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Rush - Permanent Waves CD (album) cover




Heavy Prog

4.28 | 2123 ratings

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4 stars There weren't many bands from the 70's that clearly improved with the beginning of the 80's as much as Rush did. This album isn't as different from their previous work as I used to think, but it feels different, and that means a lot for me. Yes, it's still largely tied to prog rock (I mean, it is a full length album with six tracks), and it's bombastic in places, but this album is not juvenile. It's very geeky in places, yes, and overly simplified philosophically in others, but Rush finally feels to me like it's grown up (or at least advanced further in puberty). The band has taken its core sound and made it more accessible, but without coming within a hundred miles of "selling out" or anything like that. It's my understanding that critics of the day largely knocked them for not coming up with a truly original sound, and that has a point, but the band came up with a plenty enjoyable stew of influences, so I'm not terribly bothered by this brand of new-wave progressive pop rock. The songwriting dips noticably in the middle, but aside from that, this is a very nice album, and definitely the band's best yet.

The first two tracks are two of the best known, and best, tracks the band ever did. "The Spirit of Radio" does a lot of things well, and much of what it does mines familiar territory (the awesome "rolling" guitar riff, a lot of cool processed guitar noise in Lifeson's sound in the middle), but there are some nice new twists. There's a goofy (but great) reggae-ish section near the end (which was used in a Burger King Kids Club commercial in the late 90's), a repeated neat sequence where the riff launches itself off of some simple keyboard lines, a melody that actually has an effective pop feel, and even lyrics that I find very good (if a bit labored in the typical Peart way). Plus, the song has a feeling of joy I've never really felt in a Rush song before; it's so nice to feel such a friendly vibe when Geddy sings, "Begin the day with a friendly voice," and I can feel that the band really has a love for good music and those radio stations that play it. Yup, this here is a great song.

"Free Will" is a classic too, dagnabbit. The lyrics are dumb, yes, and the chorus just sounds a bit too much (both lyrically and musically) like what I'd expect to be the climactic song in a Broadway musical about the life of Ayn Rand, but it's still a great song. The basslines are ridiculously entertaining, the vocal melody is fun, the mid-song jam sounds interesting every time I hear it, and yes, I even like the chorus, despite myself. For better or worse, this song has become one of Rush's calling cards through the years, and I know that, were I ever to go to a Rush concert and not hear it, I'd be very disappointed.

Unfortunately, the album gets noticably weaker after the second best opening 1-2 punch in the band's catalogue. I used to consider "Jacob's Ladder" close to the best song on the album, but I'm much less thrilled with it than I used to be, even though I consider it quite good and overly maligned by many. The song is basically Rush's interpretation of a lightning storm, not from within the storm itself (if so, it would be a lot louder and faster and more spastic), but rather from a distance, watching the clouds gather and lightning flash far away. From that perspective I find it to be quite atmospheric, menacing and even powerful; it has a lot of tension in its leaden, mid-tempo jamming, and the lyrics only enhance the experience and never detract from it. It's kinda boring in terms of not going anywhere and in terms of how few ideas it has, but those ideas are basically done well enough.

The second side, honestly, starts as a bit of a disappointment for me, with two pop ballads that might represent new stylistic ground for the band but don't suggest it was a good direction for them. "Entre Nous" only has a decent introduction and that interesting melody with the "Just between us, I think it's time for us to recognize" part; otherwise, I find the song quite bland. I've listened to "Different Strings" plenty of times, and except for a single line in the middle, I've found it continues not to make any lasting impression on me. I don't hate the track, but I don't really like it much either.

I like the album closer, "Natural Science," way more than I probably should, though. One should always have a slight suspicion when Rush makes 9 minute songs, but I think this one is just magnificent. The lyrics are sometimes hilariously dumb ("A quantum leap forward in time and space!"), but the music is great. The acoustic intro is beautiful, the middle third is memorable, catchy and complex at once, and the final third is grandiose without being annoying. What else could you possibly want from a Rush epic? I could listen to this twenty times in a row and not get as sick of it as I do from one listen to "Cygnus X-1."

I find this album weaker than I used to, but it's still great by Rush's standards. It goes without saying that any Rush fan should have this, and even people who don't like Rush should have this in their collections.

tarkus1980 | 4/5 |


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