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Victor

Victor

Review by Vivian Lee

In 1994, Rush guitarist decided to use the interim between albums and a tour to record his first solo, Victor. Invited guests include I Mother Earth's Edwin, Canadian singer/songwriter Dalbello, bassist Les Claypool, guitarist Bill Bell and drummer Blake Manning. Lifeson's son played a hand in programming and songwriting duties, while his wife lent her voice on a track. Each guest brought different influences and styles to the table. Together, they made music that is much more aggressive in its songwriting and playing than Rush had done in quite a long time.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: The Early Years Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.


This is Lifeson's eleven-track ode to the Dark Side of Love. The liner notes bear the quote, "Beware the thorns of the black rose of love, lest your soul they prick." Classed by some as alternative rock, it has a definite alt edge musically but still has a prog aftertaste. One can hear evolution in Lifeson's style of playing and songwriting. This exploration into the heart of darkness works as a CD. Lyrically the songs are all intelligent yet show a sense of humor.


Initially I was stunned as the first track strongly demands the listener's attention. With repeated listenings, I noted the variation in selections. All the tracks are strong musically and lyrically. This album isn't easily comparable to others in its genre and those looking for Rushian rhythms will be disappointed. However, Victor is well worth the money and I only hope that Lifeson will release more side projects as dynamic as this one.

Track by Track Review
Don't Care
This cut is based in loud, pounding, twangy, aggressive bass like you'd hear in a band like Korn. Harsh vocals from Edwin belt out harsh lyrics by Lifeson. Blake Manning's cymbal work interweaves with pounding drumbeats in a regular standard alterna-rock rhythm. The number features screechy guitar work
Promise
This song's "take a chance" message could be meant toward life or love or anything apart from the normal routine. 'Leave the safety, leave this life, leave before it's too late, seek the world now'
Start Today
Featuring the strong taut energetic alto of Canadian singer Dalbello, this is a fabulous dialog between a woman and a man from the female point of view. This is hardly some pop-tart chick song as the vocals run the gamut from a breathy moan to a low aggressive growl to a high screech. It's universally saying 'leave the excess baggage of the past behind and start anew'
Mr. X
One of two short instrumentals, the repetitive slow bass riffage works the listener into a steady funk groove. The wailing lead guitar is all over the place yet doesn't cross the line into noodly soloing. It's wildly evocative and beautiful with jazz-rock fusion sensibilities.
At the End
The eerie synth effects at the beginning set us up for a different kind of song. Yet Alex's soft tenor barely whispering in a spoken word style tells a story of a man who misses his wife dearly and plans his journey to join her in the afterlife. Lifeson's soulfully bluesy guitar is smooth and clean - a good match for Edwin's ragged singing voice. Clean, faint cymbals in a regular rhythm paired with an irregular yet repetitive drum part provide a kind of distraction from the incredibly sad lyrical content.
Sending a Warning
Edwin sings like a casual observer of the man vs. woman conflict. "Their war is just like any war- all the pain for nothing, double bladed sword". Manning's drum/cymbal work is like a diluted Peart.
Shut Up Shuttin' Up
I had to laugh as Charlene Lifeson and her pal Esther dish and complain about the men in their lives and conclude that 'men are only good for one thing... just playing the guitar'. Beleaguered Alex shuts the song down with his screams of shut up but not before doing a serious wailing solo.
Strip and Go Naked
I have no idea why it's called "Strip and Go Naked" but it's a bluesy toe-tapper that I love listening to. This is another short but sweet instrumental that features mandola, a rarely used string instrument in rock and adds a nice touch to the cooperative interplay of guitar and bass.
The Big Dance
This isn't some lovable cutesy "Just a Gigolo" rendition au David Lee Roth. This is Edwin singing in a gritty voice about the harsh reality of a grifter who 'doesn't live for love' and will 'gladly take your money'. No offense gents, but men can be 'hoes' too and this song just proves the point. Primus bassist Les Claypool's thwap/slap basswork style is plain and aids the crunchy guitar in creating the cut's dark and harsh musical tone.
Victor
The title track and the longest one is named for W.H. Auden's 1940 poem which Lifeson recites in a tenor speaking voice, a factor that makes the track stand out. Another factor is the low tone of the music, aided by bass, a faint percussion machine, Colleen Allen's low horn, and distant voices on the wind among other synth effects also add to the tone. This story of a man devoted to his wife differs from "At the End" because Victor's devotion is homicidal, not suicidal - trés creepy.
I Am the Spirit
The final track throws ice water on the lull created by "Victor" with Edwin's high-toned tenor, and a wobble and slide guitar.
 
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