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Rush - Snakes & Arrows CD (album) cover




Heavy Prog

3.57 | 922 ratings

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4 stars In the 70s and 80s, Rush established a new kind of prog which would also be an important influence on prog metal. It was more riffy and a bit light on structure but involved displays of dazzling virtuosity without jams or improvisations of any great length. The function of a jam or improv was built into the structure of Rush's compositions such that it provided them the space to 'show off' while still developing the music, in a certain way. Not everybody digs this kind of prog and I personally take only what I like from this niche but it's become pretty important.

What Rush did not always have then is an alternative soft touch, a hint of fragility or vulnerability. They could probably be compared to Steely Dan or Sparks in that sense, but they were not tongue in cheek either. Robert Fripp would balance an apocalyptic instrumental (Red) with a stirring portrayal of melancholy (Fallen Angel). Roger Waters's worldly wise commentary on songs such as Time or Money was contrasted with more purely emotive manic moments of expression (Great Gig In the Sky/Don't Leave Me Now). Rush did not seem to possess that other gear. They hinted at a softer side (Different Strings) but rarely explored it.

Years and years later, it seems chief lyrical architect Neil Peart no longer believes in changing the world. At least, the lyrics do not show much evidence of it and, rather, bring forth the feelings of a man's struggle to get on with the world and its mysterious ways. His chosen themes suggest a feeling of despair at not being able to find answers to questions that haunt him after all these years and a resigned acknowledgment that the world is not, after all, a fair place.

This might sound depressing to put down on paper but musically, it helps project a very different, fresh side of Rush. The somewhat preachy tone of Peart's lyrics in the 70s is dispensed it. Instead he writes heavily in the first person and, as mentioned earlier, discusses his feelings about a range of topics. Whether it's the more characteristically hyperkinetic Far Cry ("One day I feel I am on top of the world/The next it's rolling over me) or the defiant Faithless, the focus is now on the way Peart experiences the world and not how he would like all of us to experience it. If you are tempted to find a macro-philosophical angle to everything, you might dub it a trading in 70s idealism for contemporary realism. But a more succinct explanation may be that Peart has just grown older.

And, curiously, after years of rocking out at the speed of light, it makes Rush a more engaging experience for me. They are finally playing at a pace that is more 'real' and singing in more earthy octaves. In doing so, they find the space to develop emotions that they used not to be able to in their heyday.

Speaking of octaves, this album gives Geddy a chance to show a different dimension to his singing. His effeminate pitch and nasal tone may not be to everyone's liking and he has some less edifying tendencies besides that but since he stopped trying to scream like Robert Plant, he has gradually evolved into a pretty fine singer. The more relaxed pace of his album allows his supple voice to soar and he emotes pretty well, especially on Spindrift.

Musically, the album is largely rock and there's not much prog going on here. Not many time signature changes or extended passages, it follows a nice verse-chorus pattern consistently. That may make the album sound predictable to you IF you are completely tuned into the structure of the compositions. Should you focus more on what they are playing or singing, you might find it easier to enjoy the album.

That gives me a good opportunity to wind up the review. It is not a perfect album and while Peart's thoughts engage, they are not always articulated in the most convincing manner. But what you make of this album ultimately hinges on how much you are a prisoner of your expectations - from Rush stylistically, or prog in terms of complexity of approach. It may not have a lot to satisfy your appetite for prog. Whether that necessarily means it is not an album for progheads, I am not so sure of. I enjoyed this album very much, more so than most of their post-Moving Pictures work and will simply rate it based on my personal experience. 4 stars.

rogerthat | 4/5 |


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