In the beginning, RUSH was like every other band. Geddy, Alex, and their childhood friend & drummer John Rutsey met in school, played dances and church basements, and carved out a niche being a Led Zeppelin wannabe band from Canada. If there's a single characteristic from this album, it's that they are really trying hard to make a Zeppelin album. Geddy's caterwauling is an obvious attempt to sound like Robert Plant (he doesn't), and Alex's riffs are an obvious attempt to sound like Jimmy Page (he almost does). Rutsey is passable on drums, but nothing like Bonham or his own successor.
In spite of the overnight production and pedestrian songwriting, the guitar & bass sound great. Alex's Gibson 355 hollow body is the standout piece, and the hooks just keep coming.
"Finding My Way" is a good opener, and a song they played live for decades. It shows up on a lot of the greatest hits compilations and for good reason. A fun rocker with a great guitar track.
"Need Some Love" is by-the-numbers '70s stoner rock. "In the Mood" is based around a boogie blues riff with a lot of cowbell and pubescent lyrics. Chuck Berry would be proud.
"Take a Friend" and "What You're Doing" are vintage Zeppelin rip-offs ("Good Times, Bad Times" and "Heartbreaker", respectively). In fact, they should have to pay royalties to Page for the riff on "What You're Doing". However, it's become one of their most covered songs because it's simple and has a great solo jam.
"Here Again" and "Before and After" are two of the least known RUSH songs, but I love 'em. They're nice slow-burn rockers-- very spacey with some impressive playing. When I go back to this album, these are the first two songs I listen to.
The album closer is the rock radio staple, "Working Man". It's the one song on the record that sounds the most like RUSH. Legend has it that a DJ in Cleveland put it on for a bathroom break (it's over 7 minutes long), and the switchboards lit up. Apparently a song about working hard all day and coming home for a nice cold beer appealed to Clevelanders. Who knew?
After this album, the boys jettisoned Rutsey and the obvious Zeppelin sound. Both were good moves. Overall, it's a good album for what it tries to be, and I find myself in the mood for it more often than some of the later albums.
Some versions of the story say that John Rutsey was fired because he was diabetic. Others say he was too much into the drugs & booze scene, frustrating the other two meticulous musicians. I choose to believe Alex's version from their recent documentary, Beyond the Lighted Stage. He recalls that Rutsey didn't want to move beyond the Zeppelin and Cream grooves, whereas Alex & Geddy were listening to Genesis & Pink Floyd and wanted to expand the horizons of musical complexity. So they fired him.
The reason I believe that story is because of the immediate change in sound. The addition of Neil Peart is noticeable right away, but you can also hear the major shift in the songwriting & extra goodies coming out of the guitar and bass. On this album, Neil's drumming and lyrics separated Rush from every other '70s stoner band, and the "what-the-hell-am-I-hearing?" impressiveness reared it's head for the first time.
"Anthem" is the first great Rush song. It's such a departure from the simple riffs and beats of the first album, it almost gives the listener whiplash. Neil has a otherworldly ability to play crisp and jaw-dropping fills and is a militant evangelist for humanism. Both are on display in full force on this, his first song with the band. "Live for yourself, there's no one else more worth living for." I disagree with that pretty strongly, but that's Neil. And that ideology of "power of self is the greatest good" hasn't changed in 17 albums. Still, it's a great song.
"Best I Can" and "Making Memories" are Geddy songs, and you can tell they were written with minimal input from the other two. They're average at best, with "Memories" being a bit catchier.
"Fly By Night" is another rock radio staple, and my least favorite Rush "hit". I remember playing it for Mrs. Atari when we were first dating. She had never heard Rush before. Her comment: "You know, I just don't like bands with female lead singers." She wasn't joking. It's not a great hook, and the song doesn't go anywhere.
"By-Tor and the Snow Dog" is the band's first attempt at extended songwriting. It's a dumb story about animals fighting over the threshold of Hades, and Geddy & Alex use their guitars to simulate the sound effects of the fight. I thought it was cool when I was 14. On an ironic level, it's fun because it's so cheesy. On a musical level, it's got amazing drumming and that's about it.
"Rivendell" is terrible. I love Tolkein. Zeppelin loved Tolkein. I love Zeppelin. Rush loved Zeppelin. I love Rush. I hate this song. If you hate Rush, then this is the song to play for the obnoxious fanboys like me to make your point.
"Beneath, Between, Behind" and "In the End" are personal favorites here. Both songs hit their grooves nicely, and both songs go somewhere. "B,B,B" has a great, dirty riff and poetic lyrics. "In the End" is a great album closer with its slow build and jamming solo section. One of the hidden gems of the band's early years.
Overall, it's an unbalanced record. The signs of greatness are there, but the duds are really duds. Also, Geddy's painful screeching is in full effect, maybe more than on any other album.
Last Edit: Jun 25, 2012 10:52:16 GMT -5 by Mr. Atari
If Rush fans voted in a poll for worst album, Caress of Steel would win by a landslide. It is roundly derided, even by the band members themselves. On the Fly By Night tour, Rush was opening for Uriah Heep and KISS, playing to sold-out arenas. CoS was released and immediately tanked. Suddenly, they were playing to 100-seat clubs again and running out of money. They facetiously called it the "Down the Tubes" tour. Critics and fans alike say that it was a creative blunder. They say the band was trying to create something epic and it collapsed under it's own pretentiousness. A failure on every level.
They're all wrong. So very wrong.
I like this album. Not every part, but a lot of it. It's trashed, disregarded and mocked. But like the runt of the litter, that's part of what makes it special.
The album's opener, "Bastille Day", is a classic Rush song. The lyrics are more poetic than rock lyrics are supposed to be: "See them bow their heads to die, as we would bow when they rode by...the king will kneel and let his kingdom rise." The music is complex and also somewhat majestic.
"I Think I'm Going Bald" was a bad choice. It was written as a joke to their tour-mates, KISS. Calling it insipid is being nice. "Lakeside Park" is also disappointing. It's a nice laid-back story about hometown nostalgia, but it doesn't blow any wind up my skirt.
Rounding out side 1 is a 12-minute song (divided into 3 parts) called, "The Necromancer". It's about 3 travelers (hmm, I wonder who?) in the land of the Dark Lord, who need to be rescued by the Prince. The lyrics are pretty sparse, but it's clearly a nod to Tolkein. The music is very Pink Floyd, with a great stop-time jam in part 2. There's some dumb narration at the beginning of each part that I could do without. Excepting that, "The Necromancer" is one of my favorite Rush songs.
Side 2 is all about "The Fountain of Lamneth". It's over 20 minutes long, but it's really 6 songs that fade into one another. It's a good predecessor for 2112, and they obviously learned from this and got better at the long-form story songs. But it's not bad. The story has no real hook-- I've listened to the album for over 20 years, and I still have no idea what it's about. Some of the musical parts are cool, some are forgettable, and there's a mini-drum solo that isn't Neil's finest work. But the recapitulation of the musical themes at the end is fun, and it's an interesting piece of work. I imagine it would be just the thing for a hazy, midnight laser light show in 1975.
Caress of Steel is not for Rush neophytes. It's dense and meandering, with only one real hit. The band has all but disowned it, and only hardcore fans show much appreciation for it. As one of those fans, I'll admit that I enjoy it. Most of it, anyway.
After the failure of Caress of Steel, the band sent their manager to Mercury Records to plead for one last chance. The label demanded that the next album be radio friendly and that the band work harder on writing hits. In other words, no more concept records about mystical lands with 20-minute songs. When the band heard this, they went into the studio and wrote a 20 minute epic about the a single man standing up to the demands of the totalitarian leaders. Oops.
2112 is the most important album in Rush's catalog. I think it's a fair guess to say that more Rush fans became Rush fans through 2112 than any other album. It catapulted them into stardom, it bought them the ability to have creative independence on every subsequent album, and it still holds up 35 years later. Actually, replace the words "holds up" with the words "rocks the poopie out of your speakers and hits you like a 12-pound sledge" and you're close.
The song, "2112", takes up the first side of the album. It's a 7-part suite that tells the story of a dystopian society in the year 2112 where work, leisure, and art are controlled by the technologically-minded priests. A lonely man discovers an ancient guitar and is overwhelmed by the power and beauty it can produce. His discovery is outrightly rejected by the priests, who smash the guitar ("Just think about the average, what use have they for you?"). He goes home and has a dream of what the world could be with real music. When he awakes back to reality, he slits his wrists. As he dies, there is a new galactic war, where the Elder Race returns to depose the priests. Complete with spacey, sci-fi effects and cannons. Hooray!
A year later, Star Wars came out and ignited an entire generation on the idea of the little man in outer space leading a rebellion against the dark, oppressive empire. Take that idea, put it to music, add in the plot device of music itself, and you can start to understand why 2112 blew up the way it did. It's dripping with Ayn Rand's influence (Neil even thanked her in the liner notes), and it spoke to every rebellious teenager and any rabid music fan who has had enough of corporate rock. It still does.
Musically, it works on every level. The drumming is some of Neil's best work, the songwriting matches the epicness of the lyrics, and Alex's solo work is outstanding. The instrumental Overture at the beginning and the Grand Finale at the end deliver the goods. Geddy is still in screech mode, which detracts a bit. But if you can get past that (and there aren't a whole lot of vocals for a 20-minute song), it's an amazing ride.
The rest of the album is a mixed bag: "A Passage to Bangkok" is about getting baked on a drug highway around the world. It's a fan favorite for some reason.
"Twilight Zone" was written and recorded in one day, and you can tell. It's about the TV show, so it has some nerd value, but that's about it.
I like "Lessons" a lot. It's a happy, strummy number that's pretty innocuous, but fun. It's a good companion piece to "Making Memories" from the Fly by Night album.
"Tears" is a quiet and pretty song. Rush never did ballads very well, but this is probably their best attempt.
"Something for Nothing" rounds out the album, and it's one of my top 10 favorite Rush songs. The lyrics are right on the nose and empowering. The riff is a great hook, Alex's guitar sounds amazing, the staccato punches are pure Rush, and everything Neil does on the drums is jaw-dropping.
Almost a perfect album. It loses minor points because it was still in the shrieky Geddy era, and because a couple songs on side 2 aren't quite up to the level set by side 1.
After four studio albums, Rush put out a live album called All the World's a Stage. It marked the end of the first chapter of their career. A Farewell to Kings introduces phase 2, an era of unmatched progressive rock mastery. Get ready for odd time signatures, expanded orchestration, nerdy mythological & sci-fi allusions, and instrumental sections that will twist and stupefy your little listening minds.
After listening to this album again, three things stood out to me:
1) Neil's expanding drum kit. At this point, it's not really a drum kit, it's an entire percussion section. Wind chimes? Sure. Temple blocks? Why not? Agogo bells? But of course. Tubular bells/chimes? You bet!
2) Geddy's bass sound. Geddy had some great lines in the first 4 albums, but AF2K is the first album where he really stands out. A big reason is the tone he gets on his Rickenbacker bass, and his syncopated punches with Neil that are all over this album.
3) Alex's space effects. Instead of chugging on power chords and taking screamy solos like he did on earlier albums, Alex is much more colorful here. He messes about with volume swells, phaser effects, and single-line riffing, which brings a different dimension to their sound.
The songs: "A Farewell to Kings" opens the album with a peaceful nylon string guitar & glockenspiel intro. Once it bursts into the groove, it's a pretty straightforward song, with vintage Neil & Geddy playing (especially over the solo). Lyrically, it's another of Neil's critiques of the establishment: "The hypocrites are slandering the sacred walls of truth / Ancient nobles showering their bitterness on youth." I guess you don't have to be a folk artist to be all whiny about authority. Anyway, it's one of my favorite Rush songs.
"Xanadu" is nothing short of amazing. Taken from the Coleridge poem, it tells the story of...oh, just read the poem. It starts with 2 minutes of mood-setting volume swells and percussion before launching into one of the world's all-time greatest guitar riffs, punctuated with more vintage Neil & Geddy syncopated punches. And THEN, the song really gets going over a groovy bass line and some amazing playing in 7/4 time. The vocals don't start until the 5 minute mark, but even then it never settles into a normal song vibe. It's a sequence of different jams held together by incredible musicianship. An amazing song from beginning to end. And way better than that Olivia Newton-John disco movie.
"Closer to the Heart" might be the most normal song the band ever wrote. It's a simple 3-chord progression, with a verse-chorus-verse arrangement, so it's no wonder it's one of their most played songs on the radio. For a standard pop song, it's okay. For a Rush song, it's nothing special.
"Cinderella Man" is a deep cut gem. It's acoustic and poppy, but also complex enough to be interesting. Both Geddy & Neil play their parts more complicatedly than they need to, which makes for a fun listen. The lyrics are about a rich man who, because he is moral and generous, people think he's insane.
"Madrigal" is slow and...um....madrigal. It's simple and pretty, which makes it stand out on an album with such intricate playing. It's essentially a love song with some nice poetry. Together with "Closer to the Heart", and "Cinderella Man", they make for some of the most positive and optimistic lyrics the band ever did.
"Cygnus X-1" closes the album with a nuclear bomb. There's this black hole, see, and it draws in our hero and his ship. The ship is called the "Rocinante" (hi DQ!). The entire song is a buildup to the finale when the poor sap gets sucked into the astral void and atomized (Or so it would seem. To be continued...). Musically, there is nothing like it in the universe. There's the opening bass riff that starts miles away and gradually grows into an odd-time groove. It turns into an instrumental overture that hints at all the musical themes to come. There's space effect guitars, drum fills that thousands of wannabes will never get right, and the inimitable rat-a-tat bass & drum punches. It just builds and builds until the final blow-out, empty the kitchen sink, rip the roof off jam of an ending. The whole thing sound like an outer space adventure of flying into a black hole; which, I suppose, is kind of the point. A top 5 Rush song for me.
Overall, A Farewell to Kings is a great album. The prog stuff isn't too long or weird to be unaccessible, and the pop stuff isn't too weak to be embarrassing. Geddy's wail is starting to get toned down and the instrumental playing is as good as any rock band has ever played. One of my top-3 favorite Rush albums.
Hemispheres is the companion album to A Farewell to Kings. They go together like Rubber Soul and Revolver, like Selling England by the Pound and A Trick of the Tail, like Peter Gabriel and Peter Gabriel.
Musically, it continues the experimentation with complex rhythms, multi-movement songs, and everything-in-the-box percussion sounds. There's a lighter sound to the mix-- more shimmer and less crunch-- and it makes for a nice listen. The openness of the mix means you can hear each layer more clearly, and the best parts cut through very effectively.
Lyrically, it continues Neil's fascination with metaphor and allusion-based storytelling, this time using mythology as his foundation. I hope you like nerdy references to Apollo and Dionysus and themes about balance and equality, 'cause that's what you're gonna get here.
The songs: "Hemispheres" is another mega-song, taking up side 1 of the album and clocking in at over 18 minutes. It's the continuing story of "Cygnus X-1" from the last album, and reveals what happened to our luckless space pilot after he got sucked into the black hole. Well, as you would expect, he wakes up to witness Greek gods battling for the rule of mankind. Wait, what? Yep. Apollo wants to rule with wisdom and intellect, Dionysus wants to rule with emotion and intuition. The fight leads to chaos and one big, bloody mess, until our hero speaks out and is rewarded with a promotion to deity, becoming Cygnus, the god of balance. Is it ridiculous and nerdy? Sure, but what other band would even try to be this erudite? Aerosmith? The story doesn't hold together as well as 2112, and the music isn't as triumphant, either. Like all sequels, it isn't as good as the first chapter, lacking the hooks and the impressive fills of "Cygnus X-1". But it's a good piece in their catalogue, if mainly for the overall sound and feel.
"Circumstances" isn't as good as "Cinderella Man" from the last album, although it tries to accomplish the same things. It's a nice, straightforward song that drives fun time-signatures in under 4 minutes. The chorus has some French lyrics. Those crazy Canadians!
"The Trees" is a song people often reference when they're making fun of Rush. It's another nylon-string intro song that turns into a bouncy '70s anthem. Then there's the instrumental break with temple blocks and a moog solo and a solo section in 11/8 with a lot of cowbells. Oh, did I mention it's about an argument between oak trees and maple trees about getting enough sunlight? And that the solution is to cut them all down? No? Okay then. I'll be honest, it is pretty mockable. But it's also a damn fine song.
"La Villa Strangiato" is the all-time greatest instrumental any rock band has ever recorded and is the all-time greatest song Rush ever recorded. There're no vocals, so all of the critics who whine about Geddy's voice can't complain here. Instead, there is just 9:37 of untouchable and incomparable musical genius. It's the apex of their progressive phase, mixing all of the atmospheric coloring with technical complexity. The hooks are everywhere, Geddy's bass lines are mesmerizing, and Neil's grooves and fills are more proof that he's the best rock drummer ever. But the real star on this one is Alex. He has at least 4 different solos here, and each one is exactly perfect. They are beautifully melodic and incredibly dextrous. Then you realize that he has the added degree of difficulty of doing all of this over messed-up time signatures. Sick is what it is. Sick. If anyone asks me why I'm a Rush fan, this is the song I play them. It's exhibit A in why Rush is awesome. I'm not sure there needs to be an exhibit B.
Overall, Hemispheres isn't as good as it's predecessor. But that's not too big of a criticism. It's still a solid album in the heart of their best period. The mix is outstanding, and the complexity is impressive, even if the lyrics go a bit overboard on the nerdy prog-rock spectrum. It also earns extra points for having my favorite song the band ever did.
Also worth watching is the version from Rush in Rio. 60,000 Brazilians singing along to an instrumental:
Last Edit: Jun 25, 2012 10:54:19 GMT -5 by Mr. Atari
Permanent Waves is the first commercial-sounding album Rush did, but that doesn't mean they lost their progressive intricacies. The orchestral percussion section is toned down, but the synths and bass pedals are increasing. It still follows the pattern of the previous two albums with a nice mix of short rockers, longer complex songs, and a ballad. However, what separates Permanent Waves from the previous two albums are the hooks. You can tell that they are getting tighter at writing in odd-time signatures because they don't sound as odd. You can tell that they are getting tighter at writing melodies because the songs sound like songs.
Alex's guitars are starting to get more shimmery and less crunchy, but his solos are still outstanding. Geddy is starting to spend more time on the synths and less on meandering bass lines, but he still comes up with some amazing runs. Neil plays more regular beats than before, but his creativity on the time signatures is still remarkable. As I said before, what stands out the most are the hooks; the riffs they build the songs around are interesting and catchy. The perfect blend of progressive and mainstream. I once played drums in a band that covered this entire album, front to back (and not badly, I might add). So I can testify that the musicianship is exceptionally difficult, but incredibly fun to play (and listen to).
Lyrically, there isn't a driving theme here. One song is about the radio industry, another is about the sun breaking through the clouds, and another is about the importance of making up one's own mind about life, the universe, and everything. Neil's humanism is still prevalent, but that might be the only common link to the songs this time.
The songs: "The Spirit of Radio" jumps out of your speakers with one of the most recognizable and impossible guitar riffs on rock radio. Next comes a riff that the Stones or Zeppelin would have been proud of. Then you get the quarter-note triplet build into the main chords of the song. The pseudo-reggae break towards the end is goofy, but fun. "CONCERT HALL!"..."OF SALESMEN!" Alex ends things with a classic wah-wah solo. This was their first huge hit, and one that holds up very well 30 years later. "Tom Sawyer" may be more iconic for them, but I think "The Spirit of Radio" is their best radio hit.
"Freewill" is Neil's manifesto against organized beliefs. It's a theme that he visits again and again. It seems that whatever you believe in isn't nearly as important as the ability to choose your beliefs: "You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice/ If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice...I will choose a path that's clear- I will choose freewill!" Hoo-rah for humans, I suppose. The music on this one is fantastic. The main riff is in 13/8 (except when it has an extra beat). The groove is head-bobbingly awesome. Then the solo section kicks in and shows the world what good music is all about. A fun song to see live.
"Jacob's Ladder" is an overlooked classic. It starts slow with a military march groove, building to the halfway point of the song with some great solo work by Alex. Then comes a synth interlude-- an intermission of sorts. The second half is all about the catchy riff in 13 that gets bigger and bigger. What little vocals there are on this one are about storm clouds brewing, only to be interrupted by sunbeams. It's more impressive than I'm making it sound.
"Entre Nous" is just like "Cinderella Man" and "Circumstances" from the last 2 albums. It's in the same position on the album, and like those two, it is exceptionally straightforward. There's nothing special here, and it's an okay song. I always get this and "Circumstances" confused because this one has the French title, but "Circumstances" has the French lyrics. Pretty interchangeable and somewhat forgettable.
"Different Strings" is a slow acoustic number. There are some piano accents and guitar effects. Slow songs aren't Rush's strong suit, and this is the weak link on the album. Still, it's executed well and it isn't hokey or embarrassing.
"Natural Science" is wall-to-wall amazing. It's about the complexity of nature and how we mistreat it. A great song for Earth Day, even for us non-hippies. The arrangement starts with a shimmery acoustic intro and moves into an arpeggio jam. Then the floor drops out and you wake up in a vortex of vocal effects and a mind-blowing riff. Mind. Blowing. Did I mention the part when the guitars stop and Neil takes over with a stumbling triplet fill? Then another vintage Alex solo, and we're almost halfway through the song. A quarter-note stomping groove comes up, leading into the anthemic and thematic climax of the song ("Science like nature must also be tamed..."). It's stunning how many different grooves and styles are in this song, but even more stunning is how seamlessly they move from one to the next. Like the rest of the album, it's the perfect mix of meticulous musicianship and catchy listenability.
If I were going to introduce the band to a Rush virgin, I'd give them a copy of Permanent Waves first. It's accessible, but still loaded with intricate playing. This album, along with its successor, are the sweet spot of the band. They had great moments before and after, but here is where they reached their tightest groove creatively. It is the quintessential Rush.
Moving Pictures is Rush's finest hour. It's their biggest selling album by far, and the most recognizable to the common music fan. In some ways it's their best album, in some ways it's not, but it is their most identifiable work. It's their Citizen Kane, their Seven Samurai, their Manos.
Moving Pictures was the first Rush album I ever heard. I was 13 and was told that, as an aspiring drummer, I HAD to listen to "Tom Sawyer." I popped the cassette into my walkman and gave it a whirl. It didn't do much for me, but I kept at it. "Red Barchetta" came on next, and I liked it a lot more. It was peppier and sounded more fun, so I kept going. "YYZ" was next and I probably disturbed the people around me with my noticeable drooling. By the time side 1 finished with "Limelight", I was a fully-formed Rush fanatic.
Moving Pictures is a tight album, one they were building towards their entire career. It's the perfect mix of complicated playing and good songwriting. The pop-rock is finally accessible, but the prog-rock isn't watered down. The mix is perfect, the tone of the instruments is perfect, the solos and fills are perfect, the riffs and grooves are perfect, the singing is...pretty okay.
This is their one, true, "classic" album. And you know, it actually deserves it.
The songs: "Tom Sawyer" really is the band's "Manos" moment. It's the one that even non-fans recognize, and usually assume characterizes the entire catalogue. It reminds me of "Hey Jude" in that they can't go a night without including it on the setlist, it gets the crowd fired up more than any other song, yet it's not really as amazing as its reputation. Don't get me wrong, it has some amazing moments, and Neil's fills deliver the goods. But there's no chorus, the groove is sluggish, and the lyrics are cryptic. Not exactly the formula for a hit single. However, the fact that it's as famous as it is without sounding like anything anyone else has ever done earns it some major respect points from me.
"Red Barchetta" is a story about an era where cars are outlawed (like music in 2112), and the protagonist finds a Ferrari and takes it on the open road (like the protagonist & his guitar in 2112. Huh.) It starts with a brilliant harmonics riff from Alex, follows with tasteful guitar work throughout, while Neil lays down a perfect groove featuring fun ride cymbal accents. The whole thing sounds like a Sunday drive in a red convertible. Good times.
"YYZ" is sublime. Genius. Otherworldly. Pick a superlative. It's better than anything your favorite band has ever done. Okay, that might be an overstatement, but it's how I feel. It's an instrumental that starts with the morse code for "YYZ", which is the code for the Toronto Airport. Halfway through the song, Geddy and Neil trade fills that will make your eyes roll into the back of your head. This is followed by a patented Alex solo that's equal parts noodley and melodic. Oh yeah, the main riff is guaranteed to make you bounce in your car. If you're a musician and you don't appreciate what's happening in this song, you're not a musician.
"Limelight" is another rock radio staple with an amazing riff. The time signature is all over the map on this one (the riff is in 7/4, the verse is in 6/4, the chorus alternates between 3/4 and 4/4), and the amazing thing is that you'd never know if I didn't point it out just now. It sounds like a normal rock & roll number. The lyrics are all about the trappings of fame and the false reality of "living in the limelight". It includes what might be my favorite Alex solo- atmospheric and bendy. A great song worthy of the fame that the lyrics reject.
"The Camera Eye", a bit synth-heavy, but not at the expense of the guitars. More like the experimental moog-synths of 1981 than the cheezy synths of 1986. Very futuristic sounding with a great guitar hook throughout. The lyrics compare the masses on city streets (New York and London) with the beauty of streets after a rainstorm. Or something. Anyway, it's poetic. The only problem with this song is that it's 4 minutes too long. Even Geddy said, as they prepared the song for a recent tour, "Oh my God! It goes on forever! What the hell were we thinking?" It's not like those 4 minutes are wasted, they're just repetitious and a bit unnecessary.
"Witch Hunt" always reminded me of Pink Floyd's "Welcome to the Machine". It shares the same sound effect-laden dark groove. The instrumentation is sparse, but the vibe is unmistakable. It's another song where Neil goes after groupthink, and how when someone else tells you what to be afraid of, people do terrible things. It's a good theme for our time, but one that each side will say the other side needs to listen to. I think it's the weak link on the album, but plenty of Rush aficionados would disagree.
"Vital Signs" is their attempt to mix a Pete Townshend-ish synth loop with Police-ish reggae punches and a lot of digital effects. And you know what? It works. The pizza place I frequented as a teenager had a jukebox that played warped 45s. They had a bootleg live version of this song that we wore out. To this day, I expect the warbles and warps of that version to come out of my pristine CD version, and I'm always disappointed that they don't. A great album closing song.
Like Permanent Waves before it, Moving Pictures is an essential Rush album. It's tightly mixed, tightly written, and tightly performed. After listening to this album, I went back to Led Zeppelin and the Who (both bands I love) and thought, "These guys are so stinkin' sloppy! Why didn't I notice that before?" Moving Pictures is exacting and impressive. But that precision doesn't mean it lacks the guts of rock & roll. By no means. This thing cooks from beginning to end, and I've yet to hear a criticism of this album that has any serious validity. One of the best ever.
It's a common tale in rock & roll that a band follows up an incredible album with a dud. Rush entered their 3rd stylistic stage as a band with Signals, and the emphasis on synthesizers and bass pedals is a big let-down. It's not just the comparisons to the classic Moving Pictures that make this a subpar album, a lot of it stinks all on its own.
That's not to say it's all bad, and definitely not to besmirch the synth era of the band. If you know me, you know I have no problem with '80s synths, and an upcoming album in this era is my favorite Rush album of all. No, the real problem here is that there are too many ingredients and styles that clearly interested the guys, but they just couldn't pull off very convincingly.
Signals has some high moments and has some low moments, but mostly has middling moments. This was the last album produced by their longtime collaborator Terry Brown, who was dismissed because he objected to the electronic direction that Geddy was intent on following. The boys were listening to a lot of their contemporaries, especially new wave and pseudo-reggae bands like the Police. Gone were the big fat power chords and fuzz boxes. They were replaced with chorus effects and midi triggers. Thematically, there is a lyrical conceit running through the album using the idea of the digital age and how we relate to one another in a changing society. Neil seems to both reject the advancements, nostalgically reminiscing about simpler times, but also is fascinated by "this magic day when super-science mingles with the bright stuff of dreams".
The songs: "Subdivisions" is the classic song from this album. It is a decent synth hook and a catchy number, but poor Alex doesn't have anything to do. The lyrics and the video cemented Rush's place in the nerd pantheon. It's all about being a social outcast in high school, where the culture is as pre-fab and cookie-cutter as the neighborhoods in suburbia: "Any escape might help to smooth the unattractive truth that the suburbs have no charms to soothe the restless dreams of youth." I think this song shows that MSTies and Rush fans have a lot in common.
"Analog Kid" is one of the best songs in the Rush catalog. It's a tremendous riff by Alex over a bouncy, head-bobbing groove. The chorus is actually quieter and more open than the hard driving verses. Lyrically, it's the antithesis to "Subdivisions". It's about a young boy lying in the fields on a hot August afternoon, chewing on a blade of grass, and dreaming about what his life might be one day. Easily the best song on the album and in the top 10 for me.
"Chemistry" is in the bottom 10 for me. It starts off with a decent vibe-- the verse could have fit on earlier albums just fine, but the chorus comes to a screeching halt. It sounds like they're working desperately to channel Gary Numan or Thomas Dolby. It's unsettling. In fact, an old scientist yelling out "SCIENCE!" wouldn't seem out of place here. Don't get me wrong, I love Numan and Dolby, but Rush just shouldn't be in that territory.
"Digital Man" is as bad as "Chemistry". Take the previous comments about that song, replace "Thomas Dolby" with "The Police", and you've got it. Even though Alex does a passable imitation of Andy Summers, and Geddy has more impressive bass lines than Sting, Neil just can't emulate Stewart Copeland. Copeland is brilliantly sloppy and never plays the same pattern twice in a song. Neil...well, Neil is the exact opposite of that. To top it off, the reggae is just embarrassing.
"The Weapon" is interesting, with great lyrics, but never really goes anywhere. It's all about how what we fear becomes a weapon that can be used against us. Along with "Witch Hunt" on the last album, and "The Enemy Within" on the next album, it forms a trilogy of reflections on what fear can do to people. A decent song, but nothing special beyond the lyrics.
"New World Man" was written in an afternoon because they needed a three-minute and forty-three second song so that both sides of the cassette would line up. It remains the highest-charting single in their career. Huh. It's actually a pretty good song, straightforward in its arrangement, and based on a fun riff. Some clever lyrics on this one, as well.
"Losing It" is a fascinating song. As deep cuts go, it might be the deepest in their catalog. It's hardly ever mentioned, even by Rush freaks, and it's never been played live. However, I wouldn't call it a forgettable song. It's a haunting tale of two characters- a dancer and a writer- who are facing old age, with the loss of their gifts and affirmation. There's some neat allusions to Hemingway, and as a special bonus, there's a very cool violin solo.
"Countdown" was written after the boys were invited by NASA to be special guests at the very first shuttle launch. It's about exactly that, even including the original audio conversations between mission control and the shuttle crew. It's almost a novelty song, but for a space geek like me, it's seriously cool. I enjoy listening to the song, but the critic in me knows it's not nearly as good as other album enders like "Natural Science" or "Cygnus X-1".
With Signals, Rush entered their '80s synth phase. There are some missteps and stumbles here, but mainly when they're trying to copy someone else's sound. Over the next 3 albums, they figure out the form and master it. What works here are the lyrical themes and a riff or two. What doesn't work here is everything else.
When I first got into Rush as a freshman in high school, Grace Under Pressure was my favorite album. Something about it stood out as interesting and different. Even now, it's an album I like more than most, and one I think gets passed over by fans-- and even the band itself.
Grace Under Pressure (p/g) is a continuation of the band's experimentation with synths and electronic instruments. On a few songs, Neil busts out midi-trigger electric drums that sound like crap, and Geddy plays the Casio more than his bass, which is sad. The good news is that Alex is back in the mix after disappearing on the last album. He's added a lot of effects to his sound, creating an original guitar tone that I consider to be the "classic Lifeson sound": lots of arpeggios and tasteful jazzy chords, with a beautiful crunchy strat tone and a lot of whammy bar effects.
As much as I enjoyed the 20 minute epic songs, I enjoy even more these albums where Neil pics up a lyrical theme over 8 unrelated songs. It's less of a rock opera and more of an anthology of ideas on a concept. With Signals it was how relationships adapt to technology. On p/g, it's how we handle trials and difficult situations. From fears of nuclear war to the holocaust to our own internal insecurity. What does it take to have grace under pressure?
The songs: "Distant Early Warning" is a fan favorite, still played live today. It's a great opener with nice atmosphere. Both Alex and Geddy noodle around the chords in a fun and interesting way, and Neil lets the horses out of the barn towards the end with some amazing fills.
"Afterimage" is a personal favorite about the loss of a loved one. Instead of making it reflective and sad, however, it's full of passion and energy. Alex shines on this with a variety of tricks, starting with a driving eighth-note pattern, a beautiful riff in the chorus, melodic arpeggiating, and my favorite solo he ever played. It's not technically impressive, but it's overflowing with emotional resonance. Neil's lyrics on this one might be my favorite he ever wrote, as well.
"Red Sector A" is another Rush standard. I believe they've included it on every tour since 1984. It's a haunting story of someone in a concentration camp wondering about the outside world. Geddy's parents were both holocaust survivors, and he sings it with something extra in his voice. If it wasn't for Neil's electronic drums, this would be a top-10 for me.
"The Enemy Within" is the third song in Neil's "Fear Trilogy" (with "Witch Hunt" and "The Weapon" from the previous two albums), and it's by far the best of the three. It's got a reggae vibe, but it sounds reggae like Rush would do reggae. Not reggae like Rush trying to sound like the Police. Lots of noodling and busy playing, but still incredibly polished and tight, with an instrumental break as good as anything from their progressive '70s era.
"The Body Electric" is the weak link on this album. It's a very robotic sounding song, which makes sense, since it's a song about a robot going through an existential crisis. But that makes it sound cooler than it actually is. Neil plays a marching band groove, the chords are staccato and uninteresting, and the chorus lyrics are, "1001001 S.O.S. 1001001 in distress 100100!" Maybe that was cool in 1984, but it doesn't work now.
"Kid Gloves" reminds me of "Analog Kid" from the last album. It's a fun up-tempo rocker that never gets mentioned by the band or fans, but I love it. It's a cool riff in 5/4, which was my very first exposure to odd time signatures. This is the one song on the album that sounds like a legitimate hit single. Why it didn't get more attention (then or now) boggles my mind. I am boggled.
"Red Lenses" is an interesting song that feels like some weird spy movie. Geddy's got a cool bass line throughout that steals the show, Neil's syncopated accents are all over the place, and Alex's atmospheric chords are like lightning flashes of sound. The lyrics are pretty dumb, using cliches and color puns to talk about communism fears. The synths are very prevalent, but I think they're effective on this one.
"Between the Wheels" is a great album closer. Alex has some shrill and affecting chords over a cookin' ride-cymbal groove. The lyrics are awesome: "You know how that rabbit feels, going under your speeding wheels. Bright images flashing by, like windshields towards the fly. Frozen in that fatal climb, but the wheels of time just pass you by."
Grace Under Pressure has a lot in common with Signals in terms of sound and overall musical direction. However, it improves on Signals with better songs, more focused arrangements, and more guitar in the mix. In short, they sound more like themselves on this one.
Goodbye objectivity, hello unvarnished fanaticism. If you're anything like me (and I know I am), you love good musicians playing well-crafted songs with impressive technique and creativity. Bonus points when the individual members complement each other, playing with and against each other, like a finely-tuned basketball team. Extra bonus points when there's '80s synths. On Power Windows, Rush is the Harlem Globetrotters of music...with '80s synths.
Power Windows is not Rush's best album and it's definitely not their most famous; but it's my favorite and it's not close. To me, it's like season 4 of MST. Is it perfect from top to bottom? No. Is it every fan's favorite? No. Is there any real objective way to compare it to other albums/seasons? No. But the cumulative effect and overall feel of it puts it head and shoulders above all the rest.
On Power Windows, Rush finally mastered the digital era of the '80s without compromising their magisterial musical proficiency. In the Rolling Stone review, it is noted that Alex's solos are "demon strokes dissolving into feedback howls and strangled vibrato, while Peart and Lee subdivide the beat into frenzied algebra." It later sums up the album by saying, "This is not a case of old Seventies arena-rock dogs fudging new tricks. Rush remains faithful to vintage progressive aesthetics but has accepted the challenge of the postpunk upheaval and made notable adjustments." In other words, my favorite musicians mastered my favorite era of music.
I can't sum it up better than what it says in that review: "They tightened up their sidelong suites and rhythmic abstractions into balled-up song fists, art-pop blasts of angular, slashing guitar, spatial keyboards and hyperpercussion, all resolved with forthright melodic sense."
On this album, the theme is power, specifically mankind's obsession with and abuse of it. As usual, there isn't a note out of place, the arrangements are tight, the mixture of sounds is perfect, and the lyrics are brilliant. This album has 3 songs in my top 10, and when you consider that they have made 18 studio albums to date, it's an impressive percentage. Not every song is a classic, but the filler songs still embody a style and feel that I love.
There are two things that stand out to me. 1) Geddy's bass lines are back in full force. In recent albums, he's been more concerned with keyboard accents than jaw-dropping bass moves. Not here. Even though there are still tons of keyboards, his bass steals almost every song. That is, except for Alex's solos (2). There are some fans who think that the '80s albums were marked with the non-existence of Alex Lifeson. Those fans need to go back to this album and listen to his solos. Oh yeah, Neil is still pretty good at drumming, too.
The songs: "The Big Money" is my favorite song Rush ever did with vocals. It's a clinic on lyric writing and on musical arranging. There's an instrumental break that is my favorite moment in the band's history. It starts with guitar harmonics and synth pads over a "four-on-the-floor" drum groove. Neil adds percussion and builds the tension into the solo section, where Geddy moves to the bass and Alex lights the song on fire. While Alex is being transcendant, Geddy & Neil take the art of "playing under a solo" and put it on another planet. Every time I've seen them play this live, I'm struck again by how disgustingly talented these three guys are.
"Grand Designs" is a perfect '80s song that no one ever heard. The lyrics are awesome, the up-tempo off-beat groove and new wave keyboard hits are just too much fun. There's also an inexplicable super-fast piano break that I can't get enough of. A great song.
"Manhattan Project" is all about the atomic bomb. It's another top 10 song for me, and the best song ever written about Oppenheimer and that fateful August day in 1945. Musically, it's cinematic and beautifully composed. They played this song live in the '80s, then seemed to forget about it. I hope they bring it back because hearing it was one of my all-time favorite concert experiences.
"Marathon" is right up there with "The Big Money" for me as an all-time favorite. The first thing you notice in the music is Geddy's bass line-- it's all syncopated and full of snap and pop. Almost like a funky rubber band. Then, the swelling choruses start to get you, especially towards the end when the choir effect kicks in. It sounds empowering and epic, which it is. Because the lyrics are profound and encouraging: "You can do a lot in a lifetime if you don't burn out too fast. You can make the most of the distance, but first you need endurance, first you've gotta last." It's the opposite of the "live fast, die young" phony rock & roll crap. It's a "live smart, finish well" song. Love it, love it, love it.
"Territories" is Neil's critique of jingoism and oppression in the name of patriotism. It's another piece of astonishing musicianship, layered with tribal percussion, creative rhythms, dramatic guitar accents, and a bass line to drool at. A tremendous piece of art.
"Middletown Dreams" is another of Neil's reflective story songs about people who feel stuck in suburbia. It's heavy on the keyboards, but still has an edge to it and is a fun listen. It's probably the most straightforward song on the album, and it's mighty good filler.
"Emotion Detector" isn't as good as the last song, but it's still decent filler. It's probably got too much synth, but it's saved by another amazing guitar solo full of Alex's patented chorus-y bends.
"Mystic Rhythms" was a moderate hit, but it's my least favorite song here. It's a slow-burn song that doesn't really catch fire. Neil plays an interesting pattern on his electronic kit, accented throughout with African drums & moody synth strings. Alex noodles with gusto, but the song drags. But does that deter me from loving this album? No sirree, Jim!
Power Windows is not a perfect album, but it is the top of my list and the perfect cross section of incredible musicians with a nostalgic time in music history. It also has some incredible songs. You all should listen to this album today.
Hold Your Fire is the last album of this 4-album cycle, and it's a decent offering. It doesn't match Power Windows, but it is a nice conclusion to their synth era, and the whole is better than the sum of its parts.
What Rush does well on this album is found in the songwriting. The songs are tight, the choruses have hooks, and you can tell they're holding back on their complexity. They're almost tasteful with their playing. Geddy's voice is as melodic and listenable as it ever got. These are straightforward songs that stick with you, with a lyrical depth that will make you pause and reflect. Three or four of the songs here are absolute gems and remain my favorites to this day. Sadly, two or three are also giant turds that I skip every time.
If there's a theme on this one, it's found in the title. The pun on the usual meaning is that we need to stick to our convictions and persevere through hard times-- hold on to the fire that burns within. Lyrically, this is their most positive album; it's hard for me to find too many faults with an album that's such a pick-me-up.
Still, there are faults to be found. This is their first album ever to have more than 8 songs. While it's nice to have a longer playing record, the truth is that a couple songs are barely B-side quality. The other major criticism is that the overall sound is kinda wimpy. The guts and crunch are gone, replaced with pop and a radio-friendly mix. To many fans, this is a forgettable mistake of weenie rock. I think if you're expecting solid pop-rock from 1987, it accomplishes its goals very well.
The songs: "Force Ten" is a fun opener that really cooks. Geddy's bass chords drive the song, while Alex's aggressive rhythm guitar and whammy hits pop through the mix. There are a lot of synths here, but it all works.
"Time Stand Still" is a great song about cherishing the special moments in life. The older I get, the more I like this song. Aimee Mann contributes some vocals to the chorus and makes this one sound like a legitimate hit single. One of their best.
"Open Secrets" is filler. It's okay filler, but it's one of those songs that I forget about, then I hear it again, then I forget it again. It would have fit as filler on Power Windows, which I suppose is a compliment.
"Second Nature" stinks on ice. The less said about this one, the better. Poo.
"Prime Mover" is the highlight of the album. Musically, everyone gets featured, but no one overwhelms the song. Lyrically, it's one of Neil's best, and I still find it meaningful when I hear it. The break in the middle is one of my favorite moments in their history. It's amazing to compare this to say, "Xanadu", and notice how they traded in the progressive for the ability to write a tight song with a good melody.
"Lock and Key" is an odd duck. Parts of it (the intro & chorus) are as weak as the band ever got. But there's a building jam section after the choruses that is as awesome as anything in their synth era. When I hear this one start, I have to remind myself that half of it is amazing. Half the time I hit the "next" button.
"Mission" is the epic theme song of the album. Like the album as a whole, if you go in with the expectation of blistering arena rock, it falls flat. But if you go in with the expectation of tight, melodic songwriting, with empowering lyrics it's a fun listen. The xylophone & bass break is a joy.
"Turn the Page" is built around Geddy being awesome. If I had to pick, this would be my favorite song here. I enjoy this one easily as much as any of their '70s progressive output. Very fun.
"Tai Shan" is a polarizing song. It's about China, and it sounds very Asian. Lots of fans think it was a dumb idea. I think it was a fun risk and a pretty interesting and emotional song.
"High Water" is another hidden winner. Neil's drum pattern is subdued but brilliant. The lyrics are about the power of water on our genetic memory. Seriously. The chords and the arrangement sound just like the way an album closer is supposed to sound. I'd love it if they dusted this one off for their next tour.
Hold Your Fire is an anomaly in Rush's catalog. In many ways, it's the natural conclusion to their '80s output, but it doesn't really sound like any of their other albums. It has a unique sound with some very good songs that reward those who listen with the right expectations.
Do you like music that is bland and inoffensive? Do you enjoy it when there is no low end in an audio mix such that may inconvenience passersby? Do you prefer songs without any of that pesky syncopation or distracting guitar solos? Do you revel in a mix that's as thin as the layer of film on your mom's tomato soup? Sure, we all do!
Sir or madam, I present to you Presto. The perfect album for you and your children/pets. It features static musicianship, no-frills four-on-the-floor drumming, hookless songs, and immediately forgettable non-melodies. If you like strummy 12-string acoustic guitars and tom-toms that sound like tupperware, look no further. Why spend so much of your hard earned cash on Ritalin when you could just listen to Presto?
After Hold Your Fire, Rush had completed their third 4-album stretch. It was time to reinvent their sound. Time to do away with the keyboards (mostly) and return to guitar-oriented songwriting. For a given value of "guitar", that is. It took them a while on their fourth cycle of albums to find their edge again. They certainly didn't find it on Presto.
There are still at least 2 too many songs here, and the mix is very sad and wimpy. The album feels like it's made up of castoffs from the HYF writing sessions, where the keyboards have been replaced with acoustic guitars. In fact, if it wasn't for the acoustic guitars, I would know Alex was even on this album. Neil's drumming is as uninspired as he ever got, and Geddy's trademark bass lines are missing like Dr. Erhardt. It seems that the boys buried all of their musicianship tricks in the hat in the hopes of pulling out an album of crisp songs. Instead, they got a reject guinea pig-- possibly injected with malaria. And a hell of a lot of treble.
Perhaps I'm being unfair. It's not all bad, and the album holds some nostalgic value to me since it was the "new release" right as I was getting into the band in high school. It isn't the worst album they ever did (it's not even the worst album of this cycle), and I do put it in my iPod rotation when I drive to the mountains. So there's that.
The songs: "Show Don't Tell" doesn't suck. It's a decent riff and an interesting lyrical take on the "actions speak louder than words" principle.
"Chain Lightning" is a highlight on the album, and would have made a good single in 1989. That's not very high praise, by the way. Neil penned some creative lyrics about how shared experiences make life worth living.
"The Pass" is a favorite of the band's. It's an anti-suicide song that respects the listener. Musically, it's the template for most of their '90s output. There's a lot of room in the playing (it's not busy), and a sweeping build into an emotional chorus.
"War Paint" is the song I always forget about. It's like the Silence in Dr. Who- I know it exists when I'm listening to it, but as soon as it's over, I forget all about it. Musically, it sounds a lot like "The Pass" and half of the songs on their next album.
"Scars" is not a good song. It's based on a synth-bass sequencer pattern. Just a tip: When you have the best rock bass player in the world in your band, a bass sequencer is probably a bad idea. Neil has an interesting drum pattern on this one, but it's ground he already covered better on Power Windows.
"Presto". Let's just move on, shall we?
"Superconductor" is the only song on the album that's musically interesting. It's a fun riff in 7/4. That's about it.
"Anagram (for Mongo)" is brilliant. The lyrics are all anagrams, and it still makes a coherent point about fighting evil in our lives. There's a joke from "Blazing Saddles" in the title. Definitely my favorite song on the album, even if the music is a bit dull.
"Red Tide" is pretty good. It's a depressing look at how our world is falling apart, but the piano riff is catchy. It would have fit well on Power Windows or Hold Your Fire.
"Hand Over Fist" is a strummy number about rock-paper-scissors. Let that sink in for a minute.
"Available Light" is a nice closing tune. It's got that "last song before the bar closes" feel. Alex tries out a couple blues licks that make me wish the whole song was bluesier. Not bad at all, this one.
Presto vacillates between encouraging and depressing. They were trying to be better songwriters, but I think they sacrificed too much of their talent on this. The late-'80s/early-'90s mix certainly doesn't help. I do enjoy this album, but mostly for nostalgic reasons. When I listen to it with a critical ear, I can't deny that it's one of the lower quality albums in their catalog.
When I was 16, that album cover was the coolest thing ever.
Roll the Bones is Neil's thesis on the meaning of life; the album where he ponders which worldview makes the most sense of love, hope, suffering, and purpose. If you guessed that Neil picks "atheistic humanism", you win the Captain Obvious prize. Fortunately for those who might pick a different worldview (like me), his ruminations are personal and his conclusions respectful. He doesn't get truly antagonistic towards theists until later albums (boy howdy). This album is like a metaphysical MadLibs. Just fill in the blanks with words like "fate", "chance", "faith", "heaven" and "destiny", and you too can be a nerd rock lyricist!
The music is two steps ahead of the paper-thin Presto. The songs are half-a-step better. The guitar is almost back in the mix. Alex has some nice solos and Neil's drums sound like Neil's drums again. The overall mix is still drenched in shimmery chorus. The full return to loud, crunchy amps is still an album away, but at least we're getting closer.
The songs: "Dreamline" might be the best song of this 4-album cycle. It's a nice pop-rock song built on a light riff from Alex's telecaster. It's all about how we long for limitless adventure despite our limited lifetimes. It's a feel-good winner!
"Bravado" is a perfect template for their early '90s sound. What started with a couple songs on Presto is fully realized here: a mid-tempo, plodding, roomy verse building into a majestic-sounding chorus & solo section. It's a good song about taking risks even if there's no payoff: Follow your dreams, keep your pride, find love where you can, and if there's no reward (i.e. afterlife), it's still worth it. Aaaand we have our theme, ladies and gentlemen!
"Roll the Bones". On the plus side, Geddy is no longer screeching on these albums. On the other hand, Geddy is rapping on this song...yes....rapping....*cough* Otherwise, it's an okay song, with a funky guitar line & drum groove. Well, as funky as Rush gets. The lyrics? More about how there's no cosmic purpose to anything, so get out there and take your chances. Roll the bones, as it were.
"Face Up". FILLER ALERT! This one has a decent drive to it. It's one of the songs that gives the album it's overall sound, but there's nothing remarkable about it. Not bad, but not great. Filler.
"Where's My Thing?" is their first instrumental since "YYZ". If "La Villa Strangiato" and "YYZ" are the Jefferson and Lincoln of their instrumentals, then "Where's My Thing" is Rutherford B. Hayes. Okay, that was mean. After all, it's bouncy & funky and is marginally interesting. So maybe it's more of a Franklin Pierce.
"The Big Wheel". There's a bit of a Rolling Stones groove on this one. More lyrics about how when Neil was a kid, he believed in things; but now that he's older and wiser he only believes in chance. For some reason, this song always makes me think of The Price is Right.
"Heresy" is a good angry song. Neil said, "The deconstruction of the Eastern Bloc made some people happy. It made me mad. For generations, those people had to line up for toilet paper, wear bad suits, drive nasty cars and drink bug spray to get high...and it was all a mistake? A heavy price to pay for somebody else's misguided ideology, it seems to me, and that waste of life must be the ultimate heresy." Of course, a case could be made that those abuses were born from an ideology that was decidedly anti-religious, but that would undermine Neil's worldview, so forget I mentioned it. Still, I find the title "Heresy" to be interesting and a bit ironic. Musically, it's right there with "Bravado" as a pattern for their '90s sound.
"Ghost of a Chance" is a purple giraffe: odd, but intriguing. First of all, the lyrics are all about relationships and love. Neil never does that. Secondly, the music is inside out. The verse riff & melody are pretty standard fare that builds each step of the way. Then the chorus hits with a slow, spacey vibe. It's like rocketing through the atmosphere only to emerge in the openness & quietude of outer space. And the guitar solo is one of Alex's all-timers. Hearing them play this live (especially the solo) when I was 16 was a transcendent moment I still remember well 20 years later. (Just don't tell Neil I used the word "transcendent".)
"Neurotica" is dull filler. There's a riff in there somewhere, but the song doesn't really go anywhere.
"You Bet Your Life" is the summary at the end of the term paper. It might be my favorite song on the album because it's up-tempo and clever. It drives home the point that whatever you choose to believe, you're effectively betting your life. And in true Rush fashion, they also take the air out of the seriousness with a sense of humor by adding musical tastes to the list of what we bet our lives on. "The odds get even". A great album wrap-up.
I've focused mainly on the ideology and lyrics of Roll the Bones, but musically, it's not a bad album at all. The mix is getting better, and the playing is starting to get impressive again, even though the songs are still the point. The next two albums have their moments, but this is probably my favorite album from this era of the band.