Review by: Michael Strait
Album assigned by: Eric Pember
Aight, there’s a whole shitton of things I’d rather be doing right now than reviewing a fucking Rush album, so let’s get this out of the way.
Rush, as far as I’m concerned, are a corny AOR band pretending to be a corny hard rock band pretending to be a corny prog rock band. I didn’t like them when I was 16, I don’t like them now, and unless something changes drastically in my biochemistry I’m not about to start liking them anytime soon. Geddy Lee’s vocals annoy me, not because they’re too high-pitched or womanly but because they’re way too over-the-top, like Bruce Dickinson or some garbage power metal vocalist; he tries so hard to fill every syllable with emotion that I end up feeling nothing whatsoever except the occasional spike of mild irritation. He’s a skilled bassist, and he’s got a good tone, but he rarely comes up with any actual memorable basslines – most of the time he’s just showing off. Same goes for their drummer, mostly – he certainly knows how to play, but he really doesn’t contribute much; most of the time he’s a forgettable background presence, like most rock drummers. Say – why does everyone worship that guy again?
Their guitarist is good, though, and he’s responsible for some of the best moments on this album. I recall his solos on Signals being strings of horrendous pseudo-metal clichés, which means he must have fallen a long way in one year because his solos on this album are actually mostly great. They’re weird and experimental without being inaccessible, and they have gravitas without being too “epic” or “awesome”; it’s almost like he’s playing in the wrong band, actually, ‘cos these things really wouldn’t sound out of place in actual prog rock songs. His riffs are pretty good, too, especially on “Tom Sawyer” – an overrated song, but still probably the second-best song on the album. If it were a little less complex it’d almost sound like it belongs on Who’s Next, ‘cos its intelligently reserved chorus and meaty guitar tones would fit right in. Alas, the singing is still insufferable, but this is Rush – that comes with the package. “Red Barchetta” is good, too, if you can get past how earnestly corny it is; the melody’s good, the riff’s good, and the unusual structure feels unforced and natural. I’ll even grant that it has some emotional resonance, ‘cos earnestly corny is still earnest, and well-applied earnestness can touch the heartstrings on occasion.
Elsewhere? Well, we’ve got “YYZ”, which is a fun little romp through a bunch of riffs, basslines and silly boogies, and that’s where the good stuff ends. The remaining four tracks – which, together, take up over half the album’s length – are all varying degrees of boring and pointless, and I can scarcely remember anything about any of them. My notes tell me that “Limelight” has a similar riff to the one Paul McCartney used in one of the segments on “Band On The Run”, but I can’t for the life of me remember which one, and the melody is barely there at all. It’s four minutes of unremarkable wallpaper, and the next three are the same, except that one of them goes on for ten minutes instead of four. That’d be “The Camera Eye”, which tries hard to be big and epic and ends up sounding perfectly pleasant and dull, like a walk by an English river on a grey and slightly drizzly day; not bad, but near-enough impossible to focus on and certainly impossible to remember when it’s finished. The next two, meanwhile, are so lacking in musical ideas that my notes become useless. I mean, take a look at what I wrote while listening to the last song: “This song has a bassline. It also has guitar stabs. It has vocals. The vocals have effects!” Fuck’s sake, this music exists only in the most technical sense. It’s dull, it’s boring, it’s bland, and I don’t want to spend any more time on it when I could be exploring so much music that’s so much more worthwhile. I’m out.
P.S. The synths are all bloody godawful too. Did I mention that?