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Rush - Signals CD (album) cover




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3.95 | 1234 ratings

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4 stars I don't know this with 100% certainty, but I'm willing to bet that the band lost a lot of fans with this album. The reasons are simple: (1) There are more songs on here than on any of their albums since Fly by Night (which, consequently, means the songs are shorter than fans would have grown accustomed to); (2) the keyboards are EVERYWHERE in the sound, and (3) Alex is a lot less prominent than on previous albums, even though he's still important to the sound. Yet while Rush might have taken a risk in streamlining its sound, I certainly think the move paid off, as this is definitely my favorite studio album from the band, and the only one that I would call great (even if it's not quite enough to make it to *****).

The sound is definitely a bit of a shock at first, as the production is fuller and more drenched in keyboards than what one would have expected from the band, but unless you're a total junky for the 70's hard rock sound, that shouldn't be a crippling factor. The production never once bogs down the songs, and the keyboards are never overbearing or distracting. More importantly, though, the actual songs are great, with just a couple of exceptions. I've tended to like "Chemistry" less and less over the years; the main riff is basically a rewrite of the "Twilight Zone" riff, the lyrics are awfully stupid in their sci-fi cliche banality, and it's once again very hard to shake the feeling that the band members (particularly Lifeson) are engaging in cheap instrumental pyrotechnics to distract me from the mediocrity of the song. On the other hand, there is a neat feeling in the way Geddy sings the chorus, which helps. "Digital Man" isn't much better, mainly because it's probably two minutes too long, but it's kinda neat to hear the band again weaving in its weird fascination with reggae rhythms.

The other songs are fabulous, especially the first two ("Subdivisions," "The Analog Kid"). I mean, Rush albums almost always tend to start off very strong, with one or two great tracks, but it says something when BOTH of the first two tracks of the album make my top 5 Rush songs. One major reason is that I really feel like Peart pulled out lyrical gems for both of these. Look, I don't know any of the details of Peart's upbringing, but I don't have trouble for a second believing in Peart's "authenticity" about growing up in the conformist hell that is suburbia, or of being an awkward teenager lying in a field and dreaming of a better life, and you'd better believe that I can empathize with these lyrics. It's not just the lyrics that make these classics, though. No, what amazes me the most is that Rush finally figured out how to make songs that could stand as great WITHOUT requiring spectacularly intricate instrumental parts. This isn't to say that "The Analog Kid" doesn't have some amazing instrumental work; the mid-song Lifeson solo (the only really great one on the album) is out of this world, and the main riff sounds tricky as hell. No, what I mean is that even if the song didn't have such effective playing from the trio, it would still be a great song due to the main vocal melody, and the gorgeous second theme ("You move me, you move me..."), and the amazing melody in the "Too many hands on my time ..." part that leads into the solo. As for "Subdivisions," it doesn't even bother to have any particularly stereotypical Rush instrumental moments, and it doesn't need them; the main chord sequence is absolutely brilliant, as is the vocal melody on top of it, and the song absolutely nails the hopelessness of the suburbs for an average dork. These songs are GREAT, dang it, and they almost make reviewing this band worth it on their own.

The rest of side one is filled out by the weak songs I already mentioned, and they make it seem like this is going to be just another typical inconsistent Rush album. Surprisingly, though, the second side is quite good. One of the tracks, "The Weapon," is a freaking classic, just a step below the brilliance of the opening duo. It passed me a bit the first few times I listened to it, but I really have no idea why at this point. The main portion of the song is driven by a neat little Lifeson riff over a clever bassline, but the real greatness of the song lies in the alternate melody, driven by a powerful chord sequence with a fascinating vocal part and some really nice lyrics.

The other songs aren't fantastic, but they're good on the whole. "New World Man" (apparently a hit single) is a moderately catchy song whose most interesting part (to me) is the opening low-pitched synth grumble, and the ballad "Losing It," driven by keyboard and violin interplay, is a lot more interesting to me now than it once was (I once dismissed it as an "Entre Nous" rewrite, a statement which now confuses me greatly). It tackles an intriguing lyrical concept not often (if ever) broached in rock music; the despair and frustration that one feels as one gets old and knows they're losing their mental faculties. Sheesh ... Neil really did a pretty nice job on this album with the lyrics.

The closing "Countdown" is a track that seems a little dumb on paper, but I enjoy it a lot. It's a VERY heavily synth-based (complete with a keyboard solo in the middle) atmospheric piece about a typical space shuttle launch, and as much as any track in the Rush catalogue it just screams out DORK with every second. The thing is, though, that I really like the track, for two reasons. The first is that it totally captures the tension and excitement surrounding a space-shuttle launch, and the radio transmissions that are sampled in throughout always help and never detract. The second is that the blatantly 80's synths are ideal for a song about a space shuttle launch; few things have ever combined "futuristic" and "dated" as much as the space shuttle, and this is captured perfectly in the sounds in this song. Maybe that wasn't the band's original intent, but it sure worked out nicely.

This is such a good album. It also caps what I consider a pretty impressive achivement for the band; this is the fourth straight album from the band that I consider their best album to that point, and I can't really think of any other bands that showed that kind of consistent improvement in their career. Sure, this streak was about to end, but by this time, Rush had made itself into a really nice band, one that I could enjoy with almost no reservations.

tarkus1980 | 4/5 |


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