The June release in Twelve Months Of Rush was Permanent Waves, their seventh studio album. It should be no surprise by now that this re-released on heavyweight vinyl, with a “High-Res” download available when you buy the album and, as with the other albums released so far, the sound quality of this re-mastered version is astonishingly good.
It may be a surprise though, to those not paying attention to the direction Rush has been travelling, that on this album there is no sci-fi, no mythology, no fantasy worlds. The lyrics deal with big issues directly rather than wrapping them up in metaphor. And big issues are indeed dealt with to the extent that I would class this as one of Rush’s darkest albums… well, one of the most melancholy, yet, it starts with an incredibly upbeat track in form “The Spirit Of Radio”. This is a track which cracked the top 20 singles chart in the UK. (It got to number 13.) It is a belter of a track. Joyous. Celebratory. Fun. I can’t hear this track without being transported back to the time when I stood in the queue at the Glasgow Apollo, waiting patiently to get the tickets for the Permanent Waves tour. Someone further back in the queue had brought a wee portable cassette player (old school single speaker machine, not late eighties ghetto blaster style). He was playing “The Spirit Of Radio” and we were singing along with Geddy; all of us matching the vocal tics and odd pronunciations, although not all of us were hitting the high notes! I remember too the first time I heard the Reggae section at the end. That kind of musical cross-over may not seem that shocking nowadays but as a young Rock fan, my gast was well and truly flabbered. And the drumming! Don’t get me started on the drumming or I’ll never finish this review.
The next track is “Freewill” and is a good example of Neil just saying what he thinks in the lyrics without dressing it up in fiction. He writes lyrics that say something, lyrics you can argue with. The song is about self-determination and while I agree with much of the sentiment, for example, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice”, I am not convinced that free will is a “path that’s clear”. (There are philosophers, theologians and scientists who even question if freewill exists.) That’s why I love Rush. I am arguing philosophy and metaphysics with a Rock song. Philosophy with a killer guitar solo; take that Socrates!
Another stand out track is “Jacob’s Ladder”, a track which is seven and a half minutes long, with about a minute of vocals. It is essentially, therefore, an instrumental with some words near the start and end. The lyrics tell the story but are more or less redundant since the music speaks for itself. The instruments paint a picture of the gathering storm; dark and brooding clouds; and then the sun breaking through bringing light and hope. Geddy even uses a vocoder in the closing lyrics, almost to confirm that his voice is just one of the instruments.
I only have one, minor, criticism of this album and that is we can see the beginning of the rise of the keyboards. On this album, there are a couple of occasions where Alex’s guitar is squeezed out by synthesisers. One of the things I like about Alex Lifeson is that he is not a showy guitarist (and as a result, It think he is often underrated). His solos are not there so he can demonstrate his technical prowess but rather they grow out of the song; complimenting not dominating. The trouble is, sometimes the keyboard parts fill the space where Alex’s solo would grow. The tracks are still good but I miss Alex.
That minor quibble aside, I love this album. “The Spirit Of Radio” gets me as stupidly exited today as it did when I first heard it 35 years ago.
This is an album by a band that is growing in maturity. There are songs about relationships; about science, nature and art; about religion; about responsibility. Rock and Roll! Well, Rush and Roll, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s always worth listening to.