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Rush - Permanent Waves CD (album) cover

PERMANENT WAVES

Rush

 

Heavy Prog

4.28 | 2026 ratings

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Ktrout
5 stars 'Permanent Waves' is a true masterpiece of progressive rock, and deserves fully a five start rating. I consider the album one of Rush's greatest works; essential listening for prog fans. All six songs on the album sound great when listened to individually, but this album is much more than a collection of great songs. Indeed, one feels a real sense of continuity when listening to Permanent Waves, both in the music and in the themes embodied by the lyrics.

'The Spirit of Radio' kick-starts 'Permanent Waves'. Alex Lifeson carries this song, with that familiar legato opening sequence and a wonderful main riff (listen to just before the lyrics come in) as well as a great guitar solo. Listening to the opening sequence (which reappears later in the song, and brings it to its conclusion) really does put one in mind of radio waves traced on an oscilloscope, as is undoubtedly intended.

We descend next through Lifeson into 'Free Will'. Much credit to Peart for the lyrics on this song, and the guitar and vocals complement one another brilliantly. Listen in particular to where the song changes first into 4/4, and you will surely agree. The highlight of the song is either the impressive guitar solo, or Geddy's soaring vocals which follow. The solo, impressive in its own right, is accompanied by a fabulous display of polyphony from Geddy Lee and Peart, both with complex instrumental parts. Lifeson makes full use of his tremolo bar, blending it with an impressive display of legato technique to produce a fine solo. This takes us to the final verse, where Geddy treats us to a soaring vocal part, carrying us into a final chorus and conclusion to the song.

Let us now venture onto 'Jakobs Ladder'. The spirit of the previous two songs is very much optimism, enthusiasm and integrity, and they owe their brilliance to the fine musicianship of Peart, Geddy and in particular (in these two instances), of Alex Lifeson. 'Jakobs Ladder' is more profound, owing its brilliance to structural composition. The introduction, grounded in the bass, takes us into a vocal description of setting. The lyrics suggest to us an ominous sky, invaded by storm clouds. Thunder too threatens, reflected by a brooding guitar and keyboard accompaniment. The music following this vocal description of setting enacts vividly the scene described. The primary theme of this section captures the essence of a dangerous sky, clouds writhing violently. This leads the music into an atmospheric guitar solo. Keyboards add depth to the song, at first from beneath the furore, then emerging in prominence to describe to us a new scene; the triumph of light and departure of the storm clouds. The re-entry of vocals expand on this foundation, and the music takes over to give this lyrical description volume and resonance, before a final vocal passage rounds off the piece. 'Jakobs Ladder' is built on unusual time signatures (the introduction alternates between 5/4 and 6/4.) Structurally and compositionally it's brilliant; something more than a jewel in the crown of 'Permanent Waves'.

The introduction to 'Entre Nouse' acts for us as a bridge between 'Jakobs Ladder' and this, a new song of a different spirit. Though still somewhat profound lyrically, this song echoes something of the simple optimism of the first two songs on this album. A punchy drum part and guitar harmony accompany the vocals, present more or less throughout the song. The small hi-hat crescendos take us nicely into the chorus, in which Lifeson accompanies on twelve string guitar.

In 'Different Strings', the themes of optimism and enthusiasm are abandoned, but the theme of integrity is still featured in the lyrics of a short but special song. Special guest High Syme decorates on piano, and a down tempo guitar solo really captures the mood of the work.

'Natural Science' is the final song on 'Permanent Waves'. It is the highlight of the album, bringing it effectively to its conclusion. The sound of the sea introduces us to the first (of three) sections, 'Tide Pools'; taking us first into a beautiful semi-acoustic chordal accompaniment of thought provoking lyrics. Lifeson's cross rhythmic playing now introduces Peart, who explodes into the piece. From this point on, it is he who drives the piece forward, powering us through the rest of 'Tide Pools' and into 'Hyperspace'. A time signature change into 7/4 marks this event, and Peart explosively punctuates the melody and lyrics here present. The lyrics abate, and we a treated to an instrumental passage, decorated by an ascending and descending scale from Geddy on bass, the music still very much driven by Peart. We see a return to 7 beats in a bar, one of the memorable moments in this piece, in which Peart plays consecutive crashes followed by bass drum triplets, and a surge into another vocal section.

We soon encounter a guitar solo, a true work of art, soaring over a complex bass accompaniment and driving drum part, through a rhythmic change and finally morphing into a fine riff. This riff paves the way for a return of the lyrics we have already encountered at the end of 'Tide Pools', and which bring 'Hyperspace' to its conclusion.

'Permanent Waves', the third and final section of this masterpiece, sees the spirit of optimism and enthusiasm central to this album re-instated through the music - in particular through a punchy accompaniment from Lifeson. The theme of integrity is also re-instated through the lyrics. We are treated to another fine guitar solo, full of blistering legato, punctuated by Geddy's bass guitar part and Peart's bass drum. Following the guitar solo, Peart once again drives, taking us into a syncopated drum figure which brings us into the final lyrical section of this, a truly epic work of art. The sound of the sea, with which 'Natural Science' began, brings the piece to its conclusion, and rounds off the album, leaving the listener having enjoyed a defining experience.

Few albums approach the brilliance of permanent Waves, essential listening for all Rush fans and appreciators of prog. I would also recommend viewing the performance of 'Natural Science' on 'Rush in Rio'; this awesome song really captures the flavour of the album, and watching Niel Peart's performance on this track live is utterly breath taking*. One of Rush's greatest works, 'Permanent Waves' is fully deserved of the 5 stars rating and a place in every prog rock listeners collection.

*For those interested, it is Peart's use of the Moeller technique that allows him so much power and precision, whilst playing at such considerable speed. Watch his wrist; when he plays say, eight quavers on the hi-hat cymbals, his wrist only accounts for four of them. You will notice the movement for the other four comes from the arm, at the elbow joint. 'Permanent Waves' is a considerable showcase of Peart's ability, and the merits of mastership of the Moeller technique.

Ktrout | 5/5 |

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