The one aspect of the music on this album that’s an improvement over previous efforts is Geddy’s voice. Long gone are the high pitched shrieks of yore, now replaced by smooth, controlled vocals.
It’s been six years since prog rock legends Rush last put out a studio album. This left fans worried; it’s the longest period between two Rush studio albums ever, and for a while it seemed like a new album might not happen at all. The band’s drummer and songwriter, Neil Peart, lost within a space of a year his wife and his only daughter. So when Rush released the much-anticipated Vapor Trails (Atlantic records) this May it was a sigh of relief for the fans. Their beloved band was not, in fact, going to break up. However, the questions of whether or not the 6-year hiatus would effect the band’s sound and skill, and what impact Neil’s losses would have on the lyrics remained.
On the second matter, Neil’s lyrics are fairly similar to what they’ve always been like: distant, analytic and philosophical. Take for example the opening track and current radio single, “One Little Victory”. It discuss the actions and emotions of a victory, but never actually mentions what the victory is. Neil does allude to the suffering from his loss on a few tracks, but never in a direct way, rather stating it in a more universally. One of the lyrical highlights of the album is the fourth track “Peaceable Kingdom”, which playfully incorporates the Tarot card theme of the album’s art work in a fantasy tale, reminiscent of Rush’s early albums of the seventies.
Musically, the band displays the tightness that can only come from working together for 30 years. While there are no show-off moments on the album, plenty of spunk and energy is present. The first track kicks in with Neil playing a complex but tasteful drum fill, followed by a pounding riff courtesy of guitarist Alex Lifeson that is then doubled by bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee, typical of the hard rock feel of the whole album. In other words, Rush has not gotten soft with their age, rather they’ve gotten harder. Another good example is the title track “Vapor Trail”. The verse has Alex playing a beautiful and sorrowful single note melody over Geddy’s deep bass line, which then leads into an urgent prechorus that sounds more like something from some nu-metal young Turks then three 40 something Canucks. The same could be said of the funky rock intro to “Freeze”, delivering a dissonant riff that reminds one of early Red Hot Chili Peppers or KoRn, but still sounds without a doubt like Rush.
The one aspect of the music on this album that’s an improvement over previous efforts is Geddy’s voice. Long gone are the high pitched shrieks of yore, now replaced by smooth, controlled vocals. Take for example the emotional point and counterpoint on the 5th track “The Stars Look Down”. Geddy’s voice perfectly expresses the wondering questions of “what is the meaning of this?” with a quavering vibrato, and just as equally expresses the emotional detachment of the Stars.
Overall, Vapor Trails is a good, lively album that shows Rush isn’t slowing down anytime soon. I would recommend it to any looking for some hard rock with some brains. However, none of the tracks on the album really feel like classics. While I’m sure a few of the songs, probably “One Little Victory” and the title track, will have a place on Rush’s play list for many tours to come, none of them feel like they’ll go down as part of the pantheon of the best Rush songs. In other words, I doubt if someone was compiling a Rush greatest hits ten years from now they’d include more than one track from Vapor Trails.
However, considering Rush’s history, this isn’t very surprising. Each “period” of Rush’s history is divided into four albums with a live album separating each period. And of the five albums that start a period of Rush’s history (including Vapor Trails), only two are considered classic Rush albums. It’s only going to get better from here.
So longtime fans can rejoice; They have a new Rush album, and with it a new tour. As for everyone else, they have an intelligent rock album from a band that is always evolving, and doesn’t fail to do so this time out.