Part of me still finds it hard to believe that there will never be a new Rush album. But, while there may be no new songs, it is heartening to hear that there are still recordings that have not yet seen the light of day.
The Permanent Waves (40th Anniversary edition) is therefore doubly welcome as it not only has a lovingly remastered version of the original album but also includes twelve previously unreleased live recordings from the Permanent Waves tour in 1980.
Starting with the remaster of the original release: it sounds about as good as it could get. Even my tired old ears can hear the difference in quality compared to my old CD copy.
I bought (and still own) a vinyl copy when it was first released (£3.99 from HMV!) and it remains, to this day, one of my favourite Rush albums. It marked a step away from the fantasy/sci-fi themes of previous releases and from side-long epics. Instead, we are given songs about life choices and relationships – rock music for grown ups? That may make it sound a bit po-faced but there is fun there too, not least in the opening track, “The Spirit Of Radio”, which even managed to get to number 13 in the UK singles chart.
I might be tempted to buy the 40th anniversary edition for the remastered version alone but the real icing on the cake is a second CD worth (or two LPs worth if you prefer) of previously unreleased live material. Twelve tracks recorded during the 1980 Permanent Waves World Tour. Not just previously unreleased but newly restored by Terry Brown: the man who produced every one of their albums from Fly By Night (1975) up to Signals (1982). He knows the band’s music well and has done a brilliant job with each of the tracks included with this release.
We are given six tracks recorded in Manchester, five recorded in London and one recorded in Missouri. (I am curious about why there is only one from Missouri. Was there really only one usable song in the concert recording or is it just that they sounded better in the UK?) There is no doubt that Geddy’s voice changed over the years, he can no longer hit the high notes he once could but in these recordings, we hear him at the peak of his vocal range. Rush were always outstanding live and it is a joy to hear them performing these classic songs the way I remember first hearing them as a teenage concert goer. The only slight disappointment is there are no new recordings from the 1980 Glasgow concert at the Apollo. I guess all the best stuff is already included on their Exit… Stage Left live album but I live in hope that there are still some recordings from Glasgow that could be released at some future date. I would argue the definitive live version for “Closer To The Heart”, complete with Glaswegian chorus, was recorded at the Glasgow Apollo but, while the recording on this release from Manchester lacks the audience participation in the first verse, it otherwise sounds fantastic. Another stand out for me is the version of “The Trees” (again from Manchester) with some inspired acoustic noodling from Alex before the band really gets into its stride.
The album is being released in a number of versions: Super Deluxe Edition; two-CD Deluxe Edition; three-LP Deluxe Edition and a Deluxe Digital Edition. If you go for the Super Deluxe, not only do you get two CDs and three high-quality 180-gram black vinyl LPs but a bucket-load of other stuff as well, including a 40-page hardcover book with unreleased photos, a replica of the Permanent Waves 1980 official tour program and three Neil Peart-handwritten lyric sheets. Check out what you get in the “unboxing video” at the end of this review.
The question is, who is this release aimed at? Clearly the hardcore fans are going to be tempted even if, like me, they already own it various formats. But is it likely to appeal to anyone outside their already massive fanbase? I certainly hope so! It is, as I’ve already said, a fantastic album that moves away from the fantasy themes that seem to put some people off Rush. It has a more accessible, dare I say popular, appeal. This version of the album, with outstanding studio recordings and awesome live tracks, makes an ideal gateway drug for those who are not yet addicted to Rush.
Permanent Waves (40th Anniversary Edition) is released on May 29th.