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Rush - Signals CD (album) cover




Heavy Prog

3.95 | 1232 ratings

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3 stars Once upon a time there were three master builders. They spent many arduous years erecting a magnificent house. Self-taught, they learned through trial and error and one day they succeeded in finally finishing the impressive structure. No one in the construction industry thought they could do it but they managed to accomplish their goals on their own terms without compromising their integrity or their dreams and, upon completion, people from near and far showed up to admire their handiwork. However, after a short rest from their labors they began work on a new abode that was designed to be somewhat different in shape and scope from their ballyhooed masterpiece. When the trio asked their supporters why this disturbed them so, the crowd answered 'We don't want you to start on a new dwelling, we want you to add a second floor to the house we like so much!'

That, I sense, is the predicament that the three members of Rush found themselves in when on 'Signals' they failed to duplicate the exact sound and look of their mega hit album 'Moving Pictures.' They'd spent a very long time fashioning their unique approach to progressive rock & roll and cultivating a loyal following that would allow them to continue to improve record by record to the point where the rest of the world would have to take notice. The runaway popularity of 'Moving Pictures' was the culmination of their focused hard work and they were at last able to step back and say to themselves 'We did it!' I can't hold it against them for taking a 'been there, done that' attitude towards that disc and for wanting to expand their horizons by venturing down other avenues but evidently many of their devotees did. I guess it's just human nature to want more of what we prefer and to resist change but Rush had no intention of playing that constraining game. Being progressive means being willing to take big risks.

Releasing their second live album to all extents and purposes put an exclamation point on all that had characterized their career up to that juncture and when they began to formulate and assemble the material for 'Signals' they jettisoned all their conceptions of what Rush had to be and let their muse be their guide. In particular they allowed synthesizers and the influence of the New Wave movement in modern music trends to filter into their creativity without restraint and the record's opening act, 'Subdivisions,' made no pretense about what they were up to. My first impression was that they no longer felt compelled to knock the walls down with pulverizing pulses of power as they'd done so many times before and that bassist/singer Geddy Lee no longer saw a need to see how high he could go vocally. And Alex Lifeson's inimitable guitar presence was diminished to the point where he stayed in the background until the later part of the song. By the time this track ended I knew for certain that they weren't going to take the predictable route this time around. For 'The Analog Kid' a strong, straight rock feel from Neil Peart establishes a no-nonsense mood and direction for the tune to pursue while the half beat he lays down for the bridge gives it a very prog air. Lifeson's guitar solo is decent but not as edgy as those he's presented in the past. The over-the-top intro for 'Chemistry' will brighten any progger's day. They ease into a tight groove that anchors Lee's more relaxed and under control voice well but I also detect a palpable lack of urgency in their demeanor. It's not a damning criticism, just an observation because their musicianship is still beyond reproach.

'Digital Man' is the first of several highlights you'll find on 'Signals.' Their sharper-honed attack gives this song much bigger balls overall. The inclusion of some rhythmic ska flavorings demonstrated their fearlessness when it came to their mutually agreed-upon evolution. Alex tears it up nicely on guitar and Peart's punchy accents are well worth taking note of. On 'The Weapon' I got the sensation that they were being too deliberate in going out of their way to not sound like they did on 'Moving Pictures' and 'Permanent Waves' because they come off more Police-like here than Rush-ish. The composition is not particularly impressive but I do like what they accomplished via the open spaces they left that let the track breathe. 'New World Man' is still, to this day, their biggest single in the USA but for some reason it doesn't get near the airplay that 'Tom Sawyer' and 'Limelight' garner on classic rock radio. It's a better tune in some respects and it further emphasizes their interest in reggae during that period but it's Lifeson's guitar work that distinguishes it from the other cuts on the album. 'Losing It' displays the more delicate side of Rush and the addition of Ben Mink's electric violin is very effective and inspirational. The number owns a cool Genesis-meets-Jon Luc Ponty vibe that gets me right where my little progger's heart resides. The closer, 'Countdown,' gives Alex an opportunity to let the depth of his layered guitars provide it with a cavernous aura but I could've done without the corny voice-overs that date the track frightfully. It's not bad, per se, but I kept waiting for the defining 'WOW' moment that never came.

Released on 9/9/82, the album rose to the #10 spot on the LP charts but, more importantly, it drew a line in the sand that separated this version of Rush from the raucous band that fought and clawed their way to prominence during the 70s. Not everyone in Rushville was happy about it, either. While I have no doubt that the negative reaction the album garnered from a lot of their followers bothered Neil, Geddy and Alex to some extent, to their credit they didn't let the naysayers stop them from continuing construction on a new, more modern house in the vacant lot next door. There was nothing wrong with the home they'd just finished but that was then and this was now. My hat's off to them for not caving in to the pressure to repeat themselves ad infinitum. 3.3 stars.

Chicapah | 3/5 |


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