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Journal of Peter Greenwell

Tag: hard rock

Rush – Hemispheres

This record is the culmination of Rush’s adventures into side-long progressive rock songs. Mind you, they only wrote these kinds of seventies icons for four albums, so when you consider their discography as a whole, it’s a somewhat small part of their sonic output. With that aside, Hemispheres on its own merits is a wonderful album, and stands up well against other luminaries in Rush’s corpus.

For those who don’t know, this record is prog rock/hard rock, with equal shares of either, and most of the time the two genres are blended perfectly. It’s certainly harder than its softer and spacier predecessor A Farewell to Kings.

There are only four songs on this record and Circumstances is the arguable weak link of the quartet. Compared to the sonic boom majesty of the other three, it’s fairly Rush-by-numbers. In saying that, Rush-by-numbers usually exceeds the better efforts of many lesser artists. Such is the power of this band.

There’s signs of things to come too. Both Circumstances and the far superior The Trees have a precision and concision about them that reached a brilliant apex on their next studio record, Permanent Waves. But generally, one Rush album usually foreshadows the next, so – at least to a fan – there’s no surprises here.

Progressive hard music reached its apex with album opener, the six-part Cygnus X-1 Book II – Hemispheres, a titanic musical battle between the heart and the mind (signified by the figures on the album cover). Eighteen minutes of mind-bending to-and-fro. It’s Book II, as Book I (The Voyage) ended out A Farewell to Kings. We’ve reached the destination that song was journeying too and the resolution? Listen to it, that’s all I can say further.

Of course, this album contains the first in a long line of Rush epic instrumentals – the marvellous La Villa Strangiato, which went some way to cement the band’s reputation in technical excellence.

As said before, Hemispheres is the peak of Rush’s prog rock phase. It’s also the last album to genuinely feature long, thematic songs usually associated with the genre. Sure, Permanent Waves had Natural Science, but it never felt like a prog rock song. It doesn’t have that same quality – whatever that may be. I can’t put my finger on it. In any case, Hemispheres is a superb record, taken on its own merits or part of the progressive rock oeuvre.

rush hemispheres

Rush – Presto

After Rush’s decade-long voyage through synth-ville, they end the 80s with this superb record. The keyboards are still here, but they’re not front and centre like they were on Power Windows and especially Hold Your Fire.

This record was a return to form for Rush for some. Guitars and drums are up front, and the songs are far more direct in their structure. Lyrically, it delves into the personal with a mystical bent theme that has carried through from Hold Your Fire. In saying so, things do get a lot deeper on this record. Rush directly addresses suicide on The Pass, unwanted and cloying fame on Superconductor and seems to mention infidelity on Anagram (For Mongo). This is in addition to the now-typical musings on things environmental and the trope of getting older.

For the first time arguably since Permanent Waves, Rush has crafted an album where the music slots together seamlessly. A cynic could argue a lot of the music sounds the same, and sure it does, but it’s one of those somewhat rare instances where a “sameyness” works in favour of the record. Alex Lifeson has rediscovered the power chord and a few of the tracks grind with gorgeous power, particularly album highlight Superconductor and close to second-best War Paint. There’s even a bit of pseudo-reggae with Scars and some critics have deemed Red Tide to be homage to The Police. What it all means is that Rush has moved away from the more progressive nature of their earlier material and are maturing into a thinking man’s hard rock band. Something they’ve carried on to this era.

Hey, nothing wrong with that. And Presto, like most of their stuff, is unlikely to win any new fans over. Much like all Rush records, this platter is an acquired listen but what a listen it is. It’s damned close to their best record. A superb return to heavier form.

rush - presto

Rush – Hold Your Fire

This is the successor to Power Windows and you could argue it’s more of the same. At least on first listen.

Synths are definitely more front and centre and on a few tracks, they dominate so strongly, you wonder if Alex Lifeson is on the record at all. Particularly on tracks like Tai Shan which veers heavily into synth-pop/New Wave territory. The band later admitted the song was a mistake. I don’t mind it personally, but it’s not Rush, that’s for sure.

While I said this album is more of the same compared to Power Windows, it’s not the unity that album was. It took me a lot longer to warm to Hold Your Fire. Where the songs on Power Windows individually felt like one eighth of a whole, there’s none of that rhythm here. No space and power together here. Lots of either, but not both.The guitars sound short and sharp and are often buried under all the 80s synths. For the first (and only time) Rush use a female vocalist, on Time Stand Still. That’s indicative of the direction they went here and some fans may have wondered where their favourite hard rock/prog rock band went.

That being said, there are some glorious rockers here, namely Force Ten and Turn The Page. Neil Peart’s lyrics are at their preachiest on any record they’ve made and in a way I’m glad they retreated from the overall vibe of their “synth period” that started with Moving Pictures. It reaches an apex here and the next album, Presto is a far harder, guitar-heavy record.

hold your fire

Rush – Power Windows

Studio album number eleven. This was the second record of Rush’s I ever bought and frankly, I was bitterly appalled when I first listened to it. You see, Permanent Waves was the first and you could not find two albums that differ so much. At least at first appearances. I even remember telling a friend at the time that Rush had turned into Foreigner.

As I’ve stated elsewhere, repeated listens are the key with Rush, and Power Windows really does take off with each groove. Keyboards are prominent here, though they reached their apex on Hold Your Fire, the next record. But guitars are prominent too. In fact, everything is upfront.

Nothing here truly rocks, but it’s all grand stuff. It’s over the top synth heavy hard rock, and tracks like Territories and Grand Design rate amongst Rush’s best. Atmospheric power. In fact, the album’s title encapsulates this record perfectly. There’s power here, but there’s also an opening to the vast and thundering world beyond.

Through the eight cuts on this record, you get the sense that Rush is trying to address the common yearning of people struggling to break free of suburban mediocrity, a transcending from the average and everyday. Whatever the case may be, this is the midpoint of their 80s synth records and rates amongst their best in my book.

They never did an album this expansive again.

power windows

Rush – Signals

Album number nine and here are eight songs. As any Rush aficionado knows, this was the last they made with producer Terry Brown. It’s the last of an era too, before they embarked on a synth-heavy voyage through the 80s that ended with Presto. Synths are prominent here, but traces of the short and sharp hard rock they introduced on Permanent Waves remain.

Like nearly every record of theirs, this one probably won’t seize your fancy upon first listen. It took me a while to warm to it, and I since have obviously. I’d rate it as one of their better records, definitely better than the ones either side of it, Moving Pictures and Grace Under Pressure.

But, it’s not without an issue. I state “issue” in the singular, but it’s big enough that it’s almost a show-stopper. Alex Lifeson’s guitar is way back in the mix. I mean way back. Even on tracks that call for a churning, rocking guitar like The Analog Kid and New World Man, it’s so far back it almost ruins the song. About the only track where it’s at the fore is The Weapon. And to be perfectly frank, the live version they did for the Grace Under Pressure tour is so much better.

Buried guitar or not, the eight tracks on this record are wonderful. The Weapon is the standout, and album closer Countdown comes close. I’d like to say there’s not a weak track, but I’d argue that Subdivisions and Chemistry falter a little.

signalsBut not by much.

Rush – Permanent Waves

This is album number seven for Rush. It’s different from everything that came before it and very different from everything that came after. Gone are the long prog-rock pieces, replaced by sharp and heavy precise songs. Guitars are front and centre here and it’s all glorious. From the opening (and famous) riff of The Spirit of Radio right to the glittering end of Natural Science, you’re in classic album land.

Fans and critics cite their next record, Moving Pictures as Rush’s best. Negative. This is their best. That other LP is a little too wide-ranging, a touch too non-cohesive to be considered a classic in my eyes. It’s good, but not that great.

This LP, on the other hand, is great. As I said, guitars are up the front on this LP and they crunch, especially on cuts like Entre Nous and Freewill. Even the soft, gentle Different Strings doesn’t sound out of place here.

Of course, the musicianship is what you’d expect of Rush and there’s exquisite playing everywhere.

This was the first Rush LP I ever listened to and it remains my favourite. They were never quite this hard or heavy again and it’s definitely the pivot album of their career. All that came before was mystic progressive rock, long winding and complex pieces, and all after (up to Test For Echo anyway) was generally softer with far more prominent keyboard work.

This is the Canadian trio’s magnum opus. And they never did an LP cover quite as awesome ever again!

permanent waves

Rush – Test For Echo

One could argue Test For Echo is a continuation of the sound first presented on Counterparts. It’s not as “grindy” as that album, nor does it tackle some of the challenging subject material it had.

Like most Rush albums, this one requires repeated listens. The songs do blur into one another, as they are on the “samey” side a bit and it’ll be some time before each take on their own character. Of course, if you’re not a Rush aficionado this album won’t sway you in the slightest. It’s not one of Rush’s best efforts and dare I say it, the album may well be the victim of some complacent song writing.

There’s some great cuts on here, like Driven, Resist and Half The World. All of the songs are generally mid-tempo and there’s nought here that seriously rocks out.

This site calls Test for Echo the worst Rush record…hmm, well, their last three platters haven’t gelled with me yet, so I’ll defer judgement. But certainly, it’s one of their lesser efforts.

test fro echo

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