Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Rush & Me Part III

Welcome to the third installment of my Rush and Me series.  This is the final of the write ups of Rush’s studio albums.  This set goes from Power Windows (1986) to Clockwork Angles (2012).  This also includes the period I stopped listening to the band’s newer work.  It lasted from Test for Echo (1996) to Snakes and Arrows (2007).  I had heard these albums, but they had not resonated with me.  This also corresponds with the time I was in a volatile relationship.   This era also includes their first and only, at this time, collection of covers.  Warning these are my impressions and opinions, they are by no means the only way to interpret these works.


Power Windows (1985)

This was the fourth Rush album I owned and the first given to me as a Christmas gift.  It has a special place for a handful of reasons.  First it came out during my senior year of high school.  It was also the first year that I had lived in Oregon full time.  Having a new album from my favorite band during what was a journey into both familiar and unfamiliar territories was great. The album prior to this may have been considered the first album Rush tackled some political themes, they did the same with this one.  Many of those themes still hold up today.  The first song Big Money talks about the corruption seen in multinational corporations.  Grand Designs covers the superficiality of the music industry of the mid 1980’s.  Manhattan Project, my favorite song on this album, is about the beginning of the Atomic era and all of its implications.  It is a beautiful insightful song.  Marathon is about running a marathon; it tries to evoke the feeling and intensity of that activity. Territories is about the toxicity of nationalism in a world were globalism is increasing.  Middletown Dreams deals with the monotony of being a suburban middleclass cog in the great machine and the desire to break out of it. Emotion Detector deals with people’s emotional fragility and how we need to work to be better to each other. Mystic Rhythms is about the unknown and the mystical and how we will always have knowledge that is out of our reach.  Overall this is a great album and it has sentimental meaning for me.


Hold Your Fire (1987)

This was the first of the two albums release while I was in university.  This was still in the heavy synthesizer era, although their last album from that era.  It has one of my all favorite songs on it. It is also the band’s final album with Mercury.  Force Ten starts with a rapid fire drum beat at the beginning reminiscent of a barrage of bullets.  The song uses storm terminology as a metaphor about personal turmoil.  Time Stands Still features Aimee Mann, formerly of Til Tuesday on backing vocals.  The song talks about not missing the important moments, but also not dwelling on the past either.  Open Secret is about being oblivious to the obvious in one’s life.  Second Nature is about how humans have more in common than they give credit and we need to work together than work against each other.  Lock and Key is about keeping the instinct for violence in humanity locked up.  Mission is about those with creative fires and that it is not always easy as some believe. Mission is my all time favorite song by the band.  When I heard it at the age of 19, it sang to me my very being.  Tai Shan is a wonderful homage to Chinese music and culture. This was a good album, for Mission alone it holds a cherished place in my heart.


Presto (1989)

Presto was the first album on Atlantic and it was also a return to a more guitar oriented sound.  It also was the start of more experimenting with different bass guitar sounds and styles, like funk.  Show Don’t Tell is about how sometimes trusting people can be a bad thing, so do not believe everything you hear.  Chain Lightning is about watching weather phenomena.  The Pass is a song about suicide and how it is not a noble decision in the least.  War Paint is about the need of young people to try to impress each other with colorful plumage in the mating dance.  It covers the subject of trying to conform to a group’s concept of beauty.  The song, Scars, talks about all kinds of scars, physical, emotions, personal, societal, and those scars upon our environment as well.   Presto, the song is about illusions of all kinds, especially those involving one’s self.  Hand Over Fist is about the conflict of wanting to be part of a group and wanting to be alone or an individual.  Superconductor tells of the music industry’s propensity to manufacture an image for its artists like a packaged product.  This was an album that I enjoyed; stylistically it was closer to the style I liked from the band.  I have always felt it was a prelude to the next two albums.


Roll the Bones (1991)

This is the first album from the nineties proper.  It includes their first attempt at rap and playing with a funkier sound which was also heavier than before.  They play with Jazz in this album as well.  Dreamline is about being young with all the possibilities open to you.  Bravado, the second song, deals with pushing past failure, especially when it is not an option. Roll the Bones, the titular song, is noted for its section of rap and funky bass line. The subject matter is about taking chances in life; some things are worth the gamble.  Face Up concerns overcoming one’s own self created obstacles, those we put in our own ways.  Where's My Thing? (Part IV, "Gangster of Boats" Trilogy) is their third instrumental piece. This time they tackle Jazz and Funk elements and style in this song.  The Big Wheel handles the ideas of mortality, the search for love, and whether or not a higher power exists.  Heresy covers the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe and all the wasted time on an ideology that failed.  It also talks about the backlash of consumerism in those nations and the wasted time on the Cold war.  Ghost of a Chance talks about how the odds to find love are astronomical, but still worth it.  Neurotica handles the subject of informational overload and confusion.   You Bet Your Life is about how the best laid plans go askew and how you need to adjust.   I love Roll the Bones, it is definitely in my top ten list of Rush Albums. 


Counterparts (1993)

Counterparts came out after the Grunge movement hit the mainstream.  Rush incorporated Grunge and Alternative Rock styles in this album.  The band, in their desire to constantly evolve reflects the times in their music.  Animate is about the dualities found in our culture, male and female, yin and yang, and so on.   Stick It Out covers sticking up for yourself and holding onto your convictions. It also has some of the hardest most brooding guitar work that Alex Lifeson has ever done.  Cut to the Chase works with the concepts of making a positive choice or the selfish one.  Nobody's Hero handles the concept of heroism and what makes a hero.  It looks into the idea modern society has lost what it truly means to be a hero.  Between Sun & Moon is based on the poem "There Is a Lake Between Sun & Moon" by Pye Dubois.  This song leads one to contemplate the mysteries of our world using the various imagery of sun and moon worship.   Alien Shore is about the weird dichotomy of being different sexes, genders, nationalities, races, and ethnicities.  The Speed of Love is about love in its various incarnations.  Double Agent has a light, but also sinister feeling.  It is a moody song, it plays on opposing moods.  Leave That Thing Alone, this is the fourth instrumental song from the band.  It shows the band funk and Jazz influences and showcases the rhythmic expertise of Neil Peart. Coldfire starts as a conversation between to people in a relationship trying to balance love with reason.  Everyday Glory is about stepping up and making things better in our world.


Test for Echo (1996)

This was the first new Rush album I did not buy in over a decade.  This is during my losing touch with their newer music.  This period lasted till Clockwork Angels.  I bought it over ten years later.  To review it here I re-listened to it.  I have only heard it a few times before this.  When I tried to listen to it in 1996 it did not grab me.  Also at the time my musical tastes had changed.  I myself was redefining them.  Test of Echo, the titular song, is collaboration with Pye Dubois.  The song seems to discuss our media and brand saturation juxtaposed with images of street thugs.  It presents the idea of crimes are turned into a media spectacle.  Driven is about being driven by an internal drive, but also about driving on the road.  It also tries to show that sometimes you cannot control your own drives.  Half of the World is about the things that divide humanity and whether or not is good to be so divided.  The Color of Right talks about how being right and being good are not always exclusive to each other.  Totem runs the gamut of various spiritual beliefs then discussed how those concepts are used and abused for profit and by the media.  Dog Years plays on how dogs’ lives are fleeting and how we should live for today ourselves.  Virtuality was written at the beginning of the online revolution that the explosion of internet use that started in the later nineties.  It covers the possibilities of this innovation in regards to relationships and interpersonal connections.  Resist is about never giving up, it is also about positive resistance.  Limbo is Rush’s fifth instrumental track, there are vocal, but it is done for effect with no words.   Carve Away the Stone is about peoples self imposed burdens and overcoming them  The songs that speak to me are Driven, Half the World, Totem, Dog Years, Virtuality and Resist.   Over all a decent album, but it still did not grab me as others did. 


Vapor Trails (2002)

This album is some what controversial.  The band was not happy with the compression of the released version of the album; in 2013 they remixed it and re-released it. I will review the remixed version as this is the band’s preferred version.  It is also the first album released in the 2000’s.  Vapor Trails is the second of the Rush albums in the hiatus.  I had heard the badly compressed version a few times when I was playing chauffer for a friend who driver’s license was suspended.  My impression was it was rockin’, but did not trip my trigger.  The album starts with the bombastic One Little Victory.  The song seems to be about youthful attitudes and that a small amount of success can fuel the youthful.  Ceiling Unlimited covers the fleeting of a moment but that anything is possible.  Ghost Rider is an autobiographical piece; in 1997 to 1998 Neil Peart lost his wife and then only child within a year of each other.  After his wife’s funeral he took a long sabbatical and rode his motorcycle around North and Central America.  He chronicles this in a book called Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road.  This song of the same name chronicles his healing journey in song.  Peaceable Kingdom is about how we wish for peace, but human nature seems to lead to the opposite.  The Stars Look Down is about the uncaring universe for humanity’s point of view.  How It Is talks about the depression after a huge loss, once again covering the subject after Peart’s losses.  Vapor Trail, the titular song, is another song about Peart’s period of exile.  Secret Touch is about the dissonance between modern humanity and the natural world.  Earthshine seems to convey how perceptions can confuse reality.  Sweet Miracle is about how the natural world is more miraculous than any supernatural world.  Nocturne looks like is about the ethereality of dreams and imagination.  Freeze (Part IV of Fear) is the fourth of the Fear series.  It covers the fight or flight response to fear.  Freeze is also how fear causes us to stop and lose momentum.  Out of the Cradle is about the constant motion of the circle of living from birth, life and death form generation to generation.  The songs that speak to me on this album are One Little Victory, Ghost Rider, Peaceable Kingdom, Vapor Trail, Secret Touch, Earthshine, Sweet Miracle, and Freeze.   After re-listening to this it is a good album, overall I want to love it.  However it still does not speak to me like many of the other albums do. 


Feedback (2004, cover album)

This album is a collection of cover songs that were influential to Rush from the 1960’s.  The first is the Blue Cheer version of Summertime Blues.  The song is highly influential to most Hard Rock acts that followed them.  Next is Heart Full of Soul by the Yardbirds.  It is one of the first Rock songs to be influenced by eastern musical styles.  For What It’s Worth by Buffalo Springfield follows with its topical lyrics about protest and revolution.  The Seeker originally from the Who is a song questioning so-called spirituality.  With the themes of other song lyrics written by Neil Peart, this fits in the same philosophical bent.  Mr. Soul first released by Buffalo Springfield which handles the contradictions in life.  Seven and Seven Is from the band Love is about the fear of growing up.  The next song is the Yardbirds’ The Shape of Things.  The final song is Cream’s version of Robert Johnson’s Classic Crossroads.  Overall the song reflects Rush’s 1960’s influences.  Even though this album came out during the hiatus, I was a fan.  I wanted to hear their take on the music of their early influences.  


Snakes & Arrows (2007)

I bought this album a few years after its release.  It is the last of the Rush albums I feel disconnected to due to the off period. Far Cry is a driven powerful and rocking song.  Heavy licks engage you at the beginning.  It seems to be about getting back to something after a setback.   Armor and Sword starts out like some of their work from the late eighties with the very atmospheric style in the guitar work.  The song appears to be about our personal psychological defenses, how they help and sometimes hurt us.  Workin’ Them Angels is a play on the phrase working the angles.  The song is about working through pain and one’s past.  The Larger Bowl (A Pantoum) is about the conflict of how if we are all human why do we allow are differences to outweigh our connectedness.  Spindrift is an intense song.  Its words describe conflict through metaphors about nature. The Main Monkey Business is an instrumental from Rush.  This has a very Middle Eastern flavor to it, or that is my personal perception.  The Way the Wind Blows is about how after a thousand years we are fighting almost the same god awful holy war and how it is such a waste.  Hope is another instrumental the second on this album.  Hope has a country feel with the beginning section on an acoustic guitar.  Faithless is about not depending of religious or spiritual guidance, because it can mislead.  Bravest Face talks about the darker side to our idealized version of our world.  Good News First is a poignant song about how we can change our perspective.  Malignant Narcissism is the third instrumental piece on the album.  It has a funky hard driving bass line.  We Hold On is about continuing when people want to just give up.  The songs that speak to me are Far Cry, Workin’ Them Angels, the Large Bowl, the Way the Wind Blows, Hope, Malignant Narcissism, and Good News First.        


Clockwork Angels (2012)

Clockwork Angels is the first complete concept album by Rush.  This is not just one side, but the whole album.  It is a Steampunk tale of Crown City and the Watchmaker.   It is a story of an existential crisis about faith.  The first song Caravan is about moving past things that drag you down.  BU2B is about the downfalls of blind faith and it being such a nasty trap.  Clockwork Angels talks about the downfall of blind trust in higher powers and that doing so one gives up some of their personal power.  The Anarchist is about being the outsider and about how some folks are unable just to accept what they are told as to be fact.  In Carnies the protagonist finds himself in a Carnival show.  The song is about good and evil, it is also about be careful what you wish for.  Halo Effect covers the concept of being smitten by what seems to be a good thing when in fact it is not.  Seven Cities of Gold opens with a funky baseline and goes into a hard driving riff.  This song seems to be about the aimlessness wandering in the wilderness and how the reality of a locale does not always live up to the fantasy we create about it.  Wreckers is about how things can be deceptive, somethings may seem harmless when they are not.   Headlong flight continues with the theme that our journey makes us who we are and we should never wish to change it.  BU2B2 talks about the loss of faith and belief, it also is about persevering though such a crisis and finding the will to move on.  Wish Them Well appears to be about how all you can do with toxic people is go on your way and wish them well.  I serious love this song, it sings to me and my recent experiences.  The Garden looks like it is about how we need to keep doing the right things regardless of the bigger picture which is always going to be unknowable to us. Thematically the songs cover a range, but also they fit with in the story the band is trying to tell about the protagonist’s journey.  Musically this album runs the gamut with some orchestral arrangements, hard rocking songs, acoustic parts and even a piano.  They are pushing themselves to broaden their sound and their possibilities. This seems to me to be a complete album, but Wish Them Well is my favorite song due to my personal history.


Fear


This is not an album but a series of songs that cover the subject of Fear.   The songs are: Part I: "The Enemy Within" (from 1984's Grace Under Pressure), Part II: "The Weapon" (from 1982's Signals), Part III: "Witch Hunt" (from 1981's Moving Pictures), and Part IV: "Freeze" (from 2002's Vapor Trails).  Enemy Within covers how fear from within effects us.  Weapon is about how others use fear against us.  Witch Hunt is about fear being used to stir hatred and fear in others.  Finally Freeze is about fear and the fight or flight instinct and how fear can stop that instinct in its tracks.  It was originally envisioned as a trilogy, but Neil Peart took it one song further.