passed their prime (no comment!), but the annoying electric violin kind of sabotages that mood, and "Countdown" is a rather generic tale about a space shuttle launch. Ah well, the other stuff is still good.


Grace Under Pressure - 1984

Rating: ***
Best songs: Afterimage, Distant Early Warning, Red Sector A
Worst songs: The Body Electric, Red Lenses, Kid Gloves

 

Okay, this time around Rush starts to falter. The first three songs are incredible -- "Distant Early Warning" and "Red Sector A" are dark tales of the future, the first about nuclear warfare, the second about a prison camp. And "Afterimage" is my favorite from the album, the band's requiem for a friend that passed away.

After this, unfortunately, the material wears thin. "The Enemy Within" isn't bad, with its frenetic bassline, but the next three songs all really suck. "The Body Electric" has an incredibly grating binary chorus, and I can't really think of any good points to "Kid Gloves" or "Red Lenses". And the final song, "Between the Wheels", annoying synth chords and all, is an okay ending to the album.

All in all, this is probably Rush's most inconsistent album since, heck, Rush. But the good songs are really good, so it's still worth having.


Power Windows - 1985

Rating: ***
Best songs: Mystic Rhythms, The Big Money, Marathon
Worst songs: Grand Designs, Territories, Emotion Detector

 

Not much better or worse than the previous album. One main fault: the production is really harsh. There's very little warmth to the keyboards, bass, guitar, anything.

Also, it's notable that, on this album, Neil Peart's lyrical focus begins to shift to new-age self-help guru stuff. This is most obvious in "Marathon" (an otherwise good song): "you can do a lot in a lifetime / if you don't burn out too fast / you can make the most of the distance / first you need endurance / first you've got to last". Now let's all join hands and find our peaceful spots.

This would be a problem if the songs sucked. For the most part, they don't. First there's "The Big Money", the most (musically) upbeat Rush song since, oh, "Limelight" or so. Other highlights include the oft-overlooked "Middletown Dreams", and "Mystic Rhythms", which is a lot better than the title might imply. In fact, I'd say that's the best song on here.

There are, however, a few duffers: "Grand Designs" doesn't really accomplish much, aside from the weird synthesizer bits in the chorus. And I can't remember anything about "Territories" or "Emotion Detector" once they finish. Well, so much for this being a step up. And, though the music on "Manhattan Project" is good, I find the lyrics rather trite.

All in all, a mixed bag. I can't think of anything funny to say, so I'll just end the review right


Hold Your Fire - 1987

Rating: **
Best songs: Force Ten, Time Stand Still, Open Secrets
Worst songs: Mission, Second Nature, Prime Mover, Tai Shan

 

You know, there's probably a reason why I didn't ever bother picking this up. Maybe it's because most reviewers give it in the vicinity of a "2". Anyway, this one is the culmination of the buildup from previous albums: the album is filled with keyboards. I'm surprised they didn't just give the production credit to Geddy Lee, because Alex Lifeson's guitar is relegated to tinny muted plinkings here and there. And it's not just keyboards that rule this album -- Geddy's playing some damn complicated bass parts on here too (see "Turn the Page" for the best example of this). Luckily, Peart's drumming manages to remain mostly acoustic, and even the electronic stuff remains relatively tasteful: witness the sampled jackhammer percussion in "Force Ten", which is used to excellent effect.

Anyway, this album starts out very strongly: the opener "Force Ten" is an awesome uptempo tune, and "Time Stand Still" (featuring Aimee Mann -- no, really) is excellent as well. And compared to most of the rest of this album, "Open Secrets" is quite a nice little tune.

Unfortunately, from there the album starts going downhill. "Second Nature" is a cheesy ballad with self-help lyrics, and several songs ("Mission", "Prime Mover", "Tai Shan") fail to accomplish anything at all. I mean, I think "Second Nature" and "Tai Shan" use the exact same melody!

So why the incredibly high rating of two stars? Well, the rest isn't all bad -- "Turn the Page" at least has that neat bassline, and I'm a big fan of cheesy 80's keyboard sounds, so "Lock and Key" does it for me. Still, I wouldn't say it's any worse than Roll the Bones.


A Show of Hands - 1988

Rating: ***
Best songs: The Big Money, Distant Early Warning, Mystic Rhythms
Worst songs: The Rhythm Method, Mission, Turn the Page

 

They're torturing me with all these live albums!!!

What can I say about this one? The common complaint is it's full of keyboards, but considering the last three albums were also full of keyboards, I think it's excusable. The track choice, however, isn't very excusable. I don't think we needed another version of "Closer to the Heart", nor did I request Peart's Boring Drum Solo Mark 3. Four songs from Hold Your Fire is excessive, too. I would have rather heard "Afterimage" or "Middletown Dreams". And only one track from Signals?! What were they thinking?

Oh, I think "The Big Money" sounds a whole lot better on here. I like the corny synth horns. That's all for now!


Presto - 1989

Rating: **1/2
Best songs: Show Don't Tell, Chain Lightning, Available Light
Worst songs: Hand Over Fist, Presto, Anagram (For Mongo)

 

Better? Worse? The same? It's all over the place. I can tell you this: the production is a lot better. Alex's guitar is back in the mix, and the keyboards aren't as omnipresent as they were on the previous few albums.

The album starts off great, with the butt-kicking rock tunes "Show Don't Tell" and "Chain Lightning", and continues with the desperate vibe of "The Pass". Then? Crap. All right, "Scars" is okay, with the slap bass and the 'scars of pleasure, scars of pain!' refrain, but the rest makes me go "bleah". I mean, 'if I could wave my magic wand / I'd make everything all right'?! The hell?

Side two is about the same. There's the upbeat but sarcastic "Superconductor" and atmospheric "Available Light", but sandwiched in there are a couple of tedious adult pop songs. Nice try, guys. Maybe you'll get it right next time.

Cute album cover, though! Bunnies!


Roll the Bones - 1991

Rating: **
Best songs: Dreamline, Bravado, Face Up
Worst songs: Roll the Bones, Where's My Thing?, Ghost of a Chance, Neurotica

 

When will they learn? They can start an album off great, but they just can't keep it up. Case in point: The album starts off with the kickass (do I use that phrase too much?) "Dreamline", continues strongly with the ballad "Bravado", then smashes into a figurative tractor-trailer. "Roll the Bones" -- what can I say about this? The preachy lyrics? The stupid 'rap' in the middle? Or should I just shake my head sadly and ask 'why'? And that's not the only bad song on here, no -- there's also a pointless instrumental and more dull adult pop.

"Face Up" is good, though. And yes, I like "The Big Wheel". So there!


Counterparts - 1993

Rating: ***1/2
Best songs: Animate, Stick It Out, Cold Fire
Worst songs: The Speed of Love

 

Rush finally turns the dial back to "rock" with Counterparts. The keyboards are pushed to the back of the mix for the most part, Alex's guitar is nice and full, and Geddy pulls his jazz bass back out, giving his basslines the raw tone they deserve. (I know Geddy sounds like Geddy no matter what he's playing, but those Wals he was playing really didn't suit him -- check out his limp tone on A Show of Hands and you'll agree) And the radical change in production is a great boon: the opening trio of "Animate", "Stick it Out" and "Cut to the Chase" is their most energetic material since, I dunno, Permanent Waves or so!

In fact, there's very little in the way of bad material here. There are a couple of crappy songs in the middle, "Between Sun and Moon" and "The Speed of Love", and a couple other tunes are lacking, such as "Alien Shore" and "Nobody's Hero" (mainly failing in the lyrics department), but man, the rest is great!

And "Double Agent" -- yes, the lyrics to that aren't very good either, but I think that Neil wasn't really being serious with this one. I don't think even Neil would risk penning 'rested and fearless, cheered by your nearness' without it being in jest.

Add your own ending comment here: _______________________________________________________

Postscript (7.24.02): After seeing them in concert, I have to say that "Between Sun & Moon" rules! The album's still not better than 3 1/2 though.


Test for Echo - 1996

Rating: ***
Best songs: Driven, Resist, Time and Motion, Test for Echo
Worst songs: Dog Years, Totem, Limbo

 

Continues in the same vein, though the songwriting is a little more spotty this time. "Driven" is a standout, effortlessly switching between amped-up and acoustic sections, and "Time and Motion" gets points for its neat odd-time signature riff (the actual song is good too). As much as I malign Neil Peart's lyrics, I have to say that 'days connect like boxcars in a train / fill them up with precious cargo' is a great turn of a phrase. Also on here is "Resist", a cool ballad with Oscar Wilde-inspired lyrics, and some other great rockers, including the title track and "Half the World".

And the crappy songs are another boring instrumental and some songs where the music doesn't make up for the bad lyrics. But that's par for the course for Russ H.


Different Stages - 1998

Rating: ****
Best songs: whatever
Worst songs: uh-huh

 

The only Rush live album you'll ever need, unless you're a really big fan.


Vapor Trails - 2002

Rating: ***
Best songs: Ghost Rider, Earthshine, One Little Victory
Worst songs: Freeze...I really can't pick the others

 

It's been a whoppin' six years since the last Rush album, and a crapload of stuff has changed since then. There was that Radiohead album, for example. More importantly, however, is that the dominant rock-based form of popular music has shifted towards the incredibly lame style known as nu-metal. Rush has always been a band not afraid to follow the crowd: from the mid-70s prog to early-80s new wave to mid-80s synthpop to late-80s adult pop to early-90s grunge. They've assimilated all these styles into their own style of playing a crapload of notes in each song. And now, as I said... it's nu-metal. No, Geddy's not growling, shouting, or rapping (though he is rather shrill from time to time), but the production values have been squashed (quite literally -- this album is compressed to hell) and Alex's guitar tone is increasingly muddy and indistinct. My dear friend Nick says these songs were meant for the stage and he's completely right; there are absolutely no dynamics to be found on this album. There's maybe about 10 seconds of material that isn't played at full-bore volume. Of course, kickin' ass is the primary function of a rock and roll concert, and that's what these songs do live (probably why my chosen tracks are three of the four played when I saw 'em).

On the other hand, I can say that Geddy's bass playing still kicks ass, and Alex does come up with some pretty good riffs (see: "Ghost Rider", for both of 'em). The main problems are just the production, and the length!!! 67 minutes?!?!? ARE YOU TRYING TO KILL ME?!??!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!??!?!?!?!?!??!?!?!?!?!?!

Sorry. As I was saying, this is too long. Albums used to be 45 minutes for good reason, other than the limitations of vinyl. Plus too many of the songs feature both parts that are good and parts that are boring. Plus "Freeze" is the worst successor to a trilogy since "The Phantom Menace". Oh well. They've been doing this for 631 years, they can't all be gems. Were this any other band, I'd probably give it 2 1/2 stars, but my sentimentality for Rush allows me to fudge the ratings a bit.


Postscript: Solo Albums and Side Projects


Geddy Lee, My Favorite Headache - 2000

Rating: ***1/2
Best songs: My Favorite Headache, Slipping, Still, The Present Tense
Worst songs: Moving to Bohemia, Home on the Strange, The Angel's Share

 

After 26 years in Rush, Geddy Lee finally makes a solo album. The style is somewhere in the middle of a triangle composed of late-period Rush, Primus, and modern rock. This odd mix is best exemplified in the opener "My Favorite Headache", which shifts between Primus-esque verses and much calmer middle parts. The next couple songs are more in the vein of "mainstream" rock, "The Present Tense" in particular having a great riff.

The album, however, sags a bit in the middle, with the dreary "The Angel's Share" and a couple of cheesy rockers, "Home on the Strange" and Moving to Bohemia". C'mon, 'he sings ba ba ba ba ba'?! Even Neil didn't write anything that awful. Luckily, it ends on a much higher note, with the gentle "Slipping" and "Still" (the latter featuring some of Geddy's best singing ever) and the closer "Grace to Grace". All in all, an excellent effort from the bassist, singer, keyboard player, guitarist, and percussionist extraordinaire.


Victor, Victor - 1996

Rating: **1/2
Best songs: Don't Care, Promise, Strip and Go Naked, At the End
Worst songs: Shut Up Shuttin' Up, Victor, I Am the Spirit, Sending Out a Warning

 

Alex Lifeson solo record. One would expect guitar wankery, but one is wrong.

Album starts out with good hard rock stuff. "Start Today" is sung by woman with hilariously-similar-to-Geddy-Lee vocals. "At the End" is spoken word & sets neat mood.

Second half of album takes quality-control nosedive: "Sending Out a Warning" and "I Am the Spirit" are dull thudfests, and "Shut Up Shuttin' Up" and "Victor" feature irritating spoken-word stuff. Alex redeems himself with cool-as-heck instrumental "Strip and Go Naked", but most of side two bores.

Album is decent, but not necessary unless one is big Rush fan.


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