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.