“Now it’s come to this ...” Way back, when this place was barely a gleam in my mind’s eye, I knew music would be an important part of my ramblings. Music is just too important a part of my life to not share my love for it—plus, it can be an excellent way to spread pro-individual, anti-authoritarian, and pro-freedom ideas. But one grave concern kept me from full-out enthusiasm in the beginning. I have been a hardcore Rush fan for many years; and knowing that not everyone shares that passion, I was concerned that I would feature them more often than almost everyone else would tolerate. Thus, I’ve probably swung too far in the other direction, barely mentioning Rush so far. Well, that’s about to change, so consider yourself warned. If need be, you can skip ahead to the other reviews in this issue.
I’ve been listening to Snakes & Arrows a lot since I bought the CD last year. For me, it’s an excellent blend of the old and the new—older, hard-rocking elements of Rush combined with new textures and combinations. From the opening punch of the first song, Far Cry, with Geddy’s bass jauntily jamming in the higher registers and the first line—“Pariah dogs and wandering madmen, barking at strangers and speaking in tongues”—it’s clear Rush is forging its own path still. That alone is one of the reasons I value this band so highly. Through all their many years of making music (according to their allmusic entry, they formed in 1968 and released their first full album in 1974), the focus of Lee, Lifeson, and Peart has been to create music that engages them. While some releases have struck closer to my heart than others, there is none—and I have them all, with the exception of a few recent compilations—that is totally devoid of value to me.
None of this should be taken to mean that I am an uncritical fan. Far from it—and there are places where Snakes & Arrows misses the mark for me. For example, some of Peart’s lyrics, most notably in Spindrift and The Way the Wind Blows, seem rather simplistic in structure, particularly in comparison to others who’ve handled the same subject matter—Chuck Brodsky comes to mind. Good News First seems to jab at Ayn Rand (“What happened to your old benevolent universe?”), but it is lyrically so confusing to me that I’m unsure what it’s addressing.
That said, there are many more hits than misses here. It is a pure pleasure that I can enjoy all the disc—unlike its predecessor, Vapor Trails, which was engineered so poorly it brings on a headache if I try to listen to it all in one sitting. Geddy’s bass work really shines in many songs, sometimes in the pure funkiness he brings to a line, other times in the bass carrying a higher line than is typical—almost as if he’s lead guitar. Geddy’s voice has mellowed substantially over the years, and while he can still hit the high notes, his 2112 days are gone (as the concert tour demonstrates). I liked his range and sometimes operatic style back then, but I like the greater versatility displayed now even more—especially in using his voice as another instrument in some very nice background vocals that help establish a song’s tone. Similarly, although Alex’s scorching guitar licks are largely absent on Snakes & Arrows, to my ear he owns this album precisely because his touch is much more deft and nuanced. He ranges from dark and grungy to soaring and hopeful, and beyond into classical blues riffs; and all of it is beautiful to behold. Altogether, it sounds like the power trio had a lot of fun making these songs, and created a lot of powerful music in the process.
Favorites are hard to tag, because many of the songs deeply speak to me. Faithless, which I heard for the first time live at a concert last fall, moved me to tears that night and still does every time I hear it. Hope, Alex’s solo instrumental song, is a creation of pure beauty. The Larger Bowl may seem overly redundant lyrically unless one recognizes the pantoum form; it’s a thoughtful perspective on the world with a lovely, clean guitar line from Alex. Bravest Face and We Hold On exemplify the positive, individualistic perspective Rush has become known for; and their short instrumental Malignant Narcissism is not only a totally fun, funky jam, it contains an amusing Team America nod, from which the song got its title.
Snakes & Arrows is, thematically, a balanced and mature examination of today’s world. One may hear the songs and find negativism or despair; or one can find perceptive, realistic observations tinged with hope. Where one might see contradictions between these lyrics: