Review by: Charly Saenz and Jonathan Moss


Rush have a reputation as a mediocre second generation prog rock band. Their reputation is similar to first gen prog band Emerson, Lake and Palmer, a lot of instrumental talent, but most of it wasted. While I would argue slightly with this appraisal of ELP, it’s more or less completely accurate for Rush (or should that be Lifeson, Lee & Peart?). However, for a brief moment, Rush were one of the greatest bands in the world. This kind of started with Permanent Waves, but that was still too proggy and fillerish. Things got considerably better with Moving Pictures, which is a minor classic, featuring, lets get this strait, some gorgeous synth tones. However, it was only with their ninth studio album Signals that they managed completely to remove any prog influence and embrace beautiful art rockish new wave. You can hear this immediately in the guitar solos, which far from sounding generically heavy metal, are restrained and tasteful, and anyone who tells you otherwise is strait up deluded.

I know this is an incredibly uncool thing to say about Rush, but this is such a cool sounding album! Our friend Franco Micale has always argued to me that Rush had a slightly alt-rockish sound, and he’s completely correct, especially on this album, with its catchy melodies and arpeggiated guitar riffs. The synth tones are absolutely blissful as well, they have an almost retro vibe to them, like 60s organs. But at the same time they also have a kind of futuristic vibe, retro-futurism if you will. Geddy’s bass playing is great as well, fluid and melodic throughout, you can call him a frustrated lead guitarist if you want, but that whole idea is bullshit, and insulting to bass players. His vocals are certainly an acquired taste, he definitely sounds sincere throughout the album and manages to get the messages of Neil’s lyrics across with passion. Speaking of Neil, while he is definitely overrated as a drummer, his work on Signals is graceful and accomplished.

There’s a bold statement to start the album, a fierce proud synthesizer pattern that becomes a small symphony when Peart starts weaving the rhythm around with the usual perfect bassline by Geddy, and his controlled voice is the human beauty in the technically charged surroundings. “Subdivisions” is a rebellious chant detailing cold society oppression, The Machine.

“Growing up it all seems so one-sided
Opinions all provided The future pre-decided
Detached and subdivided In the mass production zone
Nowhere is the dreamer
Or the misfit so alone” “

“The Analog Kid” starts off as a more direct rocker with the superb riff by Lifeson, but it’s the otherworldly interaction among the three players here, and those tasty keyboards that send this song directly to heaven. No, this is not Prog Rock. This is plain old Rock with a new sound. It’s definitely the most beautiful song on the album, the way Geddy sings “you move me you move me”, well, it moves me 😛

And, as resident Rushologist Jonathan Hopkins says: “One time, I got really high and listened to the Analog Kid like 20 times in a row because I didn’t realize I wasn’t changing songs. It’s a great song.”

“Chemistry” reminds us how Rush were few of the mainstream acts of their time (Police also comes to mind) to incorporate reggae vibes successfully into their sound. So does “Digital Man” and the fantastic, catchy break:

“He’d love to spend the night in zion
He’s been a long while in babylon
He’d like a lover’s wings to fly on
To a tropic isle of avalon”

The song contains a wonderfully melodic and playful bassline, and the reggaeish guitar playing gives it an almost urban vibe. The song is downright groovy. The song also has a great chorus, feauturing some juttering, funky synth playing. Oh, and that guitar solo!

“The Weapon” might easily be one of those overlooked gems in the album. The opening synth melody is somewhat Devoish (New Traditionalists Devo), just real sort of warm and deep, with a kind of looping, computerish quality. Sci-fi, if you want us to make it sound lame. I guess, to make it sound cool to the kids, we’ll call it proto-synthwave as well. The drone guitar weaves a luxury melody, and by the minute 4, it becomes bigger than life; the keyboards hardly appear as a symbol of modernity. The mid way point of the song, with its soaring guitar, sounds almost ambient. It’s got that dark urban city vibe. The finale with the fading guitar is Beatle-level fantasy.

“New World Man” was the single of the album, made at the last minute to complete its tracklist. It’s a strait rocker and it appealed to the masses. It opens with a fun goofy sounding synths, followed by some melodic, R.E.Mish guitar work. The chorus is super catchy as well, even if it does stray slightly into proggish pomposity. Still, when Geddy belts out “HE’S A NEW WORLD MAN” I just want to sing along.

The most delicate piece in the album, is without a doubt, “Losing It”. The electric violin played by Ben Mink is the best introduction to some refined lyrics using the adequate dancer’s metaphor to discuss time passing and crushed illusions:

“Some are born to move the world —
To live their fantasies
But most of us just dream about
The things we’d like to be”

The synth pattern that opens the song and stays throughout is gentle and lullabyish, and the guitar tone has a mournful melancholic quality. The song does have a slightly arena-rockish sound during parts, but its fine, the cunts pull it off. It still doesn’t fail to detract from the gentle quality of the song.

“Countdown” is a fine way to end the album, even if the clips from an actual countdown are cheesy as fuck. It features an ominous synth and guitar line working well together to make the song seem creepy. I guess this is to convey hour nerve racking a NASA launch would be, which, duh. Geddy’s vocal melody manages to imbue the song with some sense of calm though, he just sounds so assertive and confident. There’s a fun, squiggly little keyboard line later on, and the chorus is tense and memorable.

Signals might be considered a maligned album by many, but it meant a lot to many people, it stands right in the middle of Rush’s career between their progressive beginnings, right after their breakthrough album and their newer stuff, who arguably abuses the 80s production a little bit. It’s full of hooks, touching and meaningful lyrics.

But here, we’re still at the perfect top. Exquisite keyboards, how to sound futuristic without being a cold bitch, and feeling without leaving the rock pulse.

Fuck you, Michael Strait. With Love, of course.