Issue 2007-027: Rush - Snakes & Arrows - Round Table Review
Round Table Review
Rush - Snakes & Arrows
Tracklist: Far Cry (5:21), Armor And Sword (6:36), Working Them Angels (4:47), The Larger Bowl (4:07), Spindrift (5:24), The Main Monkey Business (6:01), The Way The Wind Blows (6:26), Hope (2:02), Faithless (5:31), Bravest Face (5:12), Good News First (4:51), Malignant Narcissism (2:17), We Hold On (4:13)
Louis Koot's Review
To come straight to the point: I was initially disappointed with the new Rush album. I was having high expectations partly due to the little appetizer that was on the Rush website for a while. The preview played the little intro part of Rush’s new single Far Cry. This sound byte kind of reminded me of the old-school Rush (at times of Hemispheres) with powerful chord staccato and symphonic undertone. But just like in the song Far Cry, the album takes a left turn and ends up being different from what I expected (and hoped for). The single changes after the intro part in a rather simplistic guitar riff making it a modern sounding back to basics approach. The single is a great song though, with some fine guitar sound effects and the neat pattern of the bass beneath it. It’s a good choice for a single because of the accessible chorus. Definitely a song you get to appreciate further after hearing it more often.
I had to think of Geddy Lee’s solo album My Favourite Headache when I heard this song for the first time. Mainly the way the vocals sound made me link it to that album. I have the feeling Geddy Lee’s vocals are somewhat modulated by effects making them sound this way perhaps to create a modern and a bit melancholic sound. But I rather prefer the straight-in-your-face high vocals from the older days. My Favourite Headache is a decent enough album but here I find some tunes that took me a while to convince or left me unaffected altogether (Spindrift for example). My main point of criticism is that some of the songs are in the same pace and don’t sparkle enough. At first it sounds all a bit too mellow. I would have welcomed more fire and more instrumental wizardry. I wasn’t happy with Vapor Trials with its odd production that left much to be desired. So I have to go back to Counterparts or half of Test For Echo for the Rush that fascinates me the most.
Anyway when I set aside this criticism I find this album slowly unravels a lot of great moments and gets me more enthusiastic. Like when Rush does fire things up the result is overwhelming as shown in the instrumental The Main Monkey Business which is right now the highlight of this album for me. The main guitar theme throughout this song is magnificent and gets repeated in various forms. A perfect symbiosis between the heavy and the melodic! This instrumental will make a killer track in the live setting so I hope it will be included on the set list of the upcoming tour. And what a joy to hear Neil Peart’s drum acrobatics thrive spectacularly! Also instrumental Malignant Narcissism spices things up to my delight with frantic bass and full- blown power chords. The guitar effects in this song are very tasteful. Unfortunately the track ends abruptly way too soon. The third instrumental Hope is a short acoustic ditty by Alex Lifeson.
The acoustic guitar has found a prominent place in some of the songs on Snakes & Arrows to my content. Like there is The Larger Bowl. This is a relaxing tune with some very meaningful lyrics. But of course we are accustomed to some significant lyrical meandering from Neil Peart. The same goes for the well-built Bravest Face. The lyrical contradictions that are used here remind me of Rush’s song Resist. Intriguing substance! And there is a groovy little bluesy guitar solo in this song. Luckily there are some enthralling guitar solos here and there on this album that show Alex Lifeson was having fun. This fun is shown through by the other musicians as well but mostly in the before mentioned instrumental tracks. This lifts up the spirit of this album and would have been a good thing for more of the songs. More blues we find at the start of The Way The Wind Blows. Outstanding stuff! The rough guitar riffs in the verses contrasts nicely with the laidback chorus. We won’t be surprised anymore at Rush experimenting with different musical styles so a little bit of blues is welcome as well. As the album proceeds I think the songs get stronger with more appealing and heavy instrumental parts. Good News First has a neat clean guitar lick alternating with heavy chords and the same mellow chorus we find in most of the songs. We Hold One concludes the album with some very sleazy guitar work. More of this please!
I always liked the smart way in which Rush interacted the guitar with the keyboards. So I might be inclined to miss something on this album. Well I don’t. Even though the synths are missing, the organic and bold approach on Snakes & Arrows finds it’s way rightly. Especially the exploratory mixture in Alex Lifeson’s playing and the use of different guitar sounds gives enough variety and dynamics. And the album shows its strength as a grower. In conclusion I can say Snakes & Arrows ends up being a great album despite the initial disappointment I had.
Martien Koolen's Review
I became a Rush fan back in 1975 after the release of Fly By Night and especially Caress Of Steel and now 32 years later the best Canadian art rock trio ever bring out their 18th studio album called Snakes & Arrows. And for those of you who would like to read an objective review of this new masterpiece I would advise you to read other reviews as well, because Snakes & Arrows is already my best album of the year 2007. After five very long years without a new Rush album, this year finally I could look forward to a new album of my all time favourite band.
Snakes & Arrows is a concept album dealing with religion and the lyrics of Neal Peart on this CD probably belong to the best he has ever written, just check out the lyrics in a song like Armor And Sword and you will see and hear why… The album features three instrumentals of which The Main Monkey Business is one of the best and most original instrumentals I have ever heard. It is even better than La Villa Strangiato and I would be so bold as to name this song the modern thrilling version of Yyz, featuring lots of Porcupine Tree and Tool influences, however still keeping those magical Rush characteristics. The second instrumental is called Hope and it is an acoustic one where Alex really shines as a Spanish guitar picker, although I must say that I am not really fond of acoustic songs and therefore I would call this song the least impressive one… Malignant Narcissism is the last instrumental and this one really rocks and although it is a rather short song there is even some time for a couple of drum and bass breaks.
The album kicks off with the already familiar Far Cry (being the new single), a song that most of you will already have heard. It is a great opening song, melodic, catchy and the chorus is truly addictive. It has been a tradition of Rush to start with really great songs, like on Moving Pictures, Hemispheres, A Farewell To Kings, Permanent Waves and mainly all the rest of the other albums too. Even Vapor Trails features a great opening track – One Little Victory – although still many people do not like that particular album… Armor And Sword is a bit less accessible than the opening song as it is a mid tempo rather dark track with great lyrics and a sheer killer melodic chorus! Listening to this album at least twice a day – I know I am hooked – I have to come to the conclusion that Snakes & Arrows is a really powerful album with contemporary art rock from the 21st century mixed with experiences from the nineties, amazing atmospheres from the eighties and even experimental elements from the seventies. I could go on like this forever but you really have to listen to the album yourself over and over again to truly appreciate it!
Mister Syme’s art work is truly beautiful as ever and the production of Nick Raskulinecz (Velvet Revolver and Foo Fighters) together with Rush is sheer magic. The album sounds amazing due to the fact that every instrument sounds so natural, especially the drums sound so great. And Geddy’s voice (love or hate it?) is still in outstanding shape especially in some of the quieter moments. There is NO bad song on this CD although it might take you a little longer to digest some of the songs.
Listening tips: The Way The Wind Blows and The Main Monkey Business; get this album right now. And by the way did I tell you already that I am not objective about Rush?
Really looking forward to their Snakes & Arrows tour as I will be visiting at least 4 of their shows. If a man is tired of Rush, he is tired of life!
Dave Baird's Review
Following a six year period after Test For Echo there was some speculation that Rush had quietly retired. Despite no official word, the well publicised tragedies that Neal went through really cast doubt on the bands future. Then in 2002 the rather patchy Vapor Trails was released - not a bad collection of songs on the whole but not perhaps as Rush-like as we would have liked perhaps mainly due to the heavy, grungy, processed guitar which was a bit over the top. The lack of any trade-mark Lifeson solos and the album being over-saturated at mix time led to a rather bizzare affair, plenty of energy but nevertheless rather a lifeless and forgetful CD; I found myself listening to it because it was Rush rather than because I liked it. This release did however lead to a new round of touring taking in many parts of the world and led to the release of two wonderful DVD's: Rush In Rio and R30, and also Feedback, a selection of cover versions of songs that influenced the band early on. Now five years later Rush are back at their very best with the release of the superb Snakes & Arrows. This album is everything that Vapor Trails was not, good songs, great lyrics, wonderful playing, three instrumentals, some typical Lifeson solos and thankfully state of the art production, not since Counterparts have Rush sounded so potent and alive.
Far Cry was pre-released some weeks ago as a single and sets the general tone of the whole CD rather well although I think it's one of the less good tracks on the album. That's not to say it's bad, far from it, I think it's better than every track on Vapor Trails, but the rest are just even better. That being said several are not dissimilar from what we hear on Vapor Trails but they just sound so much better here - I wonder if that's the new lease of life the band have acquired, the better production or the diversity of the songs that was missing on Vapor Trails?
Some of the feeling and style from Feedback also creeps in now and again, perhaps most obviously in Way The Wind Blows with its bluesy riff, but overall the closest point of reference for the style and would be Counterparts and with it a welcome return of the grandiose, symphionic, melodic and catchy choruses that have long been a signature of the band. Bravest Face, Good News First, Workin' Them Angels and Spindrift are great examples of this and will surely be regarded as classic Rush in the years to come. Armor & Sword takes this one notch higher again interspercing complex picked acoustic, chunky heavy chord riffing and Lifeson's typical arena style playing with harmonics that we fist heard on Power Windows and some hint of the U2 sound they adpoted on Bravado from Roll The Bones. On top of all this there are two great band instrumentals, Main Monkey Business and Malignant Narcissism which are much better than the poor effort Limbo on T4E and a solo Lerxst acoustic piece, Hope which is a pleasant interlude although some might find it annoying.
What will really please the vast majority of the fans is that all the Rush elements are back in place - most of the songs, although very catchy are also quite technical. Geddy's bass playing is superb and he's more prominently mixed with a darker tone than previous albums that brings more depth and warmth to an already rich mix. His singing is of course more mellow than it used to be but it sounds great, that being said I'm not a fan of the way they overdub his voice and when he singing 'woa, whoa, woooh' I think it sounds a bit crap. Keyboards are back on the agenda but still in a lesser role than the mid-80's - even Mellotron is listed on the cover but I couldn't tell you exactly where it's used. Peart's drumming is magnificent and his lyrics are once again closer and more personal as they were on Vapor Trails. Perhaps most excitingly, Lifeson is back - we have all the arpeggios, solos and harmonics that have defined his style over the years that were sadly missing last time out.
Really a superb return to form for the band and with such vitality I couldn't imagine them stopping anytime soon. Brought to you by the letter "Sssss", I love it!
LOUIS KOOT : 8 out of 10
MARTIEN KOOLEN : 10 out of 10
DAVE BAIRD : 9.5 out of 10