Out There

Sound and fury...
Test for Echo

The think-rock of Rush has always been problematic. Early masterworks like 2112 (1976) succeeded even if they are lyrical Cliffs Notes for college freshmen. (2112 is based on Ayn Rand's Anthem; 1978's Hemispheres explores right-left brain phenomena.) At worst, Rush is a showcase for exceptional craftsmanship, especially that of the world's most proficient rock drummer--Neil Peart, who also pens most of the trio's bombastic poetry. Heeding Peart's prescription "to mold a new reality" in "Closer to the Heart," from A Farewell to Kings (1977), Rush left-turned toward humanism with 1981's Moving Pictures. But the headiness still evident even in dumbed-down lyrics has rendered the pop ditties since then mere brainy gibberish. The new album--the group's 19th, excluding rereleases--is more of the same, but shows growth that, to the optimistic, will portend Rush Phase III, wherein heart and mind will finally harmonize--or at least where Rush will make music.

The title track is a dramatized string of images from and about the media circus: "Video/vertigo...pictures on the sense o'clock news" ("six" would have sufficed), tunefully delivered and ending with raucous drum thunder. Stringsmith Alex Lifeson's bouncy mandolin does not allay the repetitious preachiness of "Half the World," making plain that the best songs here are not those pushed as singles, but the album's simplest rock. The pretty acoustic-electric ballad "Resist" climaxes when singer and bassman Geddy Lee--no longer inhabiting his once-shrill upper registers--sings a cappella. The instrumental "Limbo" is reminiscent of old Rush with Lee's signature plucks, Lifeson's washy chords, and Peart's precision. Test otherwise fails. The waltz in "Driven" is marred by overwriting, the road analogy ("But it's my turn to drive") particularly overextended at the "driven to the margin of error" chorus. "The Color of Right" is pretentious ("I'm so full of what is right/I can't see what is good"), and "Virtuality" is an obligatory nod to the Internet ("Net boy, net girl/Send your signal 'round the world"). "Carve Away the Stone" paraphrases the Sisyphus myth (read the book, net boy).

An admission perhaps of the pre-eminence of first-period Rush, the current tour show includes 2112--yes, the whole opus--and only a few Test selections. The highlight is, of course, Peart's drum solo, perfected for 20-plus years--longer, stronger, faster. You didn't miss anything else at Reunion Arena December 3; live, Rush sounds exactly as on record.

--Alex Magocsi


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