Sunday, 17 March 2013

The Spirit of Radio... Permanent Waves (1980) - Rush

I vividly remember a former colleague of mine walking into the office one morning and declaring that Rush were one of the worst bands he had the unfortunate luck to have listened to in recent years. Granted, a large volume of their early catalogue I find rather impenetrable – although die hard fans would strongly disagree. However to mind they had some flashes of brilliance which certainly deserve some mention on this blog. One such one is their commercial breakthrough, Permanent Waves (1980).

Rush are a Canadian band largely forgotten by modern audiences until the hit film ‘I love you man’ with Paul Rudd and Jason Segel brought them back to the attention the public through their rollicking 1981 hit ‘Tom Sawyer’.  An aggressive drinking tune with hard lyrics and a pounding bassline make this one of the gem’s in their treasure chest of hits, but not – to my mind- their peak, which came a year earlier.

As soon as you hear the distorted guitar intro to ‘Spirit of Radio’ and the drum collapse of the legendary Neil Peart you know you have made the right choice with this record. The tune is inspiring, backed with heavy hard rock sensibilities, it was – and still is – a real favourite of mine when I am limbering up for a night out, and I am always surprised when I find that it is never on a DJ’s list at a club (though why this should come as such a shock I am not sure).  Peart’s insistent vocal keep the listener hooked and then, to make it even more appealing it drops into a faux-reggae bridge 2/3 of the way through the tune almost like something from a Police album!

The second track, ‘Freewill’ with its punchy guitar riff is another gem harvested from the album. If you can look past the rather prog driven lyrics you get to experience a powerful tune full of soaring synthesizers and overdriven guitars. This is a perfect example of the direction that rock music was to take going into the early 80s, whilst still keeping with Rush’s signature brand of music and breaking down into a Stranglers-esque bass riff and dirty guitar solo.

‘Jacob’s Ladder’ is sadly not the same as the power-pop classic written by Bruce Hornby and performed by Huey Lewis and the News but an extended work-out which allows each musician in the band to flex their musical muscles. As pompous as it is confused, this is definitely the weakest track for me on the album.   

Things thankfully pick up again with ‘Entre Nous’, another pleasant slice of rock complimented by some space-age synth that would not be out of place on a Manfred Mann Earth Band record. Unlike many of the other compositions, ‘Entre Nous’ is much simpler in structure, bringing in some welcome acoustic guitar to the mix.

Rush wasn’t all about thrashing guitars and strutting drum licks, they could play it slow, and ‘Different Strings’ exhibits this well, sounding like a Genesis tune (Heathhaze from Duke (1980) for example), it’s subdued, stripped down and Peart doesn’t over-dramatise his vocals as he is prone to do on many of the band’s other songs.

The final track on this short album is ‘Natural Science’ which starts slow but builds into a frantic conclusion and is easily the heaviest number on the album with a really dirty guitar riff punctuated by tape-effects adding something of a sinister air to the recording. ‘Natural Science’ has an ever shifting tempo and there are a number of bizarre twists and turns in the tune which makes it all the more compelling. Finally the album reaches a natural conclusion and tail off with the sound of waves crashing against the shore.

Whilst not the best album I own, this one is a real monument to the time of its release and shows a band fast approaching their commercial and (some would say) creative peak. A solid 8/10 methinks…

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