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Rush - Snakes & Arrows CD (album) cover




Heavy Prog

3.58 | 907 ratings

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RIO/Avant/Zeuhl Team
4 stars For an unashamed Rush fan as I am, I get to reviewing this album somewhat late... Even if I bought it immediately upon its release (something I only do with bands or artists I really love), and for days it hardly left my CD player, I was still grappling with a form of writer's block which prevented me from being timely in my reviewing duties towards one of my all-time favourite bands. This means my review will probably offer nothing new to those looking for information about this album... Oh, well, I suppose I'll just have to try my best, and strive for a bit of originality.

"Snakes and Arrows" comes in a classy, stunningly beautiful, package - the photos inside the booklet are nothing short of works of art, and the Eastern-themed cover art sees a skillful use of cool and warm tones. Though such factors may be considered unimportant in comparison to the actual musical content of a record, being a child of the Sixties I grew up in the golden age of gorgeous, legendary album covers (Roger Dean, anyone?). Moreover, I strongly believe in the importance of offering the complete deal - not only great music, but great visuals as well. And, judging by the two times I saw Rush perform live, they have not been slow on the uptake, and become purveyors of 'Art Rock' in the true sense of the word.

Now we come to the burning question - is it prog? Indeed, many PA members maintain that Rush stopped being progressive with "Moving Pictures", or, in some cases, even earlier than that. Knowing my own limitations as regards having any real idea of what 'prog' really is, my answer is, who cares? Does being 100% prog make your music better? Personally, I think there is a lot of progressiveness on Snakes and Arrows, even in the absence of 15-minute tracks or wild time signature changes. Obviously, it's not the kind of progressiveness you can find in the likes of TMV - Rush still favour traditional song structures, with choruses being as usual rather prominent (though only in very few cases you would call them catchy). As a matter of fact, they write SONGS, not epics, suites, or what have you. For some prog fans, this is almost a crime - though certainly not for me. It takes a lot of skill to write a good song, and Rush have that in spades.

And then, they are HEAVY. You would think that, at the age of almost 55, and after 30 years of activity, they would have mellowed out. Well, when I saw them perform live in October, I was amazed at how heavy and powerful they sounded. The songs from "Snakes and Arrows" they played (8 out of 13) really came alive in the live setting, and revealed their various facets to the listener in a way no recording can ever convey.

And now to another, even more burning question - is it the best Rush release ever, on a par with, say, "Hemispheres" or "Moving Pictures"? The answer here is a definite no - as good as Snakes and Arrows is, it is not perfect. In my opinion, its main flaw is being too long (a very common feature of modern albums), and its second half is not as memorable as the first. A song like "Good News First" could have very well been left out, and "We Hold On" does not have the effectiveness required from a good album closer. Furthermore, the slow, somewhat plodding "Faithless" is a sort of throwback to the band's less inspired Eighties output (though I do like its lyrics, which seek to demolish the myth that non-religious people are somewhat lacking in moral sense). If I have to be perfectly honest, I find "Counterparts" a more consistent, cohesive effort - hence the five-star rating.

However, when "Snakes and Arrows" is good, it is VERY good. "Far Cry" continues the band's tradition of opening albums with fireworks (and an unforgettable, fast'n'furious guitar riff to boot), and the three instrumentals are, each in its own way, true gems. "Hope" offers an aural feast for lovers of the acoustic guitar, showing Alex's more reflective, mellow side. "The Main Monkey Business" is modern-day Rush's answer to the likes of "La Villa Strangiato" and "YYZ"; while the intriguingly-titled "Malignant Narcissism" is a brisk bass-fest of the first order. However, the album's strongest tracks are probably "Armor and Sword" and the following "Working Them Angels", two similarly-structured tracks - the former (an indictment of religious fanaticism) darker and unrelenting, the latter more upbeat, featuring a pretty, lilting mandolin interlude.

As I said earlier, if you were expecting "Hemispheres II", chances are you'll be severely disappointed. Though some may find the current version of Rush not progressive enough, it cannot be denied that they have progressed in their career, and they have created a sound that is immediately recognisable, and therefore unique. Far from being tired, washed-out has-beens, the mighty Canadians still have a lot to offer to the musical world. Watch this space.

Raff | 4/5 |


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