Title - 'Snakes & Arrows' (Atlantic)
Artist - Rush
For those drooling for a return to Rush's glory days, for their sound and approach in such albums as "2112," "Hemispheres," and "Permanent Waves," I can offer partial relief. Extended sections of their new album do indeed recall many of the tracks on those albums. There are times, especially in the instrumentals, when you could convince an unsuspecting Rush fan that he was listening to alternative takes of "YYZ" or "Natural Science."
So, at least for a classic Rush fan such as me, this is certainly a boon. But I'd like to clarify a few things. Geddy Lee - bless his heart - is now 56 and simply incapable of hitting those banshee wails of yesteryear: "Spinning, whirling, still descending / Like a spiral sea unending," and "Each of us / A cell of awareness." No, those days are gone, gone, gone.
Which means that any future music has to be written around this problem, meaning that the majority of the songs on "Snakes and Arrows" lack the range, complexity, and register of previous Rush outings. To tell you the truth, many of the songs here could be interchanged with offerings from any of their most recent albums.
There are other ways that Rush has changed, too. One of the things that I miss most achingly is that they brought out true concept albums, where one entire side of an album was an extended exploration of a single dedicated theme. This, also, has not returned since "Hemispheres."
But most grievous to me is this: when I was younger, I was into stuff like science fiction and Dungeons and Dragons. Hence I really got into a groove with Rush's lyrics, since many of them told tales of daring spacepilots, baleful necromancers, future dystopias, Rivendell, the Greek gods, etc.
They were rock ballads. They told a story. And these kind of lyrics haven't been seen since about "Permanent Waves," and show no signs of coming back.
Not that Peart's lyrics these days aren't thoughtful or anything. But I realize now in the fullness of age that one of the things that drew me to Rush in my younger years wasn't just their music or virtuosity, but the fact that their lyrics unabashedly entered worlds of fantasy or alternate reality, and this provided a fitting soundtrack to the concerns of my geeky intellect at the time.
Instead, the lyrics on "Snakes and Arrows" are merely a continuation of Peart's bete noire for the last decade or so: that the world is fundamentally out of whack, accompanied by vague prescriptions for returning to a world of spirit and feeling. I'm sure you know the kind of didactic, syrupy stuff I'm talking about: "Sometimes the need is just too great / For the solace that we seek," "Some things can never be changed," "What am I supposed to say," "We can only grow the way the wind blows." You get the idea.
In other news, I don't believe Peart's drumming and Lifeson's fretwork can be cause for complaint.
So in conclusion, a mixed bag. I certainly welcome the turnabout in sound and rhythm that Rush has evidently embraced, but this honey drip of yesteryear, in a way, only leaves me longing for other aspects of their former greatness that the band has shown no indication of wanting to rekindle.