|Rush Snakes & Arrows||Atlantic/Anthem|
Rush don't make bad records Ė they are simply incapable of doing so. However, they can make mistakes and occasionally don't please all their fans as much as they could.|
Case in point their last studio album which suffered from overly loud mastering, which made some great songs sound bad.
I think the guys were at times trying a little too hard after a long lay off.
This on the other hand is produced, mixed and mastered to perfection. Crisp, balanced and ever so easy on the ears.
Easy also in the sense that it is just Rush being RushÖnot too heavy, but plenty of attitude and some of their best music in a long time.
Musically I think this sits somewhere on the same playing field as Test for Echo and Counterparts, but also includes touches of Presto and the Hold Your Fire sense of melody.
That said I come back to the point that this is basically just Rush being Rush and continuing on the natural musical path they have walked forever.
What I like is that the guys all get their time to shine. There are some truly great drum fills on the album (needless to say that Neal Peart's playing is always sublime).
Geddy Lee's bass thumps along, at times running with the rhythm, and at other times stamping its own authority on the song.
And Alex Lifeson's guitar tone is just perfect! How refreshing to hear some astounding riffs and rhythms delivered with a contemporary manner, without having to resort to unnecessary down-tuning or other tricks.
I felt that the guitar tone on Vapor Trails was a bit forced, but here it sounds so natural Ė as do all the guys' parts.
Highlights from the album are considerable. Far Cry is classic Rush and the added bridge melody is straight out of the Hold Your Fire/Presto handbook, as is the opening bars of Workin' Them Angels.
Armor And Sword has some great guitar techniques and an effective chorus that mellows in comparison with the rest of the song.
I love the acoustic work on The Larger Bowl and Spindrift sees the guys stretch the progressive nature of their sound.
Not generally a fan of instrumentals, I can attest that those featured here Ė the hard driving The Main Monkey Business, the acoustic Hope and the progressive Malignant Narcissism are simply three of the best instrumentals in recent memory. Love them all.
The melody of Faithless stands out instantly and the changing mood of Bravest Face and Good News First show that these guys are still innovators of their craft.
01/09/07: Al Williams - firstname.lastname@example.org
08/08/07: Jeffrey M. Leatherwood - J_Leatherwood@yahoo.com
Opening with the first single, Far Cry which has really got its hooks in me & is true Rush, no question!
We then have Armor & Sword which to me has hints of Def Leppards Hysteria about it in places, but the structure & phrasing which again is typical Rush, seriously progressive rock stuff. Thereís also an acoustic section that brings back memories of their track Trees from the Hemispheres album. This track is again excellent Rush fair!
Working Them Angels, has a kind of dark feel as it builds, but then has folk / prog element with Alex Lifeson playing some mandolin in there. Again, the song has a great feel to me, that has grown on me, over this past week of listening. The album didnít to start with, besides Far Cry which clicked quite quickly.
The Larger Bowl, strange title but great stuff again, the intro kind of sounds like a 60ís type song & it actually grows into a very straightforward easy going melodic rock track, beautiful stuff.
Next up Spindrift starts with an eerie edge to it & remains fairly dark as it continues & maybe a little repetitive after a while.
The Main Monkey Business intros sounding a little like the intro to the old English TV episodes of Hitchikers Guide To The Galaxy but then becomes something more intriguing, with many elements. A very powerful instrumental track & is the first of 3 on the album.
The Way The Wind Blows kind of reminds me of Cream in places, but hardly surprising as I know Rush have quoted the 60ís trio as influences & even covered them on the Feedback EP. The track is much more in depth though than you might think from that statement, but the solo reeks of Cream era Clapton.
Hope is the 2nd instrumental track here & is an acoustic piece with just Alex Lifeson.
Faithless is a track with interesting timing changes throughout, but thatís Rush all over, kind of reminds me of Signals era Rush & the lyrics make you wonder if Neil Peart is trying to make a point here about his beliefs? Another track thatís a grower after a few listens.
Bravest Face next, is laid back Rush building in the choruses & towards the end, although in general starts to feel a little repetitive.
Good News First, kind of reminds me a little of The Main Monkey Business in areas, but then gets very detailed with lots going on, behind a great melodic vocal here. Good song.
Malignant Narcissism is the 3rd & final instrumental here, a haunting piece, with both Geddy Lee & Neil Peart playing bass & drums parts off each other.
The closer here is We Hold On, which will wrap things up, leaving a smile on the faces of long time Rush fans as it ends with true Rush elements as a grand finale.
A good return for Rush then & for the fans. Iím not the biggest Rush fan, but I do have about 10 of their albums in my collection, so yes, I like the band & this was good to here, but for me the stronger tracks were in the opening half of the album, tended to lose a little for me towards the end.
Reviewers of Rush albums usually come in two guises -- either they are devoted long-time fans or sour rock critics who resent the Canadian band's long-standing success. While I unabashedly belong to the former camp, I cannot help but to be critical of Rush, especially since their Atlantic years (1989 to present).
Once upon a time, Rush compositions were distinctive, hurdles for neighborhood musicians to overcome to prove their mettle. As evidenced by the popularity of "YYZ" on Guitar Hero games, Rush had signature tunes from "2112" all the way to "The Big Money." But after their transition to Atlantic, pressure to become more trendy has relegated most of the band's new songs to imminent forgettability -- or in the cases of 'Ghost of a Chance' or 'Half the World,' rock n' roll perdition.
"Snakes and Arrows" is perhaps the best Rush album since their first Atlantic release, "Presto." Thereafter, Rush began to follow new U.S. musical trends almost slavishly, from radio-friendly pop ("Roll the Bones") to grunge-metal ("Test For Echo" and "Vapor Trails.") Only 1993's uneven "Counterparts" sounded anything like the heavily progressive Rush of yore.
"Snakes and Arrows" primarily benefits from Nick Raskulinecz's sterling production, an improvement over Paul Northfield, who did well enough for Geddy Lee's "My Favorite Headache," (2000) but failed to bring out the best in "Vapor Trails." It's a Rush album with some very good tracks, and a few poor ones.
This reviewer enjoyed the first three songs, lead single 'Far Cry,' 'Armor and Sword,' and 'Workin' Them Angels.' 'Far Cry' is the best Rush single since 1989's 'Show Don't Tell,' while 'Armor and Sword' sounds like "Grace Under Pressure" finally exploded into righteous anger. 'Workin' Them Angels' is almost a sequel to the title track from "Presto."
But one must question the choices of 'Spindrift' and 'The Larger Bowl' as follow-up singles. Neither are particularly memorable or impressive, although the latter benefits from an experimental lyrical structure -- the Indian "pantoum."
Elsewhere, the instrumentals are the best since 1993's 'Leave That Thing Alone, with 'The Main Monkey Business' edging out 'Malignant Narcissism,' which sounds as though Geddy Lee borrowed wholesale from the 1980 Yes album "Drama."
Rush albums usually work best when there's a thematic relation between songs -- although with some recordings, like "Roll the Bones," this can become contrived. "Snakes and Arrows" avoids these pitfalls in terms of lyrics and theme, largely because their subject matter is so relevant. Religious fanaticism, wrong-headed patriotism, class poverty, and a quest for hope seem to bombard our society into retreat and escapism.
Neil Peart is celebrated rightly as a good lyricist, and some of "Snakes and Arrows" is certain evidence of this fact. But one also catches hints of earlier Rush songs -- the similes from 'Faithless' remind one of a similar lyric from 1985's "Power Windows," namely 'Grand Designs:'
"Like a stone in the river against the floods of spring..."
"Like a flower in the desert that only blooms at night..."
"Against the run of the mill -- swimming against the stream..."
"Like a teardrop in the ocean -- a diamond in the waste..."
One could say Neil Peart is demonstrating consistency over the past decades -- or perhaps he's falling back on old motifs. Either way, at least Peart is cribbing from one of the best.
For once, Alex Lifeson's guitar textures are not muddied by Kurt Cobain-esque grunge -- his chords are ringing and clear, even on heavier compositions like "Armor and Sword" Lifeson also contributes some pleasant, if all-too brief, acoustic guitar on "Hope," with some melodic flourishes of mandola and acoustic on the bridge to "Working Them Angels."
Rhythmically speaking, Neil Peart has never played better, hitting passionate fills and rolls where no other living drummer might have considered placing them. His idiosyncratic time signatures have always been a gauntlet to budding rock drummers, and no doubt, another generation of kids will puzzle over the Professor's unique drumming style. Being able to play like Neil Peart has always sorted out the men from the boys.
Lastly, we come to Geddy Lee's performances as bassist and lead vocalist. Principally, Lee contributes some dextrous bass-
lines to fill in gaps between drummer and guitarist -- a job he has always done well. On "Snakes and Arrows," he keeps tight rein over his sequencers and MIDI, using vintage Mellotron for the instrumental tracks. His dabbling with a fretless Jaco Pastorius bass aside, Geddy Lee breaks little new ground here, but sounds better in the mix than on "Vapor Trails."
Where Geddy Lee seems to let down the ship is with his vocals. Rock critics have always assailed Lee's penchant for banshee wails and screeches, but that never deterred this particular fan. But since "Vapor Trails," Geddy Lee has been noticeably warbling and crooning -- vocal techniques that do not fit his unique voice. This may be compensation for his middle-age, as his voice has weathered. But it renders otherwise interesting songs, such as 'The Way the Wind Blows,' hard to appreciate.
But let's have no illusions -- Rush albums do not sell like they did 20 years ago. We should appreciate their new music, while expecting better. The band -- and the fans -- have a right to be proud of "Snakes and Arrows," but even though it's a very good album overall, it's more important as a reason for Rush to tour. By all means, take your friends to a Rush concert -- but if you wish to introduce them to the Rush catalog, might I suggest "A Farewell to Kings" or "Signals?"
08/08/07: Jeffrey M. Leatherwood - J_Leatherwood@yahoo.com