I gotta say, I was torn when I read some reviews prior to hearing the songs. Some people LOVELOVELOVED it while others were less than impressed. Me?
This is the best Rush record since Counterparts? Grace Under Pressure? Heck, Moving Pictures? Hard to say. Usually, when a new Rush disc is released, there's excitement, euphoria, and, ultimately, disappointment. That's how I felt about Vapor Trails, from 2002. Will I feel this way about S&A? Hard to say, but I must admit, I am feeling very positive about what I hear now.
Some things I really dig about this CD:
- Rush hired an outside producer. The last CD was self-produced by the boys and it was a bloated mess. A guy named Nick Ra-something or other produced S&A and, though it has long songs (5 min plus for most), the songs are much less meandering that before.
- The production appears to be better. VT has a horrid (and justified) rep for being too "hot". If you listen closely to it, there is a lot of distortion (clipping) on many of the songs. Inexcusable. S&A is appropriately mixed and there is separation for all the instruments and voices.
- Geddy plays his bass w/o doing his flamenco thing. He seemed to pick that up during the Counterparts era, but if you watch the video from "Limelight" in the early '80s, you see him doing the flicking thing with his picking finger. It's cool in some songs, but he overused it in recent recordings. Call me a purist, but why use 16th notes when 8th notes will suffice?
- No insane bass tracking. Once again, on VT, Geddy tracked 2 or 3 different basslines on some songs. Does Rush have 3 bassists? No. So why have 3 tracks? Self-production, that's why. No outside voice to tell him, "Uh, HELL no." On the S&A songs, Rush is 99% bass, drums and guitar, as they should be. (Though there is a bit much vocal tracking and harmonies)
- 3 instrumentals. "The Main Monkey Business" is a horrible name, but it's a cool song. IMO, their last few instrumentals ("Limbo", "Leave That Thing Alone") have been pretty lame. TMMB is 6 minutes of melodic, powerful instrumental. It's no "YYZ" (insane riffing). It's closer to "La Villa Strangiato", but not as musical. I'd say TMMB is kind of a combo of the two. Check the last few seconds of the song with Neil choking the cymbal crashes. LOVE IT.
"Hope" is simply Alex on a 12 string acoustic guitar. It's short and sweet and very Tea Party-esque in spots.
The aforementioned "Malignant Narcissism" is the third instrumental and it's probably the best. It harkens back to "YYZ" with Neil and Geddy trading licks. It's got a cool slowdown ending as well.
- There's a song called "The Way the Wind Blows" and, though I have no idea what it's about, it's probably the bluesiest song Rush has ever done. It's in 6 and Alex blows up a few solos. Rush doing blues is weird, but it's pretty dang cool.
Anyway, if you're lucky, maybe I'll do a song by song breakdown sometime, cuz that's the kind of geek I am.