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Progressive Rock CD Reviews


Permanent Waves (40th Anniversary Edition)

Review by Greg Olma

Rush started off the 80s with a record that was quite a departure from their three most recent (at the time) releases.  While Permanent Waves still contained some prog elements, the band opted for a more condensed song structure with only two songs stretching past the seven-minute mark.  Some Rush fans were sideswiped with this new direction, but I found it to be refreshing as they really took the epic songwriting to fullest and had nowhere to go but in a new direction.  Another aspect of their new songwriting was that the songs were given a commercial sheen and radio was quick to pick up on these radio friendly tracks.  Older fans may have felt betrayed but Rush still provided plenty of prog in the two semi-epic track that close each side of the original vinyl. 

This 40th anniversary edition is expanded to include a separate disc of live material from the 1980 tour in support of the album.  While I am happy for any new material from Rush, I was slightly disappointed that we weren’t presented with a full concert.  Instead we get a collection of songs from the UK tour and one track from the infamous St. Louis show that was broadcast over the airwaves.  I know it is a minor complaint but the bonus disc has the same feel of Exit... Stage Left where there are times that the songs fade taking away the feeling of being at the show.  While I am nit-picking, I still have to admit that this whole extended package is worth every penny and no Rush fan should be without it. 

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Track by Track Review
Disc 1:
The Spirit of Radio

The record starts off with a hit single that ushered in their new streamlined songwriting.  The bright guitar work hits you right away before the rest of the track bounces along in a very uplifting way.  Not to stray too far away from their prog past, they add some reggae-ish sounds (they must have been listening to The Police) and some time changes to still keep some prog elements in these shorter tracks.

I would categorize this as the rocker off this album, similar to "Circumstances" from Hemispheres.  Like the previous tune, this one had radio-friendly moments and a chorus that Rush would later explore to greater effect.  There is a great mid-section that’s starts off with a nice bass line before the guitar solo takes over.
Jacob's Ladder
An ominous bass line starts off the track as drums come marching in almost in a military style.  There are two proggy epics on Permanent Waves, and this is the first one.  There are multiple time changes throughout the tune that keep it moving along.  The middle section has a very keyboard heavy sound, but the guitars fade in and bring the song back to its prog metal roots.
Entre Nous
Just like “The Spirit of Radio”, this tune has a very bouncy sound that gives it a very positive vibe.  This is the hit-single-that-never-was in the Rush catalogue.  It was released as the second single off the record but it didn’t perform as well in the charts as “The Spirit of Radio”.  In some ways, this is the most basic of all the tunes on this record as it really follows the standard verse, chorus, verse, etcetera format without much prog thrown in.
Different Strings
This acoustic piece is one of my favorite Rush tunes of all time.  I don’t know why but I just connected with it right from the start.  Hugh Syme adds a little piano to flesh out the melancholy mood of this piece, and the guitar work at the end just sounds so tortured.  I would recommend never skipping over this song.
Natural Science
Some nature sounds start off this track with a very echoey effect on Geddy Lee’s vocals.  This is their other epic prog piece from Permanent Waves and has been a fan favorite ever since it was released.  It contains three suites and, while they shortened much of their material, this tune tracks in at over 9 minutes.  There are distinct parts to each of the suites, but certain parts are revisited to keep the feel of this being one song.  Although some may have felt the band betrayed their prog metal fans, Rush still managed to keep them happy with this final addition to the record.
Disc 2:
Beneath, Between & Behind
Recorded on the UK leg of the tour, this quick little rocker off the Fly By Night record was in the set list quite often but not on the All The World’s A Stage release.  It is one of the shorter Rush tunes and it is almost over before you know it.
By-Tor & the Snow Dog
As the band continued to create more and more material to perform live, some of their songs would take on a shorter rendition to fit in the set times.  This version is about half as long as the rendition previously released on their first live record, but it is still as powerful and contains a little bit more energy than previous recordings.
There is no fade between this track and the previous tune which makes it flow nicely.  “Xanadu” is prog nirvana and, by far, one of the most over-the-top tracks the band has ever recorded.  For those of you have never heard it, it starts off with a dreamy keyboard and guitar part before it hits you with a bombastic intro.  Then the song flows from prog metal to mellower moments and back to prog metal before it ends with some great guitar work from Alex Lifeson.
The Spirit Of Radio
If there was ever a tune that was written for the stage, then “The Spirit Of Radio” is it.  I have heard it thousands of times by now, but it still works and remains a crowd favorite.  Of course, the audience goes nuts when the lyrics mention “Concert halls” right after the reggae portion of the track.
Natural Science
This epic song that closes Permanent Waves is given additional life (not that it needed it) by being slightly faster and slightly more raw.  That’s to be expected since it is live and there is only so much three members can recreate in the concert setting.  The track is brilliantly performed and sticks to the original studio version without the additional “Wheel within wheels” lyric being repeated like latter day versions.
The Trees
Lifeson adds additional acoustic guitar work to the beginning of this tune.  It is different than “Broon’s Bane” which was later released on Exit... Stage Left, which seems to indicate that it was improvised from time to time.  This tale of trees (Oaks and Maples) working out their differences contains deeper lyrics than the title would make you believe.  They perform the song very close to the studio version but sadly, this one fades towards the end, cutting off the subtle nuances that are located at the end of the track.
Cygnus X-1
Many prog fans are Sci-fi fans as well, so this tune plays right into their wheelhouse. The piece starts off with very spacey sounds not too far from the 2112 saga.  Then a little bass kicks in right before it is joined by drums.  Then the guitars complete the heavy prog metal start of the song.  There are many twists and turns along the way before it concludes with a frantic ending.  Then the track ends completely with a very spacey and desolate guitar outro.
Cygnus X-1 Book II
This is the apex of Rush’ prog metal phase.  Released on the previous record, they still felt it was important to represent it, albeit in shortened form.  They only performed the Parts I, IV, V, and VI from the original studio version on this tour, but it was a great addition to this disc.  While Book I was more spacey, Book II focuses more on Greek mythology.  Either way, musically it was similar to the previous material but still can stand on its own.
Closer To The Heart
Many fans love this tune, but I was never a big fan of it.  In the context of the whole A Farewell to Kings album it was fine, but I never got the appeal for a stand-alone track.  The acoustic guitar work that starts off the song is brilliant, but the rest just feels like the band was really trying to write a hit single instead of being true to themselves.  That is my take, at least.  They perform it live without any added bits so it sounds a lot like the studio version with crowd noise.
Jacob's Ladder
There is no intro as this track starts right off the bat with that thumping bass courtesy of Geddy Lee.  This was the other epic prog piece from Permanent Waves and it is performed very close to the studio version.  I like the version on Exit... Stage Left better because they add some additional music as an intro.  That little bit extra adds a lot to the overall feel of live music.  This version is good, but again, it is very close to the studio version, so there is not much difference.  Oddly, this was only track that came from the St. Louis show I mentioned earlier.
I always like the live versions of this track more than the studio counterpart.  The rendition presented here has a more organic feel and really showcases just how good Rush were on stage.  Remember that this was back before technology made it easier to recreate the studio recordings.  For my money, this is the definitive version of this song. 
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