Rush- Permanent Waves: Released in 1980 for Mercury Records
Best Song- Natural Science
Rush's Hemispheres album wasn't exactly a raging success. With progressive rock's decline in popularity, (Thanks, ELP) it only charted number 47, though "The Trees" would become quite popular. After going on the long and grueling Tour Of The Hemispheres, spanning eight months and 132 gigs, from October 1978 through June 1979, Rush went into Le Studio (Quite a creative name) in Quebec in September to record their seventh album, Permanent Waves.
The sound would be mostly the same "Progressive hard rock" sound of the previous albums, but there would be some differences. The most notable was, unfortunately, for the worse. Throughout the 1970s, Geddy Lee was known for his raw, high voice, with tons of awesome high range power and control, and he put it to amazing use, becoming one of my favorite singers (Only second to Freddie Mercury). Unfortunately, it didn't last. During the Tour Of The Hemispheres, the years of overtouring (In the previous four years, they had played over 600 shows!) finally caught up with him, and his voice gradually began to weaken. By the end of the tour in June 1979, the high range power he had used to great effect had dissipated into nothingness, his highs now sounding weak, airy, and strained. Thus, Geddy keeps to his mid-range throughout the album, and doesn't deliver any stand-out performances (And wouldn't for some time). The second change was within the songs themselves. Though they were still proggy hard rock, there was now more poppiness, with greater emphasis on catchy hooks and melodies. This would allow the album to become their most successful to that point, and allow them to become rock superstars.
And it definitely deserved it. Despite the deficiencies in Geddy's voice, the band's instrumental skills are still top-notch, with Alex still providing killer riffs and solos, Geddy giving us great bass lines, and Neil providing more powerful drumming. Much more importantly, the band's knack for melody has remained, and every song ranges from good to masterwork. The result is an absolute classic, and one of my favorite Rush albums.
The album, of course, starts with two mega-hits, "The Spirit Of Radio", and "Freewill". And both are top-notch. "The Spirit Of Radio" is definitely one of my top 10 Rush songs, and my third favorite "non-epic". The song is a 4-part mini-suite in itself, despite being 5 minutes long. And it's GREAT! The song starts off with an EPIC intro, with an awesome, downwards guitar line being joined by the full band, with powerful drumming, held out chords, and synth strings, that combine to create an AMAZING burst of energy to start off the album. Then, we go into the "heavy" section, with a killer guitar riff, before going into the main song. And it's a great one. Geddy sings the ode to radio and music in general, the guitar riff is top-notch, Neil's drumming fits well, the chorus features a neat synth groove, and the synth strings add extra depth. Next is an EPIC guitar solo with only two notes, before we go back into the heavy guitar riff, and then we go into a reggae section (!!) which provides a nice catch-your-breath moment (Complete with lyrics ripped from "The Sound Of Silence"!) before we go back into the heavy riff, with crowd cheering in the background (On the words "concert hall"!), then we do it again! Then there's a KILLER shred solo from Lifeson, before we close with a return of the opening riff. An amazing piece, and a great way to start the album. Also would work excellently as a live opener, and in some respects, is one of the quintissential Rush songs.
"Freewill" isn't much worse, however. The song blasts out of the gate with a powerful guitar riff, before leading to the main song. The bass-driven melody, with lyrics that attack astrology and all that jazz, is playful and fun, the synths provide extra depth once again, the pre-chorus features a great arpeggio guitar line, backed by powerful drumming from Neil Peart, and the chorus features one great guitar riff after another, that move in parallel with the vocal parts. Then, we go into an instrumental break! After a cool, low pitched synth growl, Geddy delivers a great, funky bass solo, before Alex delivers a EXCELLENT, spacey solo, with tons of cool pitch bends and shredding. Then we go back into the chorus, with Geddy hitting some insane high notes, before closing out. A great track.
The other 4 songs aren't well-known, but they aren't any worse, and in one case even better. The first of these is the 7 and a half minute epic "Jacob's Ladder", Rush's try at Christian Rock (!), well... sorta. The song's about witnessing a rainstorm, where a ray of sunshine shines through. So, not too Christian. But anyway, it RULES, and is the second major highlight of the album, even though some parts can feel kind of derivative of earlier songs. The song starts with a cool, ominous bass riff, before Lifeson joins in with his guitar, playing a cool arpeggiated riff, and Neil with his drums. The vocals then enter, and the bass riff returns, with some nice, eerie synth lines as well. Then Lifeson's guitar just BURSTS out after the line "Distant, OVER, TURE!", and we go into a full-on heavy instrumental jam. And it's EXCELLENT! Lifeson pulls out one amazing guitar line after another (ESPECIALLY the AMAZING, epic one at 1:36, as well as the "Temples of Syrinx" riff making a return), while Lee and Peart hold down the fort with their drums and synth bass. Then, the guitar drops out, fading into some wonderful, soothing, and at the same time incredibly eerie synth lines, over which Lee sings with a REALLY cool processed vocal effect, before we go back into more jamming, Lifeson delivers a repeating 5 note riff, more synth lines continue, and Neil continues bashing at the drums, before we finish with a triumphant vocal climax. A top-notch piece, one I can come back to time and time again.
Side Two of the album begins with two songs that are very uncharacteristic of Rush's sound, and while they're not as good as the giants that precede them (And the one that follows) they're both quite good. "Entre Nous", is a straightforward pop song, with silly love song lyrics, a rarity for Rush! But that doesn't mean it sucks. It's quite good. It starts with a great guitar riff by Lifeson, with cool, upwards synths and drums in the background, before going into the main song. The main song is driven by a great, chugging, guitar-led melody, which alternates with a pleasant acoustic section, with some pretty acoustic parts. Lee's singing can sometimes sound awkward, but it's otherwise nice. There's also a solid instrumental break, with a cool synth solo by Lee, as well as some great guitar accompaniment. It sounds completely different from most Rush, and isn't quite as good as the songs before it, but it's good nonetheless.
Next is the ballad "Different Strings", and it's quite pretty, with a pleasant, clean guitar driven melody, with some nice piano parts (!) in the background, as well as some "glittery" synth parts. before we pick up a bit, with Lifeson delivering some good acoustic riffage, Hugh Syme providing pleasant piano parts, and great drumming from Neil, before Lee's vocals re-enter. The melody in the section is great, as the individual parts combine to create a superb atmosphere. It ends with a cool, atmospheric guitar solo, which fades out too early. A great song, though very atypical of the Rush sound.
All these songs, however, pale in comparison to the utter masterwork that follows. The 9 and a half minute, three-part epic "Natural Science" has been a song i've just loved more and more, to the point i'd consider it definitely among my top 5 Rush songs of all time, and the best song of them from the '80s and beyond. The lyrics of the song are even stupider then their other extended pieces, a bunch of lines trying to sound as cool as possible without any coherency, and some just are hilariously bad. "A quantum leap forward/in time and space/the universe learned to expand!" "Each microcosmic planet/A complete society" and others, but it doesn't matter, AT ALL. The song starts off with an acoustic intro, entitled "Tide Pools", and it RULES. Atmospheric sounds of seagulls and a flowing river give way to an UNBELIEVABLE acoustic melody. I don't exactly know why this part's really THAT great, as it's just a simple acoustic guitar melody with vocals, but the combination of the lonely, eerie guitar line, drenched in echo, the otherwordly reverb on Geddy's vocals, the water and gulls sound effects, and the desolate minimalism of the whole thing combine to create an unbelievably epic atmosphere. After about a minute or so, a arpeggiated (If i had a nickel for how many times i've used that word, i'd be a millionaire) guitar line enters, and we pick up into a harder rock section. The guitar line is great, and Neil's drumming is powerful as ever,
But then, whoosing synth noises bring us to the absolute best chunk of the piece, and one of my favorite Rush chunks, section two, "Hyperspace". Lifeson delivers a FANTASTIC, menacing guitar riff, the fade in effect on Geddy Lee's vocals is INCREDIBLE (it sounds like he's CALLING FROM ANOTHER TIME, warning us about how are mistakes will effect us in the future, or something pretentious like that) and Neil's bashing up a storm underneath, creating TERRIFIC intensity that, like many other Rush songs, sounds like the world's crumbling down around you. We have a short, great synth solo, backed by more great guitar and drums, before another verse, backed by R2D2 sounds! Then, a short drum solo, Alex Lifeson gives us a INSANE shred solo, one of my favorites, we go back into the "Tide Pools" melody, with much more intense drumming underneath (In fact, during this whole section, the way the drums and guitar parts combine is a terrific arrangement, note particularly how they mesh at the end of the first synth solo).
Finally, we close out with the third and final section, "Permanent Waves". Lifeson delivers more great guitar lines, though the synths kinda get in the way, before Geddy's vocals enter. In this section, we have more top-notch guitar melodies, and more top-notch guitar/drum interplay (!!). We go back to the opening melody of this chunk, then back to the verse melody again, and the transition is seamless. Alex then delivers another killer shredding solo, backed by Geddy's bass, before another verse. Finally, the song ends with Lifeson delivering another FANTASTIC, menacing guitar part, with MORE great drumming from Neil, before ANOTHER intense part, backed with more cool, otherworldly vocals, before finally closing out with the sounds of a tidal wave. An amazing, simply AMAZING piece of music, one of their best. It would get even BETTER live, but this is top-notch.
And the same can be said about the album. Geddy's voice might have deficiencies, but between the awesome playing, top-notch melodies, and amazing songs, this is definitely one of my favorite albums of the band. Must own. 5/5.