For over 30 years, Rush has endured their share of criticism ranging from Geddy Lee‘s vocal ability to Neil Peart’s penchant for overblown lyricism.
But maybe the critics should consider the lineage that the band has never attempted to hide since their debut album back in 1974. Rush has held true to the modern-rock ethos of what constitutes the “power trio” format (progressive jamming over weighty themes) and, remarkably, they have done so with their large fan base in place.
For their 18th studio album, Snakes & Arrows, Rush remains steadfast to the formula that has provided them with gold and platinum awards and sold out venues each time they hit the road.
Even the title itself is indicative of the headspace that provides fans with literary insight and critics with additional ammunition. “Snakes & Arrows” is loosely based on a game created by Buddhist saints and sages called “Leela.” When Leela dice are rolled, the player moves around the board. The places on the board represent various stages of consciousness or existence, and the player can be brought to higher levels via “arrows” and to lower ones through “snakes.” If the premise sounds familiar, it’s because the game found its way to America under a more suitable name for Western tastes: Chutes & Ladders.
If that much forethought was put in simply coming up with a fucking title for the album, imagine what these Canadians worked out with the music.
Rush circa 2007 is pretty much the same sound that fans have been accustomed to since ditching their misguided synthesizer tinkerings in the 80s. Snakes & Arrows continues the band’s hard rock tendencies with little effort to comply with the desire of some who are waiting for another landmark shift like 2112 or Permanent Waves.
So with those expectations clearly out of the picture, Snakes & Arrows does show some notable improvements in terms of songwriting; this may be Neil Peart‘s best lyrical work yet.
The lead-off track, “Far Cry,” finds the band, who could’ve easily become insulated among their supporters, firmly in touch with the realities of the modern world. “It’s a far cry from the world we thought we’d inherit,” Lee sings, before admitting defeat with Peart’s line “One day I feel I’m on top of the world / And the next it’s falling in on me.” It’s a far cry from a lyricist who was previously known for using trees as a metaphor for racism and catching the spirit of that modern day warrior, Tom Sawyer.
“Armor And Sword,” the album’s thematic title track, Peart channels Richard Dawkins’ book The God Illusion which explains how faith is primarily an inherited role, passed down like culture itself. Regardless of what faith a child is brought up with, it probably won’t be strong enough to overcome whatever trauma that life throws at them. To that, Peart (who’s been through his own share of personal tragedy) discloses that “No one gets to their heaven without a fight.”
The high spots of the album are three instrumental tracks. “Hope” provides some generous Alex Lifeson acoustic fretwork, while “The Main Monkey Business” finds the trio working out a dynamic six minute jam. But the best of the three, “Malignant Narcissism,” hints at the band’s sense of humor (the song title comes from the movie Team America) and it sounds like an update of “YYZ” (from Moving Pictures). Best of all: it clocks in at mere two minutes and eighteen seconds.
Producer Nick Raskulinecz, who’s previously worked with irrelevant arena rock acts such as Velvet Revolver, Foo Fighters, and Stone Sour, punch Peart’s kit way-the-fuck-up in the mix to the point where you’re left wondering if he could have been one of those high school band drummers who stenciled the Rush pentagram logo on his sheet music folders.
Snakes & Arrows won’t be the album that silences the cynics nor will it be the album that provides them with any new fans. The fact is: they don’t need either. So, considering who this album is ultimately geared for, Snakes & Arrows will be noted as one of the band’s highpoints within a career that even the most acclaimed bands feel envious about.
Rush – “Far Cry”