Rush are back again for their 19th studio album and sounds more lively than they have in years!
So what has rekindled the fire in Rush? Some might say that Vapour Trails (their last studio album) was an opportunity to clean the slate after the tragedy that befell Neil Peart and his family. Others (including Rush members themselves) may point to their Feedback EP of cover songs released in 2004 for renewing their appreciation for songwriting that is immediate. Then there's producer Nick Raskulinecz - a self professed Rush fan - that helped pull some magic material out of the band.
Snakes and Arrows is more immediate than Vapour Trails. This record presents a band that is confident and inspired. Of the thirteen tracks that grace the album, three of the tunes ("Malignant Narcissism", "Hope" and "The Main Monkey Business") are instrumentals - how many other bands today have the balls to put three of those on a single disc?
"Hope" is solo acoustic guitar track written and arranged by Alex Lifeson. It reminds me of something Jimmy Page would play on a Led Zeppelin album. It helps break up the flow of the album and bring some delicate beauty and vulnerability that a only a naked acoustic guitar can bring.
Overall, Alex takes one for the team this time around. Vapour Trails was dominated by loud, heavy guitar sounds whereas for this album Alex is doing more 'atmospheric' type parts. The producer apparently wanted to give Neil and Geddy a little more sonic real estate than they had on the last album, once again - no complaints here! Alex's solos on Snakes and Arrows - in my opinion- are among the best he's ever done.
Geddy is in fine form on this album. Simply put, his bass tone is to die for - check out "The Main Monkey Business", also his playing beneath the guitar solo on "Faithless" just about gives me chills every time I hear it. Oddly enough, his vocals are occasionally lower in the mix than we're used to hearing them. But I'm not complaining, it works. Apparently the song Malignant Narcissism was inspired by a the Fender Jaco Pastorius Signature Fretless Bass - Geddy on fretless, who'd have thunk it?
Then there's Neil. Well, he's still Neil. He somehow manages to be tasteful and busy at the same time. He was encouraged to solo a few times on this album when he wasn't expecting it and apparently was annoyed at not having all his parts memorized as per usual. The producer seemed to know what buttons to push to get this seasoned group of accomplished musicians out of their safety zone and into some fresh territory.
As for the lyrics, well - since the loss of his wife and daughter almost ten years ago - just about everyone is reading something of that disaster into anything that Neil writes. I'll leave that speculation to others. I will say that Neil is as poignant as ever, and his lyrics keep pace with the high bar set by the performances and arrangements of the entire album.
If you haven't checked Rush out in a while, Snakes and Arrows might be the perfect point to get back on the bandwagon. Rush, after more than 30 years, still have a lot left in the tank. Lets hope there's more to come!