Monday, February 19, 2007

Permanent Waves (remaster)

Last time I wondered aloud, "What did Rush do after they recorded "La Villa"?" and didn't come up with a whole lot. Maybe the conversation went something like this...
AL: Geddy and I have been talking about writing shorter songs, and more conventionally structured. I showed Geddy a few new synth sounds as well.
NP: Wow, eh. That matches real nicely with the more personal lyrics i've been writing. Terry's got a bit of a tighter sound on my Tama's right now.
GL: I really like this "pop" direction we're discussing. To be honest, I'd be quite happy singing parts that were pitched a bit lower anyway.
SRO: Well lads, this sounds just like the kind of record that Mercury would love to release as its first rock record of the new decade! In fact, you're tentatively scheduled to release your next album on Tuesday, January 1 of 1980!!!

So Permanent Waves was indeed released on the first day of the 80's decade. Rush didn't enter quietly, but rather with a 20-second air-raid burst of guitar flange and stop-start drum dives, introducing us to "The Spirit of Radio." The boys deliver a five-minute blast of prog-power-pop, while simultaneously inventing said genre. I could go on about cool little details within the song (Erwig Chuapchuaduah??), but let's just say it's a perfect opener for Rush's most important record. Many garage bands have tried to play it live, many more have failed (although I did play keys for a band on LI where the guitarist played the entire "Spirit" intro with one hand, while he made all sorts of offensive gestures with his right. Great way to start the show.).

"Free Will" is a landmark song on a landmark album. There aren't many classic rock radio staples where you have three guys playing at 110% for an entire 5+ minutes. I'd say "Hot For Teacher" but Mike Anthony couldn't play FW if his very own free will depended on it! Anyway, killer drum/bass fills and a positively horny guitar solo make this a very strong Top 5 of All-Time Rush contender. Geddy even pulls off the insane screaming breakdown in minute four ("Genetic blends with uncertain ends, on a fortune hunt that's far too fleet") without a hitch. "Free Will" actually works because heavy, ethics-laden lyrics need even heavier, performance-driven parts to keep them afloat. Hell, "Free Will" probably could have supported a chapter of that Hegel paperback sitting on my bookcase. If it had, maybe I would have actually understood it!

The fellas roll the bones a bit on the next track, "Jacob's Ladder." We get the feeling we're going back in time a bit, especially with Peart reeling off odd-time flams and short rolls like he's headed into Gettysburg on a three-legged horse. We keep alternating 5's and 6's until we reach our apparent destination: the Prophet Weinrib performs a Moses-like parting of the clouds overhead, allowing light to fill the region.
Lifeson and Peart follow this miracle with a new riff, but this one's in alternating 6's and 7's (yes, that's 13!). They've chosen to celebrate the breaking of the storm clouds with music that almost nobody else can perform, sing, or even dance along to. Oh well.
But seriously, Peart's playing here is absolutely breathtaking. His drum part develops slowly, almost as if he's familiarizing himself with the difficult meter being kept. He stops and stutters, then creates longer phrases, and finally lays crazy fills all over the joint. The Prophet returns for a final announcement, "The shifting shafts of shining weave the fabric of their dreams..." Fuck yeah.

That's one hell of a Side One. The flipside nearly begins even better, if that's possible. "Entre Nous" is an absolute revelation, free of the usual baggage we've come to love and carry. Three things are striking from the very first verse: Geddy's singing comfortably, Neil's playing with reserve, and Alex is squonking Holdsworth-style power chords-- the kind you usually need at least 6 fingers on your left hand to perform. The ingredients work brilliantly. Perversely, Alex skips the guitar solo, which only furthers the new pop cred of "Entre Nous."
I even had a vision of Teenage Fanclub playing this song, with harmonies and everything. Heck, I'd even go in on the Replacements taking a crack at it! It's that good.

"Different Strings" is pretty great too. Yeah, we all said we hated it back then, just like all the other "slow songs" in the catalog. This one's perfectly crafted, though. Nice job, Geddy.

They had to slip up a little, didn't they? The Spinal Tap-esque gurgling intro to "Natural Science" is a really bad sign. So are the lyrics to "I. Tide Pools." Fortunately, the guys wake up and turn up the juice for the rest of the suite. It's still kinda retarded, but I swear Neil hits a 2 or 3-minute stretch where he's killing it non-stop! He throws in an insane fill just for good measure, which you'll have to find yourself.
"III. Permanent Waves" finishes off the songcycle with an awesome guitar solo, and some really funny lyrics. I swear I sat next to a guy in high school that had "Art as expression - not as market campaigns" scrawled on the cover of his notebook. In the end, I gotta admit that "Natural Science" works despite itself. Since it's pretty much the last time they ever tried something that stupid, let's give'em a pass.

Maybe the best sounding Rush record, certainly the bravest, and probably the coolest. Also the beginning of their really great album cover designs.

rating: 5 out of 5

Fun Fact: The woman on the cover is the wife of former Blue Jay pitcher Jerry Garvin.

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