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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Rush

Snakes & Arrows

Review by Rick Damigella

Legendary Canadian prog rockers Rush are back with their first new album of original material in five years with the release of Snakes & Arrows. Let’s face it, hardcore Rush fans are some of the most loyal fans out there. Though I counted myself as among that number, I must admit I am something of a lapsed Rush fan, not really following them during the 90’s and early 21st century. As those hardcore fans will undoubtedly have picked this new album up the second they could get their hands on it, I am approaching this review from the stand point of a lapsed Rush fan; the kind who loved them in the 70’s and 80’s and still listen to those classic albums today, but who generally didn’t stay with the band over the last decade and a half.

Most appealing about this new album is how accessible it is to this level of fan and just how vital and matured the band still sounds after 30 plus years together. Indeed, the best way to describe this album is that it sounds like Rush, doing what they do best. It is a classic sound, and not the sound of a band trying to fit in with the current flavor of the moment musical trend. Take the best parts of the first half of the band’s history and combine it with the sound that can only come from so many years together and you get a good approximation of just how good this new album really is.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Far Cry
A trademark sounding Rush riff opens the album in grand style. Alex Lifeson’s guitar propels the song like it was the late 70’s and not 07. This is hands down the best way they could have opened the new album and should be considered a neo-classic. The mix is full and wide, giving the listener enough room between the instruments to hear each one its uniqueness. Neil Peart has lost absolutely nothing as a lyricist both here and on the next song.
Armor and Sword
The color palette of sound which Alex Lifeson paints on this number is amazing. From crunchy choruses to colorful harmonic flourishes that sound like they could have come from the band’s middle-80’s period they all combine with the other instruments to create a mid tempo rocker with vintage Peart lyrics.
Workin’ Them Angels
As you continue to listen through Snakes & Arrows you soon realize that, like its legendary predecessors, there is a flow to the album that clicks and makes sense. The previous song complements the next as it complements its following number as this one does. Where as some bands in this day and age put little thought into the flow of an album, the trio that is Rush puts so much effort into building the listening experience from start to finish that it is almost criminal to listen to the disc any other way than from start to finish.
The Larger Bowl
Vintage Lifeson acoustic strings propel this number with lyrics that hearken back to songs like “Subdivisions” and “Vital Signs.” This mellow number shifts from quieter string and vocal moments to bombastic full-band flourishes as it builds.
Spindrift
Atmospheric guitars sweep gently in, followed by sharper toned notes adding to the dramatic building of the song. This is another fine example of how the band has shifted much of its sound’s focus to Alex Lifeson’s guitar playing as a driving musical force. Indeed the guitar parts here play as vital a role as Geddy Lee’s vocals.
The Main Monkey Business
Not to be outdone, Geddy Lee’s synthesizer skills open up this next number in another vintage sounding Rush composition. This is the first of three, count them, three instrumentals on the album. What is great about this is not only are the instrumentals well done, they don’t feel out of place nor do they feel like songs where the band chose to not bother with lyrics. Shifting between synths and acoustic six strings to multitracked guitar leads all held together by Neil Peart’s percussion wizardry, this stand out number showcases why the three men in Rush are undisputed masters of their instruments.
The Way the Wind Blows
A more sedate opening from Neil Peart leads this number with background level mixed snare flourishes. These give way to one of the bluesiest riffs to emanate from Alex Lifeson’s guitar in a very long time. The lyrics seem to come from Neil Peart’s biking tours of North America as do many of the songs here.
Hope
The second instrumental is a purely Alex Lifeson on his 12-string affair. Even the liner notes credit him as sole composer of the piece. The guitar hero is becoming a rarer creature in the beginning of the 21st century. This short piece demonstrates why Lifeson is a part of this genus. Well, actually so does the intro riff to the next number.
Faithless
Just when you thought there was nothing left for guitarists to come up with to lend voice to a song, Lifeson breaks out a sweet midrange riff to help drive this number. The flow from song to song is not lost. At this point, you really can’t hit “stop” on your player and definitely not “FF” or “shuffle,” either.
Bravest Face
Pardon me while I check the calendar. Hmmm, 2007? Really? Are we sure it isn’t 1982 or 1984? The instruments and tone sure sound like it. The dramatic chorus contains my favorite lyrical moments of the album in the point/counterpoint of “in the softest voice there’s an acid tongue” and “in the sweetest child there’s a vicious streak.” Kudos again to Lifeson for exploring blues riffs in place to give unique voice to the song. If there are any adventurous radio programmers out there who are not slaves to the corporate paradigm, radio friendly songs like this, “Far Cry” and the following cut would become staples at such stations.
Good News First
Geddy Lee’s synth effects lead into this next number but are quickly overtaken by the full band. I have said a lot about Alex Lifeson’s guitar here and for good reason. Whereas some bands these days won’t even bother with guitar solos, Lifeson instead shows that there are plenty of scales to explore on the neck of his axe to bring this staple of rock back into modern music’s collective consciousness.
Malignant Narcissism
The third instrumental on the album is also easily the best. Again this is a composition made intentionally without lyrics. The guitar and drums do the singing while the bass holds things together almost single handedly, though at the bridge there are a handful of killer bass lead breaks as well.
We Hold On
What blows me away about this album is the fact that each song has a unique tonal flavor, yet when presented in the classic Rush context of a well planned album listening experience, none ever sounds too jarring next to another. This shorter, faster piece closes out, what in my considered opinion, is by far the best album from Rush in many years.
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