Here’s my stream of consciousness review of Snakes & Arrows, written as I listen to it.
“Far Cry” – This is the only song I heard prior to the album release. This is much in the same vein as Test for Echo and Vapor Trails. It has a really catchy chorus, and crackles with more life than all of TFE. And of course there are the Hemispheres-era chord changes, which are sweet.
“Armor and Sword” – A little plodding, but I like the addition of the acoustic guitar and the lush (but not overpowering) production. Lyrics are decent but it seems like Geddy doesn’t know how to cram that many words into the arrangement. Love the bass tone on this one. More classic era chord changes toward the end of the song. The main qualm here is that it is just too slow, which lessens the impact of the song.
“Workin’ Them Angels” – This would fit in on Test for Echo. Again, too slow for my liking but I do like the feel of the song. Is that a mandolin? Decent song, but nothing to write home about.
“The Larger Bowl” – More acoustic guitar, which I did read formed the basis for a lot of these songs. Very mellow so far, so that makes three songs in a row. Not a good sign. Geddy sounds great vocal-wise, but again the lyrics sound stuffed in. Nice Alex Lifeson solo – FINALLY!!!$@#
“Spindrift” – Nice opening, very tense-sounding. Probably the most interesting song so far, but again that damn mid-tempo thing. No real buildup or climax here, which was a problem on Vapor Trails. Squandered potential on this one.
“The Main Monkey Business” – The first instrumental. Probably the most enjoyable cut since “Far Cry.” Still waiting for one of these songs to go faster than a gallop, but no luck. This does start to cook at a few points, but never gets past simmering. I’ve read some fans claiming this is the best instrumental Rush has released since “YYZ.” I suppose that argument could be made, but I don’t know if I’m ready to claim that yet.
“The Way the Wind Blows” – Some pretty bitter Neil lyrics here – guess he doesn’t like religion huh? More quiet acoustic passages, which would be nicer if a lot of this album weren’t already so mellow. Another decent guitar solo, albeit brief.
“Hope” – A rarity in the Rush catalog – a pure guitar piece. Very pleasant, but not really necessary. Sorry Alex, nice try.
“Faithless” – I love Neil, but these anti-religion screeds are getting tired. And hey, it’s another mid-tempo song! Wow! Nothing really catchy or interesting here. Man I’m getting bummed out.
“Bravest Face” – More Neil bitterness. And more plodding.
“Good News First” – A promising opening, but once again the band hits the brakes. WTF?!?! Well things do pick up a little and a good solo helps this song redeem itself. Some interesting chord changes.
“Malignant Narcissism” – Ah, now this is more like it! A badass bass line and some groovy drumming. This is honestly what I expected this whole album to sound like. This is the Rush I grew to love, so it figures the song is done after 2 minutes. : (
“We Hold On” – Well at least this one doesn’t seem too slow. Rush specializes in strong closing numbers, and this seems like another one. Nifty guitar work by Alex, with some interesting textures. Neil lays aside the anger for a minute to pen some of his more usual inspirational lyrics.
Well that’s it. I’ll be brutally honest and say I’m very disappointed. Snakes & Arrows may have better production values than Vapor Trails, but it has almost none of that album’s intensity or spirit. This really sounds more like a followup to Test for Echo. I like the textures that new producer Nick Raskulinecz has brought to the table, although sometimes it sounds a little too dense. Alex Lifeson makes some nice appearances on lead guitar, but never really goes for the gusto. Neil’s drumming is not nearly the star it usually is on Rush albums. Geddy has some excellent bass work, but his vocal delivery has this little “hiccup” that started to grate on me.
I think Rush plays it too safe here. Yeah they took some chances on the last album and fell flat on some of them, but when it worked it worked well. Here they don’t really seem to have much to say musically. The much-ballyhooed return to the classic Rush style was not really evident so far as I could tell. This is has the same mellow attitude that a lot of Hold Your Fire or Presto had, but those nuances were lost due to the heavy production.
I will of course give this album many more listens before a final (or updated interim) decision, but on first listen I am feeling rather let down.