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Music Review: Rush – Snakes & Arrows

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Written by Fumo Verde 

As an avid surfer, I always have a tune in my head to keep me in rhythm, and Rush’s Snakes & Arrows has a collection of songs that will keep me charging all the way through summer. The album drops in like a heavy wave at the Wedge with power not only in the music but in the lyrics as well, tapping into the Rush of old by combining the storytelling of the past with the ideas and passions of the present. Charging guitar solos, ripping bass lines, and the hard working drive of one of the world’s greatest drummers creates the fetch for the new swell of Rush rock while questions about the very ideals we believe we should stand are examined.

Whisking one away to the past or opening one’s eyes to world events are ideas that fill this album. "Far Cry" and "Armor and Sword" differ in their musical aspect; the latter has the tone of elder songs such as "Red Sector A" or "Witch Hunt," but both question our humanism and ask us to look in the mirror carefully. In the song "Armor and Sword" the lyrics are "Sometimes the damage is too great/ Or the will is too weak/ What should have been our armor/ Becomes a sharp and burning sword./ A refuge for the coming night./ A future of eternal light./ No one gets to their heaven without a fight." These words ask us the reasons we as humans are so quick to get into a conflict with each other. Similar ideas are expressed in "Far Cry," the opening track that bursts in like Vikings on a rampage. The trio crash down like a pipeline in late December and hold that beat throughout the song as the lyrics remind you, "It’s a far cry from the world we thought we’d inherit./ It's a far cry from the way we thought we'd share it."

Complex lyrics blended with the intricate and ever-changing instrumental structures have always been the mark of a good Rush album, and S&A has them. "The Larger Bowl" is a pantoum, a rare form of poetry where the second and fourth lines of each stanza are repeated as the first and third lines of the next and the first line of the poem is the last. Again, Neil Peart shows us his intellect as Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson show theirs by fitting chords and beats, making this song one of my favorites on this CD. With few words Rush can open such big doors where giant questions lay. "The golden one or scarred from birth/ some things can never be changed/ such a lot of pain on this earth / it's somehow so badly arranged." Yet not all the songs on this CD are socially energized. Tracks such as "Spindrift" and "Workin' Them Angels" open a window into the life of wordsmith Peart. One can hear his pain and his joy as he puts it all out there with no regrets, and for those reasons alone I admire this man.

Writing profound lyrics with amazing melodies isn't anything new for Rush, yet S&A has a harder edge, as "The Main Monkey Business" will prove. One of three instrumentals, it keeps Rush at that fine edge their fans have come to adore. "Hope" is guitar only and was composed and performed by Lerxst Lifeson (that's what it said in the liner notes). My hats off to Lerxst for this composition is beautiful and brings my mind back to trips into the Arizona desert, as Lerxst's guitar leads the way.

This CD has brought me back into the Rush fold, and even if the band moves into another direction with the next album, this one is a testament to a band that isn't afraid of making rock music with a point. "Faithless" is a song that holds true to that statement. "I don't have faith in faith/ I don't believe in belief./ You can call me faithless/ But I still cling to hope/ And I believe in love/ And that's faith enough for me." These men will stand behind what they believe in and aren't scared of some old crone who challenges others while skirting around the faults of those she supports.

I have to say that Counterparts, Test for Echo, and Vapor Trails left me wondering if Rush was still the same band I was looking for. I know bands change over time, that's a given, they have to if they want to succeed. Snakes & Arrows will go down as another change in the direction of Rush and one that will bring them a legacy of standing up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. The music is pure Rush while the words cut and sting like the lip smack of a cold winter wave. The melodies will keep you moving as the lyrics make you think, and thinking leads to change, and change is what these modern day Tom Sawyers are all about. If you get a chance to see Rush this summer, make it so. Look me up on the lawn at Irvine.

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About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS
  • http://www.lookoutforhope.com Tom Johnson

    Argh! Beat me to a review! Well, mine will be coming eventually, but I just need a little more time. A great album, nonetheless, and a great review. I’ve got a lot to say, too, but I’m taking some time to sort it all out. It’s all jumbled up in this messy brain o’ mine.

    As for Vapor Trails, you really, REALLY owe it to yourself to devote some more time to that one. It is easily the most powerful, emotionally driven work they’ve ever done. I used to have a tough time deciding between that and Presto, but there’s a special something extra in VT that puts it over the top – a combination of the times for everyone (shortly after 9/11) and events in Neil’s life (loss of his wife and daughter certainly inform much of the lyrical narrative, even if not directly). Were it not for the unfortunate mix/mastering problems, it would be the perfect Rush album. As such, I accept it for its minor issues, like the rugs the Navajo Indians weave that have an intentional flaw – because if it were perfect, what else would they have to strive for in the future?

  • http://www.grayflannelsuit.net Chris

    After living with this disc for a few weeks, I must still admit to being disappointed in it. Too many mid-tempo songs with awkward vocal phrasing and melodies. And Neil is practically non-existent on this album. Vapor Trails was so much better in many ways.