(Why two in two days? I think my big story is done. Check Thursday’s paper.)
Roll the Bones was a period of great upheaval — for me. I graduated from college and begged for scraps in the job market. I remember hearing Dreamline for the first time on WRDU as I drove around Durham, pondering my future and thrilled that this band with which I’d grown up was still growing, almost 20 years into their careers. (But still under 40 — the guys were born in ’52 and ’53.)
I found a job in Wilmington, NC, and I was able to drive to Columbia, SC, on March 5, 1992 (thanks, Cygnus X-1’s tour archive), to see Rush for the third time. I met my Athens buddy medic8r, and we sat up in the nosebleed to see bass players’ nirvana — Rush and Primus.
But I had a feeling Rush had hit a rut in the synthesizer phase. And that’s why I was thrilled when I raced out to the record store, took this one back to my tiny apartment and heard …
As I’ve been hinting, this is my favorite post-Moving Pictures album. Not because it’s the most consistent — I nearly reconsidered after listening today and remembering that Alien Shore, The Speed of Love and Everyday Glory were forgettable tracks. The other eight songs, though, are a few confident steps in a bold new direction. They were dialing down the synths and putting the “power” in “power trio.”
It starts with a garage rock-style countoff. “One, two, three, four, one, two … rat-tat … rat-ta-ta-ta.” Then we’re off into an unusually funky Neil Peart backbeat, soon followed by Geddy Lee’s galloping bass and Alex Lifeson’s scrambled arpeggios. This is Animate, upholding the tradition of powerful leadoff songs while establishing the new style and the theme for this album.
Peart is in dangerous territory here. Some of his takes on love and relationships sound exactly like you’d expect a sci-fi geek’s love songs to sound. (Fun from high school: We were allowed to send fake valentine-grams at an assembly, essentially pairing off any boy and girl to kiss after reading a short note. That’s how I ended up kissing the homecoming queen after hearing a message claiming I’d love her longer than the vibrations of a cesium atom.)
But while Alien Shore and The Speed of Love are as overly analytical as Emotion Detector, Peart fares better with Animate and two more explorations of what love is. (Didn’t you know he was answering Foreigner’s question?) Double Agent is two dualities in one, going inside the conflicted mind of a man in a conflicted relationship, with an effective spoken-word section reminiscent of Vincent Price on Thriller. Peart delves into cynicism with Cold Fire, a tough look at the demands of passion with some of his best metaphors — “the flame at the heart of a pawn broker’s diamond is a cold fire.”
Peart also goes abstract with longtime lyrical collaborator Pye Dubois on Between Sun and Moon, built on a strong Lifeson riff. He revisits his theme of perseverance on Stick It Out, hints at AIDS empathy on Nobody’s Hero and pokes fun at his own quest for knowledge in Cut to the Chase.
The guys also churned out a playful and tuneful instrumental, Leave That Thing Alone.
Perhaps it’s all a happy coincidence. Peart delivers his most focused lyrics just as Lifeson and Lee crank the guitars to 11 with help from prodigal producer Peter Collins. Under the newish Soundscan chart rankings, this one hit #2 (though Atlantic and the RIAA disagree over its platinum status, Wikipedia says.) It’s a powerful move and a promising start down a new path.
But every path has some detours …
To be fair, I was a little distracted when this album was released. I had just untangled myself from a failing relationship, and I started dating the wonderful woman who is now sitting beside me while our two kids sleep (we hope). I was just starting to work on the Web. This was also Rush’s longest period between albums to date — almost three years, spent in part on Lifeson’s odd solo project Victor. (Anyone ever hear the song of Lifeson screaming at his yammering wife to shut up? It’s one of rock’s great obscure oddities.)
So perhaps if I’d ever sat down with this one the way I did with all my old Rush albums, these songs would’ve made more of an impression in my head. As it stands, I had to go through iTunes and play the 30-second samples just to refresh my memory on half these songs. (My CD is glitched somehow, though it could be the laptop’s CD player — the weak spot in the Sony Vaio.)
The titletrack, also the opener, is some sort of commentary on media overload that has a few good riffs but plods through the verses.
The highlight is Driven, a duel of frantic guitar and bass riffs that seem to careen “on the edge of control,” as Peart’s lyrics say. Resist is a surprising change of pace with Peart on hammered dulcimer. The Color of Right is bright.
Driven and Resist, the latter often reconstituted as an acoustic duet giving Peart a chance to rest after his drum solo, stuck around in live shows for a while. Nothing else had much of an impact.
This would’ve been a terrible way for Rush to end its career. It almost came to that.
But first … we’ve had four studio albums since the last live album, so …
A couple of things were different this time. This wasn’t just a snapshot of Rush’s most recent tour. They took a trip in the wayback machine for a 1978 concert from London. The result is a neat sampling of Rush music from all eras, a small box set of sorts.
This might have been a decent way to wrap Rush’s career. And it came just as Rush’s future was in grave doubt.
Shortly after the Test for Echo tour ended, Neil Peart’s daughter — his only child — was killed in an auto accident. Within a year, his wife died. She had cancer, but Peart described it as “suicide by apathy” from a broken-hearted mother.
Peart retreated from the world for a while. Various labels produced various Rush retrospectives. Lee recruited occasional collaborator Ben Mink and grunge-rock drummer Matt Cameron for a solo album. And everyone waited … and waited …