The Rush Project - March's Playlist

The Rush Project - March's Playlist

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According to my Last.fm stats, Rush is now my most played artist, up from 4th place last month. As I mentioned last month, I’ve been listening to the following albums.

These three albums are pretty fantastic and I’d recommend them to anyone who’s not familiar with Rush or stopped listening in the ’80s.

Counterparts

As the follow-up to Roll The Bones, this is a nice, heavy album. I was familiar with Stick It Out, which went to #1 on the US Mainstream Rock charts, but I didn’t recognize any other songs. This is an all-around great album. The songs are solid and heavy, the songwriting is top notch, and the lyrics are damned awesome.

Animate kicks it off with a tight beat. I love how the bass crawls in on top, with the guitar trilling in to get it all rolling. By the time the verse starts, around the 1:00 mark, it’s solidified into quite a groove.

Nobody’s Hero caught me completely off guard.

I knew he was different in his sexuality
I went to his parties as a straight minority
It never seemed a threat to my masculinity
He only introduced me to a wider reality

As the years went by, we drifted apart
When I heard that he was gone
I felt a shadow cross my heart
But he’s nobody’s hero

I went to school with this kid, circa ‘78 or ‘79. Junior High School stuff. God, I hadn’t thought about this dude in years until this song crackled over my speakers and then – boom – I was back in 9th grade, in band rehearsal, standing behind the tympani, and this kid was seated to my right, back against the wall, no instrument in hand, in trouble again, segregated. I can see him so clearly. He was short but solid, heavy boned but not overweight. Almost trim. Big, heavy jaw. Sun bleached blonde hair, with a bowl trim that made him look somewhat neanderthal. He had only recently started attending this school. I think his family had just moved to town. Nobody liked him, but I did. Other than me, I don’t think he had any friends. The gang I hung with tolerated him only out of deference to me. And holy hell could that kid be annoying. He had very little concept of personal space or of how others perceived him. I can’t count the times I’d walk up to our table at lunch only to find all the girls stopped mid-speech as he monkey-danced around, pounding on the table, just being weird and freaking them out. He didn’t mean any malevolence; he was just being his natural, weird self. But when I’d tell him to quit, he’d quit and settle down. When I’d tell him to be quiet, he’d stop talking or making whatever noises he was making.

He was a good kid and I genuinely liked him. I suspected he might be gay and, in retrospect, I don’t think he was sexually mature enough to even consider that possibility. I mean, come on. We were all just starting to bloom and some of us bloom later than others. That’s the whole frigging gig when you’re 14, right? His home life was not what you’d define as peaceful, but that’s all I remember about that.

Anyway, something happened. His dad got transferred to another town, I think. At any rate, in fairly short order he was gone as quickly as he had appeared. Poof. Time passed, maybe a year, maybe three months. Who can know. Time passes very differently when you’re 14. My mom calls me into the kitchen, tells me there’s a collect call for me, and hands me the phone. My dad was there, too. This was weird for three reasons. First, the call was coming in on my parents’s phone number, not mine. Second, this was a collect call. That was a big deal in my family because money was always tight and things like accepting collect calls only happened when death or jail was involved. Third, why the hell was someone calling 14-year-old me collect?

I assumed I was in trouble. It was something of a default stance.

It was him. He’d run away from home and had been on his own for a week or so. He was calling me collect from a pay phone at the Dallas Market Center. I remember thinking It’s really dark outside. Why the hell is he at the frigging Market Center this late? There can’t be anyone else around, and if there is, they can’t be intending good things for him. (For reference, here is Dallas Market Center on Google Maps.) Dallas was huge. Scary huge and over 300 miles away.

Mom wanted me to get more information. Dad kept telling her there wasn’t much we could do, but he looked really concerned. He was right. I don’t think we even had his parents’s contact information. So I just kept talking, worried about my friend, this kid who kept insisting it was all good, there was nothing to worry about, he was fine, it was going to be okay, he was going to get a job helping out, he’d have cash soon, he’d figure something out, and hey, gotta run, talk with you soon.

And then he was gone. I have no idea what became of him. I never heard from him again.

I felt a shadow cross my heart.

As I listened to Nobody’s Hero, I started to realize how much that kid had touched me. How much he had affected me. How he solidified my belief in the outcast’s worth and potential. How he encouraged me on my course, my path, my life, just by being himself.

I still feel guilty. There’s this emptiness in my heart. Was there anything more I could’ve done? How much can a 14-year-old kid do when all he has is a phone in one hand and about 300 miles in front of him? I still miss him. I hope he made it. I hope he escaped that dark night, the vacant parking lot, that empty bank of pay phones, and I hope he found some place other than the hard pavement to sleep on. Whatever was waiting for him after he hung up, I hope it was good things. I hope he found some measure of happiness. And I hope above all things that he’s still out there, healthy, happy, breathing, and that he still remembers our time together as fondly as I remember it.

Between Sun & Moon is a great little rocker. Alex just glides. This one makes me smile because it all flows so damned perfectly. The lyrics are masterful and we could probably debate them all day but in the end, the hooks take the day.

Leave That Thing Alone is great instrumental and received a Grammy nomination for Best Instrumental. (Spoiler Alert: It lost.)

Cold Fire is just wonderful. The music, the lyrics, the performance. Tambourine! Also, I find it hilarious that “nerd band” Rush has a song about how “complex women are.” Maybe it’s just me. Alex’s solo is awesome.

In this song about unconditional love, we find this:

I’ll be around
If you don’t let me down too far
I’ll be around
If you don’t let me down

This is obviously about a woman who has a solid understanding of self respect and boundaries. Even unconditional love has it’s breaking point.

Released October 19, 1993, Counterparts topped the Billboard 200 at #2, their highest charting album to date. It was certified Gold by RIAA on December 7, 1993.

Test For Echo

Test For Echo continues the vibe defined in Counterparts. Checking around various sites, it seems that not many people were impressed with this album. Those people are wrong. This album is wonderful. I offer as proof the first seven seconds of the first song, the title track, Test For Echo. If you don’t like those seven seconds, then you probably didn’t like Counterparts either and maybe you spend all your days longing for a return to the keyboard-laden ’80s.

A pox on the lot of you, says I.

Driven is the only song I’d heard before and I have to embarrassingly admit that, although I’d heard it, I never paid attention to it and never registered that it was Rush. It was one of those songs that plays somewhere in the background that you vaguely recall, but maybe it was the whiskey, and why can’t I get another beer, where the hell is the waitress, and hey, did you hear the one about … and yeah, I’d heard the song, but didn’t realize it was Rush. So, I was pleasantly surprised when this little gem tumbled out of the speakers while I was driving to work. (See what I did there?) It’s a great one and I especially love when the bottom drops out and all you’re left with is Geddy’s vocal and the acoustic guitar. That gets me every time.

Driven up and down in circles
Skidding down a road of black ice
Staring in and out storm windows
Driven to a fool’s paradise
It’s my turn to drive
But it’s my turn to drive

That’s how life is, man. If you’re not driving, you will be driven. If you’re not in control, you’re drifting with the stream. And there’s a time for drifting. But when you find yourself being steered into storms, steered into never-ending circles and whirlpools, then it’s time to sit up, back straight, take that damned wheel and drive. If you’re going anywhere meaningful, you have to take control. You have to steer yourself. You have to drive.

The intro to Half The World is just awesome. Geddy kills that thing. It’s exciting to hear it all come into focus around the 8 second mark. This is fun little rocker.

Virtuality explodes out the starting gate. A song about relationships in the Internet age, it’s chorus is extremely catchy. It’s funny to hear a song refer to modems, but then you realize this album was released in ‘96 and wow things have progressed pretty quickly. I do not miss modems.

Net boy, net girl
Send your heartbeat round the world
Let your fingers walk and talk
And set you free

Net boy, net girl
Send your impulse ‘round the world
Put your message in a modem
And throw it in the Cyber Sea

At times Peart is damned near prescient. He could easily be describing Twitter (although yeah, most likely email lists or message boards, thanks, killjoy).

Resist has an irresistible play between guitar, piano, and vocal harmonies. (That one? I am killing it.) The feeling conjures visions of knights and maidens, and I suddenly find myself longing for a return to the mammoth songs of yesteryear. If you don’t like this song, you’re not paying attention, not being honest, or you’re hopelessly broken and I’m sorry but it’s time to try a different genre. The lyrics are ingenious, to wit:

You can surrender
Without a prayer
But never really pray
Pray without surrender

You can fight
Without ever winning
But never ever win
Win without a fight

Limbo is frolicking, rocking instrumental. Geddy and Alex fry on this thing and it’s wonderful.

Test For Echo was released September 10, 1996 and hit #5 on the Billboard Top 200. It was certified Gold on October 23, 1996.

And then tragedy struck and, other than two live albums, A Show of Hands and Different Stages, and two compilations Retrospective I and Retrospective II, Rush fell silent for six years.

Vapor Trails

Geddy thought the band was done. Alex had no idea whether they’d play again. Neil told them at his daughter’s funeral to consider him retired. But then he came back from his 55,000 mile spiritual quest. And they started the slow process of rebuilding and relearning and … then we got Vapor Trails.

Wow, this album turned everybody sideways, didn’t it? There was a lot of criticism regarding the production of this album. From Wikipedia:

The production of Vapor Trails has been criticized by critics and fans alike because of the album’s “loud” sound quality. Albums such as this have been mastered so loud that additional digital distortion is generated during the production of the CD. The trend, known as the [loudness war] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loudness_war), has become very common on modern rock CDs.

This was a big deal to a lot of people with even Lifeson remarking, “it crackles, and it spits. All the dynamics get lost, especially anything that had an acoustic guitar in it.”

Apparently, the entire development process was rougher than any other album. It took 14 months to finish, which is longer than they’ve spent on any album. My guess is Rush wasn’t too involved in the post-recording process, otherwise they’d have said or done something. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for bands to be unhappy with the final product.

All this said, I am not an audiophile. I like grooves and lyrics and feeling. Yes, I can tell the difference between demos and well-mixed albums. I know when there’s too much bass or too much treble. However, my ear simply doesn’t pick up on intricacies. Some victims of the so-called loudness war are obvious to me. Vapor Trails is one of those albums. It lacks the depth and dynamics we’ve come to expect from a Rush album.

However, if this album were re-mixed (assuming that’s even possible), it could be one of Rush’s best. Sound quality aside, from a feeling and grove standpoint, this is a work of art. The instrumentation and arrangements are brilliant. With the right mix, I think this album could be a classic.

The lyrics are deadly and insightful. I know I’ve said this about other albums, but this is probably some of Peart’s best work. Given his recent history at this point, all the lyrics are especially poignant and meaningful.

This is their first album since Caress of Steel to not feature any keyboard or synthesizer. And after the deluge that was the ’80s, we all say hallelujah.

Vapor Trails is heavy on vocal harmonies. Rush has never sounded like this and it’s kind of fantastic. The album wormed into my heart immediately and it’s probably one of my favorites since Moving Pictures.

One Little Victory kicks it off, something of a “we’re back” statement. You can almost feel Peart roaring down some back road, fighting against the weight of reality, acknowledging every little victory as a step toward his ultimate freedom.

A certain measure of righteousness
A certain amount of force
A certain degree of determination
Daring on a different course

A certain amount of resistance
To the forces of life and love
A certain measure of tolerance
A willingness to rise above

One little victory

Ceiling Unlimited is a great background song and I didn’t pay it much attention until I read the lyrics.

The vacant smile
Of true insanity
Dressed up in the mask of tragedy
Programmed for the guts and glands
Of idle minds and idle hands

I rest my case
Or at least my vanity
Dressed up in the mask of comedy
If laughter is a straw for a drowning man
If laughter is a straw for a drowning man

You have to wonder how much of that is autobiographical. How often, as Peart rode his bike across North America, reeling from his catastrophic loss, did he smile vacant smiles at strangers, feeling the crush of insanity while trying to convey normalcy? How often did he desperately grasp at the straw of laughter, empty as it was, fearing he’d never recover, never feel the dry land of sanity underfoot again?

How many times did he pull his bike to the side of the road and completely break down?

Ghost Rider is a somewhat biographical tribute to Peart’s travels around North America. It’s haunting in it’s meaning and hopeful in it’s purpose. The vocal harmonies really send this one over the top.

Pack up all those phantoms
Shoulder that invisible load
Keep on riding north and west
Haunting that wilderness road

Shadows in the mirror
Lightens that invisible load
Riding on a nameless quest
Haunting that wilderness road
Like a ghost rider

Peaceable Kingdom feels like something from King’s X. This is a remarkable tune and one of my favorites. It carries the message of all the other opinions and beliefs that fall on deaf ears. While we’re marching according to our beliefs, billions of others are headed in contrary and conflicting directions while following theirs. It’s luminous and brilliantly executed.

How It Is is an instant repeat in my brain.

Foot upon the stair
Shoulder to the wheel
You can’t tell yourself not to care
You can’t tell yourself how to feel

That’s how it is
That’s how it is

Another cloudy day
Seems we’ll never see the sun
Or feel the day has possibilities
Frozen in the moment
The lack of imagination
Between how it is and how it ought to be

Isn’t that almost every instance of life? We know how it ought to be but we’re continually bumping into how it is. I should be spending more time with the kids, but somebody has to make the house payment. I should be writing that novel, but the bills have to paid today and it’s almost midnight. You and that fantastic girl across the room should be experiencing love at first sight, but she has a boyfriend and you have to leave now. What is versus what ought to be or even what could be. And the power to change it all rests completely and totally within us. This song is the story of every person’s life. It’s fantastically real.

And the most powerful line: You can’t tell yourself how to feel. Boom.

How It Is is easily my favorite song on the album. It served me well during the recent funeral of one of my all-time favorite people: my father-in-law. Goddamn, I miss that guy.

Vapor Trail is an astute statement on the temporary nature of life and is wonderfully executed.

Horizon to horizon, memory written on the wind
Washed away like footprints in the rain
Swept away like voices in a hurricane
In a vapor trail

This tempo and hooks belie the message. On the surface, the lyrics ring forth hopelessness, the temporary nature of life and futile hope of permanence.

Except for the vapor trail.

Sure, it’s all temporary. As Fight Club taught us: On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero. But while we’re here, we can make a mark, a temporary thing, but still a thing. We’re just a link in a chain and ten thousand years from now no one will remember. Memories fade with age and ultimately die with us. Every day, thousands upon thousands of stories are lost. Memories trapped in a now decaying brain. Thoughts, emotions, connections. They’re all temporary things.

While we’re here, the best we can do, the most we can hope for, is a vapor trail. A temporary thing that says I was here and I did this.

Geddy’s vocals make Secret Touch work. He seriously kills this one. It’s simple in its complexity.

Released May 14, 2002, it hit number 6 on the Billboard Top 200. While it was certified gold in Canada in August, 2002, it has, as of this writing, not yet reached gold status in the US and I think we should all be ashamed because of it.

Two to Go

And then there were two. Next month will feature these two albums and will wrap up this project for now. I’ll have more on that later.

As a side note, I’d like to thank Brian Ashe for his suggestion that I add the Amazon player to the discussion of each album so you can, if only partially, hear the songs I’m writing about. It’s a great idea and I latched onto it immediately. If not for his persistence, I probably would’ve never gotten off my lazy ass and made it happen. Amazon currently only offers the player in Flash, but Brian and I, being the starry-eyed dreamer types, are hoping they roll out a HTML 5 version in the near future.

Okay, enough words. Music!