Rush Album Countdown: #14 – #12

Now that you’ve had a week to digest the first installment of my countdown of the greatest-ever Rush albums, which shook the World Wide Interweb to its very core, it’s time to continue! But first, a quick recap:

Part 1 (#17 – #15)Rush, Hold Your FireRoll the Bones

All caught up? Good.


Rush - Test for Echo album cover#14 – Test for Echo (1996)

I guess when you get down to it, ’90s Rush just doesn’t do it for me (with one exception). Right around the time of Test for Echo‘s release, Neil Peart had implemented a change in drumming style that Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson claimed brought a freshness to their musical approach. I don’t hear it. A lot of this record just sounds plodding to me, which is really hurts otherwise good songs like “Driven,” “Limbo,” and “Time and Motion.” One exception to this is “Totem,” which grooves along quite nicely.

This album, like most latter-day Rush discs, has its share of filler (“The Color of Right” is the obvious offender here). But that’s not what really sinks T4E – what does that is the worst collection of lyrics to come from Neil Peart. “Virtuality,” which is musically interesting, is the worst of the lot – “Net boy, girl/send your impulse ’round the world/put your message in a modem/and throw it in the cybersea.” Beyond lame. “Dog Years” and “Half the World” are little better, full of bad clichés and platitudes. Oddly enough, the standout track for me is “Resist.” The lyrical device is rather simplistic, but I think it works. It’s the only song on the album that has any kind of emotional resonance for me, whereas the rest of Test for Echo leaves me as cold as the snowy scene on the cover.

Rush - Vapor Trails album cover#13 – Vapor Trails (2002)

Part of the initial excitement I felt over the release of Vapor Trails was due to the fact that it came out at all. I can’t have been the only Rush fan who thought the band might not make it following the tragic deaths of Neil Peart’s daughter and wife in 1997/8. On first listen, I felt Vapor Trails to be a welcome relief from the tired and bloated Test for Echo. Over time I still feel the same way, but the album has nonetheless fallen in my regard. The main problem is with the infamously botched production – due to a mixture of careless recording and mastering, listening to the record in its entirety is a sonic assault on the ears (and not the good kind).

The second problem is the running length – this album is way too long, by about 15 minutes at least. Most of the middle of the record – “How It Is,” “Vapor Trail,” “Earthshine,” and “Sweet Miracle” could all be pitched and the album wouldn’t suffer in the least.

What keeps this album ranked as high as it is are some very strong tracks – “One Little Victory” is the fiercest song to open a Rush album since “Bastille Day.” “Ceiling Unlimited” could’ve been ruined on Test for Echo, but instead benefits from a tight arrangement and the return of Geddy Lee singing in a higher register. “Peaceable Kingdom” is another gem, but for me the true highlights are “Secret Touch” and “Freeze.” “Secret Touch” kicks ass on many levels, while “Freeze” makes a fine fourth addition to the Fear “trilogy.” But the great moments on this album are weighed down too much for this to rank much higher.

Rush - Fly By Night album cover#12 – Fly by Night (1975)

First, the positive – with the introduction of Neil Peart as drummer and lyricist, Rush took a quantum leap forward from their debut album in terms of lyrical content and musicianship. The album opener, “Anthem,” is a prime example of Rush at their early best – very fast, very aggressive, and lyrically strong. An instant classic. My personal favorite of the record is “Beneath, Between & Behind,” and of course there is one of the ultimate geek-metal moments in “By-Tor and the Snow Dog.”

But as with Vapor Trails, Fly by Night is weighed down with mediocre material (although I can excuse it more here, as the band was still in its formative phase). “Best I Can” sounds like a holdover from the first album, albeit one with superior drumming. “Rivendell,” while pleasant enough, is pretty unnecessary unless you’re J.R. R. Tolkien fanatic. And I have to admit I’ve never really cared for “In the End,” a rather pedestrian Zeppelin-esque epic.

If you don’t own the remastered version of this album, I recommend getting it. While it’s not a huge sonic revelation, it doesn’t feel as stuffy as the original version.

10 Comments

  • Ah, okay. I’m not so enamored of Yes that I’d pick that reference right out, and DT leaves me cold (the words 12 lbs of shit in a 6 lb bag are entirely too appropriate) so I missed that.

    The new layout = awesome.

  • Love the jet! I don’t know what Thom was on about, but I think I caught references to Dream Theater and Yes in his other comment.

  • They would make great individual songs, but being hidden in the middle of such a long and ponderous song makes it hard for me to love them as much. They needed an editor badly, though I don’t dislike the album. It’s definitely the first one I’ve listed where there isn’t a bad song on it. As a whole it’s just… good, but not particularly special.

  • I have always had a spot in my heart for Caress of Steel. Yes, it’s definitely a product of its time. But to me, it was a huge leap forward in creativity. Sure it doesn’t always work, but there are some great spots. If you look at some of the individual pieces of the Fountain of Lamneth suite – “No One at the Bridge” and “Bacchus Plateau” for instance, those would be great individual songs. And I’ve always loved The Necromancer, particularly the really fierce portion of “Under the Shadow.”

  • I still can’t believe you ranked HYF at 16. That hurts.

    Okay, I reevaluated GUP and bumped it up a few spots, so that lets Test For Echo fall into my #15 position for most of the reasons you listed. It does drag, and could contain the worst lyrics on any album as a whole. Virtuality, The Color Of Right (which is apparently some Canadian law thing, I don’t know, I fell asleep while someone was trying to explain it to me), Half The World… blech. If Dog Years is Neil’s attempt at a sense of humor then I’ll give him a pass, but it still kinda sucks. I really only listen to Driven, Totem and Resist off this album, and Virtuality is occasionally entertaining if you’re drinking and you want to laugh.

    So:
    17 – Roll The Bones
    16 – Rush
    15 – Test For Echo

    14 – Caress Of Steel
    I simply think that I am not nerdy enough for this album. I’ve always said that I’m a bad prog fan, and this just doesn’t have enough oomph for me as an album. The epics are… well, I think they suffer from the same problem as Vapor Trails. Halfway through Fountain I’m looking for the fast forward button and putting that back to back with The Necromancer just kills it. It doesn’t connect for me on any level and they haven’t realized that editing is their friend yet.

    That being said, the drumming on Lakeside Park is lovely and simple and just perfect, and I would pay extra to see Ged sing I Think I’m Going Bald now, since ironically, he’s the only one who isn’t. There isn’t a single standout track, and that’s why I can’t put it any higher. It’s good and I wouldn’t call any of these the bottom of Rush’s catalog, but nothing is great. Every song falls squarely in the middle and while it shows potential, I think the songs were letdowns from the best parts of Fly By Night.

    13 – Fly By Night
    Anthem, Beneath, Between & Behind, and By-Tor save this album. All great songs, and they are a good indicator of what’s to come. If they’d taken the worse material off this, and cut down the longer tracks on Caress of Steel, it would be a fantastic album. I’ve always felt that Rush sometimes sacrificed quality for quantity and it’s easiest to see on their first few albums, when they were cranking them out every 9 months. Once again, I am not nerdy enough to fully appreciate Rivendell.

    12 – Grace Under Pressure
    Okay, here’s a better place for it. Some amazing songs – Between The Wheels, Afterimage, The Enemy Within, one great song that I find to be an incredibly difficult listen – Red Sector A, some meh, and a song that is clearly in the top 5 worst Rush songs – The Body Electric. Look, I have a degree in Computer Engineering and even I find the binary filled chorus lame. It physically hurts. It’s up there with In The Mood, Face Up, Virtuality and Superconductor as the songs that make me embarassed for them. They also make me want to smash the albums to bits, so that’s probably a bad sign.

    Other than GUP, my least favorites have tended to come from both ends of their career.

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