Saturday, April 21, 2007

Song review -- Rush, "Far Cry"

As longtime readers here will know, I'm a dedicated Rush fan. I've seen them live four or five times, and I have at one time or another owned every studio release except the debut Rush and the third album Caress of Steel, which was hurried out for some reason I should probably know.

Since becoming a convert in late middle/early high school, the release of the first single from a new Rush album has been something special.

- The chilling Distant Early Warning, with the heavy synths and the Strangelove-style video.

- The Big Money, whose electric-drum bombast didn't detract from the nicely intertwining riffs and playful lyrics

- The breathtaking Force Ten, which sounded like a passing hurricane and ended with an ominous sound, as if another storm were brewing

- Show Don't Tell, not one of Neil Peart's best lyrics (and not one of Rush's better albums, despite AllMusic's inexplicable 4.5 star review) but an intriguing mix of riffs

- Dreamline, another powerful show-stopper in the vein of Force Ten

- Animate, opening with a funk-rock beat and a chugging rhythm that sets the backdrop for a meditation on gender roles. Hey, only Rush could explore this sort of territory in a power trio.

- Test for Echo, an abrupt mood-swinger that's probably the weakest of this batch and not as memorable as two other songs (Driven, Resist) on the album of the same name. It was a little disappointing, particularly after an unprecendented (almost) three-year gap between albums for a band that usually cranked them out every 1.5-2 years.

- One Little Victory -- apologies to LL Cool J, but we will call this comeback. Rush hadn't recorded in almost six years, with the band very much in limbo after Neil Peart lost his wife and daughter within a year's span. It was fitting that the song opened with a full-throttle drum assault that only Van Halen's Hot for Teacher can approximate. Even without the backstory, the song simply outrocks just about anything ever recorded ... anywhere. When you add in the context and appreciate the understatement of that "little" victory, it's amazing.

Five years have passed since then, and Rush has had fun being a band again. They've gone heavily into the DVD format with the R30 retrospective and the live Rush in Rio. They recorded an album of rock standards called Feedback. They've toured, they've rested.

And now, they've recorded another album. You don't have to dig around or wait for the radio to play the new single -- just go to their site and look for Far Cry.

It's ... not that good.

I've listened three times in three weeks, and it just hasn't grown on me. Neil Peart joked that the last album was "all the things you hate about Rush," but this song actually fits that description. You could even say it's all the things we hate about Dream Theatre or other prog-rock bands that approximate the musicianship and complexity of Rush but never quite turned their technical ability into good songs.

Far Cry starts with a turgid guitar-bass drone, slamming the same chord over and over in an unpredictable rhythm. That's a prog-rock cliche, and it's a bad sign. Worse, it's repetitive -- it sounds a little too close to the Vapor Trails standout Peaceable Kingdom, which made far better use of it by contrasting it with the hopeful, atmospheric chorus.

A problem I had with Vapor Trails -- though it's a far better release overall then Presto or Test for Echo -- was that the sound was far too thick. Too crunchy, to borrow my kid's terms. At times, I was convinced I had a defective copy that couldn't possibly have been mixed properly.

Far Cry has the same problem throughout. It's not an accessible sound, and any hooks are buried in the mix.

Thematically, it just doesn't go anywhere. The song meanders from one section to the next, with nothing holding it together. That negates one advantage Rush always had over Yes -- Rush generally has a better idea of where its songs were going, while Yes sometimes devolved into this: "OK, Steve, you can play a three-minute solo now, then it's Rick's turn, then we'll restate the opening riff just so people remember what song this is, then Steve plays the slide guitar ..."

(Hey, I kid because I care. I love Yes, too.)

I'm sure I'll like at least a couple of songs from this album. But this is undoubtedly the most disappointing opener Rush has ever released. Even Caress of Steel, the only truly bad Rush album, had the blazing Bastille Day to kick things off.

2 comments:

Larry said...

Dued, I will assume that your 38-39 years old. Same age as me. Been a huge Rush fan for the same length of time. The song rocks. I don't think your listening to it properly. Down load the song to your ipod and play it in the car at full volume. Total eargasm. Don't be shy let yourself have a little selfindulgance that is rush. Remember, Your never to old to get excited about a new Rush Album. Give the boys a break! not other band in the world can rock like them.

Neel Mehta said...

Oh my God. You guys should do a commercial together.

Larry: Hey man, is that prog rock?
MMM: Yeah, man!
Larry: Well, turn it up, man!