The thing about Rush fans -- Hello! I know you're out there, I can hear you breathing through your mouths! Is this thing on? -- is that, by definition, they missed the boat, victims of a pop-culture-induced inferiority complex. Y'see, Rush, forming in Toronto circa '69 by Gary Lee Weinrib, Alex Zivojinovich and John Rutsey, finally got around to issuing an album in late '74. (Around the same time drummer Rutsey was replaced by Neil Peart. An apocryphal tale has it that comics/cartoon buff Weinrib, a.k.a. Geddy Lee, thought the mustachioed Peart looked exactly like Canuck cartoon icon Snidely Whiplash). Sadly, however, by that stage, prog rock had come and gone. A done deal. Singing in the choir invisible. An ex-genre. Yes' excruciating double-LP sprawl Tales From Topographic Oceans had appeared a full year earlier; King Crimson had wisely split up a couple of months prior; and I don't have to tell you what fate would soon befall Genesis.
So along comes Rush, a few Moogs shy of the sort of fantastical sound that inspires the loftiest of Dungeons & Dragons fantasies. Hairy-palmed wank fests to B-grade sci-fi flicks, maybe. Still, the punters embraced the trio's poor man's prog and willingly forgave Rush its hoser heritage, too, perhaps due to the subliminal understanding that, hey, those three guys in Rush look as pathetically dorky and incurably self-conscious as I do! Nobody ever got laid being a Rush fan, right? But of course, that's the million-buck chicken-or-egg question.
More than a quarter-century later, Rush is rumored to be hunkered down preparing its 23rd album, a follow-up to the '97 "epic" (ain't they all) Test for Echo, which was accompanied by an "epic" (ditto) world tour, followed by an "epic" (ahem) three-year hiatus. Into the gap steps bassist Lee to do the solo thang. Guitarist Zivojinovich, a.k.a. Alex Lifeson, was the first to draw outside the Rush lines with his '96 side project Victor, of which the less said the better, while unconfirmed rumors had Peart woodshedding anonymously with ex-Hüsker Dü bassist Greg Norton. So it's now up to vertically challenged overachiever Lee to show the world just where the real Rush talent resides. Let's glean a few insights, courtesy of Lee's Atlantic Records press kit, shall we?
On group camaraderie: "Creatively, I've always felt very satisfied in the context of Rush. I wasn't like some artists that have a whole stockpile of material that they're just dying to get out there and make the real statement that they want to make. I really had no need to draw any more attention to myself." (Translation: I better massage the other guys' egos. Don't wanna queer the reunion if my LP tanks.)
On selecting ex-FM progster (and k.d. lang foil) Ben Mink as collaborator: "We were plunking around and we kind of looked at each other and were like, 'Wow, you play like me!' 'No, you play like me!' We liked what we wrote [together] and we couldn't just let it go." (Translation: I'll cite "artistic differences" when Rush breaks up but let everybody think it was Mink's fault.)
On additionally selecting Soundgarden/Pearl Jam skin-thumper Matt Cameron: "He's a wonderful drummer and a wonderful guy." (Translation: Cameron was between albums and has a good manager.)
On the fine distinction between Rush albums and his solo record: "I cannot deny my roots, so there are obviously going to be moments that sound like Rush. The way I put chords together, that is going to have some similarity. But [Mink and I] pooled our writing talents in a way that was incredibly synchronous, and I think that combination has put it outside Rush." (Translation: Yeah, I know it sounds exactly like Rush. That's because I'm the real talent in the band. You got a problem with that?)
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On forthcoming Rush plans: "Hopefully, at some point early in the New Year, I'll be starting to sit down at my day job. It's going to be interesting; everybody's grown and changed in many different ways since the last record." (Translation: Those guys are mooks.)
On being a humble A-R-T-I-S-T: "When it was all said and done, when I sat back, on my own, and just listened to it, I thought, 'We're okay. We did a good job.'" (Translation: Rush fans will buy the record.)
Of the music: Well, there's "The Present Tense," which doesn't really rip off Tom Petty's "Cabin Down Below," it just borrows a few significant chords. And did someone mention poor man's prog? The clang 'n' whung of "Working at Perfekt" brims with "majestic" neoclassical chord progressions and crunchy string arrangements that wouldn't be out of place on the first couple of Electric Light Orchestra albums. (Roll over, Roy Wood, and tell Jeff Lynne the news.) As solo albums always feature at least one introspective acoustic guitar/piano ballad, here we get "Slipping," Lee seemingly having discovered those gadgets that smooth out vocals and give 'em perfect pitch so he can sound less like a bleating lamb being eviscerated and more like a sensitive, New World Guy. And in an obvious concession to circa-2000 "hard music" clichés -- the audience-broadening ploy -- the title track kicks off with a grungy/thrash open tuning motif before turning into a grandly complex, prog-ish "epic" that sounds -- hold on to your Caribou -- just like Rush.
So yeah, the songs are, as Lee puts it himself, "okay." Take it away, Rush fans. The bar for your expectations has been lowered, ever so charitably, once again.