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On certain occasions in their discography, the holy triumvirate that is Rush seems to get the itch to do their own spin on what is popular at the time. Grace Under Pressure pretty much copied the style of The Police and in doing so created one of their greatest (and most underrated) albums ever. Power Windows and Hold Your Fire were very much in-line with the synthpop style of the mid/late 80's, and both are also quality releases that are still uniquely Rush. Counterparts is basically the trio saying "Alternative? Grunge? You call this hard? Gimme a break! Stand back and watch how it's done!"
Right from the opening few songs, it's apparent the clean-cut, synth-fueled Rush of the 80's is long gone, replaced by Alex Lifeson once again at the firefront, delivering his signature style of paradoxically easygoing yet fast and complex riffs and solos, propped up by Geddy Lee's god-tier bass lines and beatmaster Neil Peart keeping everything chugging along as only he can do it. A few synth sounds still exist within, but they're relegated to support/accentuating roles now, and the difference is huge. While not produced much louder than their previous works, the music on this just feels so much more massive in tone than their 80's offerings. with the opening trio of Animate, Stick it Out, and Cut to the Chase being the best, and hardest hitting. But even with all this raw rock power, they still find the room for cultural commentary. Whether it be compassion towards gays on Nobody's Hero or contemplating gender/race differences on Alien Shore, Rush always seems to be able to deliver heartfelt messages without having to sound soapbox preachy.
This album formed at just the right time, melding Rush's impeccable lyrical work and musicianship with the hard-nosed, cathartic yet disaffected alt/grunge wave of the time, serving as an appropriate spiritual prototype for bands like Incubus, Foo Fighters, and Porcupine Tree; hard-working modern rock bands that are nebulously genre'd; anything from progressive, alt-rock, punk, even the hybrid genre alternative metal. While said genre and bands aren't officially recognized by Metal-Archives, it's still an important outlier genre to pay attention to, and Counterparts is its most complete template.
I have to say, apart from being the single greatest influence on the genre; they are the single most consistent band ever. It’s the band’s 15th effort damn it! And they still manage to bring fresh new equally amazing tunes. The sound here is slightly different though; it’s a little more towards mainstream pop, but don’t let it disappoint you because their original retro groove is still there.
A lot of the characteristics of their original self can be seen here. When other bands move towards a more mainstream sound they end up losing half of their original fan base, but not this one. Despite the change in sound, this album can convey Rush’s capabilities to its old fans, and introduce the band’s abilities to new ones. Not only does this invite more audience & reaches number two at the US billboards without disappointing existing followers, it should climb a couple of spots in both parties’ list of favourite artists.
However, having said all of that, if you for a moment forget that it’s the band’s 15th effort and raise your expectations as high as 2112 or Moving Pictures, you are left with fairly less technicality and complexity as compared to what made you fall in love with the band. Now I for one wouldn’t criticize the album for such a petty reason, but just to play devil’s advocate, the song structures here are too simple as per Rush standards. The time signatures and chord progressions are simpler as well. Usually with Rush’s music there are more things you notice about the composition the more times you listen to it, unfortunately not in this case. Apart from the regular overdubs theres almost nothing here that you won’t be able to catch or identify the first time.
Production has never been a problem with Rush. The balance between all instruments here is perfect and the variations in guitar tones are noticeable. Such stellar & resonant mixing can be found only with this band and maybe some other rare cases.
The keyboards have been drawn out till a certain extent but they have retained the beautiful overtones. Alex sheds out a lot pretty cool riffs throughout the album and makes himself count. The guy has always been overshadowed by his band mates but here he tells us why he should not be overlooked and why he deserves his share of credit.
Lyrically, dark emotional themes are still the focus, as can be seen in songs like Nobody’s Hero and Everyday Glory. However, I wouldn’t agree with the Grammy nomination of the instrumental "Leave That Thing Alone" due to its high level of simplicity. Its sounds like a talented alternative rock band trying its hand at an instrumental and is nowhere near Rush standards.
Everything taken into account, this album still deserves a good, sturdy and respectable 77.
Finally. Finally, the rather weak and uninspiring “synthesizer era” (except Grace Under Pressure) of one on of the most revered bands in the business today ended with the release of Rush’s fifteenth studio effort in the year of 1993, “Counterparts”.
The music however isn’t exactly a return to their progressive roots. The album adopts a very commercially successful, radio friendly approach to music with the influence of pop still clinging on to the band’s music though it’s more of an influence rather than the band’s chosen genre of music. Long, complex tracks and mind-boggling time signatures are no more and Geddy Lee’s open mindedness to experimentation and continuous craving for learning and adopting new styles of music has lead to the band even incorporating the sound of 90’s alternative rock within it’s spectrum. This album sheds off much of the main artillery the band had during the last decade of its music, which is quite obviously the synthesizer with much being the key word. The synthesizer is now more of an accompaniment to the band rather than the centerpiece as it had been for the past decade. “Counterparts” is one of the band’s most guitar driven albums let alone in a decade but in their entire lifetime, which has now entered its fifth decade since its inception in 1968.
The near complete shedding off, of the synthesizer is evident as the album kicks off with “Animate”, with Neil Peart’s drums and Lee’s bass signaling a new era in the band’s music and is a great slightly pop influenced rock track with the synthesizer playing in the background, helping rather creating the atmosphere the band intends too. The newly acquired alternative rock mixed with the 60’s hard rock sound is all too much evident with the band dishing out one great track after another and almost clearly signaling the band’s return to form. “Stick It Out” almost abandons the pop influence and seems like Rush in it’s early days mixed with the catchy choruses, the characteristic of 90’s rock. “Cut To The Chase”, the third track is probably as close to the band’s progressive era as it got to wit this effort. Mixing of intricate melodies as still making it seem as if they belonged together best describes this track. Nice shifts between Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart only make this song better. “Nobody’s Hero”, on the other hand is a more serious track and is a mini classic by Rush. It is mainly acoustic and bass yet goes along very well and leaves a good taste in the mouth.
After almost lulling the listener to almost believing that the band has strongly returned to form even if it does not mean playing progressive again, this is where the decline even if it rather graceful begins. “Between The Sun & Moon” is a fun track and reeks of a rather chilled out approach by the band. The next tree tracks, “Alien Shore”, “Speed Of Love” and “Double Agent” are however not good at all. With pop being the main influence here and the synthesizer once again being much more than just an accompaniment, these tracks are a rehash to the bands previous, rater poor, synthesizer era. Except for the solo these tracks may prompt you to press the skip button and I encourage you to do so.
Things once again begin to change with the instrumental of the record, “Leave That Thing alone”. A synthesizer intro, huge chunky bass lines, amazingly precise drum lines and guitar work backed by dreamy melodies are the main characteristics of this track. This was also chosen for a Grammy under the “Best Rock Performance” section but was closely edged out to the title by Pink Floyd’s “Marooned”. “Cold Fire” and “Everyday Glory” are good album enders and both meander on the outskirts of being great tracks but never really get there.
To break it down, with respect to the band members, Geddy Lee’s bass lines are extremely great and are unsurprisingly the highlight of the album. More than 40 years of playing the bass surely accounts for something and he always makes it count. This man is a genius. Another sign of greatness is his consistency as a vocalist. Almost twice the age of most in the business today and yet he puts them to shame with his ability not only to carry on but also because of his flexibility, carrying off tracks perfectly sounding emotional, serious or in a downright chilled out good mood. Alex Lifeson hasn’t sounded better in along time and his solos are noteworthy. Nothing technical about his guitar work here, just another example of his ability to play with amazing precision and suiting the theme of the album. The same thing can be said about Neil Peart’s performance on the drums with his performance with his work on Animate, Everyday Glory and the instrumental Leave That Thing Alone worth a mention.
The fans of progressive Rush may find this a bit of a letdown and those tracks in the middle of the album, which bleed inconsistency not helping much either. A good album nonetheless, signaling the entry of the band into yet newer horizons.
What is this that reaches my ears? Why it’s the most guitar driven sound from Rush in over a decade. In fact, the keyboards are so far back, they have been relegated to an incidental texture that has not been seen since Permanent Waves; just straight on notes from one Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee. As this jolting sound blasted out of the car stereo on its first spin, I nearly spilled my oversized Slurpee all over my car’s dash in sheer joy. Such a reaction would have been a waste on two accounts: First, the alcohol in said Slurpee would have gone to waste; second, this is not a return to form.
Besides the idiosyncrasies of Roll the Bones, the previous 10 years of Rush’s discography has been one stumble after another, the godfathers of progressive turning their wasted talents to the simple and shallow depths of synth-pop purgatory. But here the guys give up the instrumentation devices of this period and return to the basic formula of a three piece rock band. Yes, the guitar has made its triumphant return, and Rush is a better band for it.
After the initial sound hits you, that sound starts to sink in and it becomes apparent that while the instruments have returned, the music being played is not a similar return to form. Pop still clings to this like a will-o-the-wisp, a ghost of albums past. But the 80’s has been merely updated to the 90’s, Lee’s affection of watching and learning from modern trends has lead to the new white meat of commercialism: 90’s alternative rock. Guitar driven alternative soundscapes mix it up with varying shadows of what Rush once was and degrees of what the band is capable of. At times it works, and bursts with hope for the future direction of the band, but at other times it breaks down into a morass of average and becomes a tough sludge to wade through.
The album starts out strong, “Animate” pounds out well enough, Peart opening up with some warm drum pounding while Alex and Lee announce the new worldview order. “Stick it Out” attempts to make up for Alex’s lack of guitar presence on the last four releases, putting out his toughest, coarsest sound in recent memory. Things get better with “Cut to the Chase”, with its wonderful shifts between Alex and Lee; it is well written and the band seems motivated to punch it through on the backs of their instruments. The rest rises and wanes like the tide, hints of greatness mixed with the tarnish of playing to a new pop scene. “Nobody’s Hero” is decent, and I appreciate Alex keeping the acoustic work in his vocabulary, but the made of radio chorus with its soap-box lyrics drags it down from lofty heights. “Double Agent”, “Leave that Thing Alone”, and “Cold Fire” drives forward with hints of greatness, but not enough to take the songs all the way. The rest is just average to poor, with too many tracks that just wash into background noise thanks to the same lack of depth.
This is almost a satirical opposite of their last release, where Roll the Bones possessed many of the synth-pop sentiments and over production I detest, but actually manages to work well thanks to good writing and performances; Counterparts removes the flop, brings home the guitars, and then runs it into slow motion with average writing. Sure, the performance is strong, but that is in the context of the material given to work with. Not a bad album at the end of the day, with songs ranging from good to poor throughout this makes the sum total disappointingly average.
Somewhere hiding in this album is a good solid EP. As it is, it is a welcome change of sound that briefly sparkles before dimming into irreverence, shrinking into the shadows of a catalog filled with monuments.
I like this album, but I could totally see any random Rush fan trying to forget it. They went for a more streamlined sound, definitely more poppy than before. This may or may not be a good thing with most bands, but Rush injects enough of their own sound to make it sound interesting. Although Geddy has definitely calmed down over the years, and his vocals have gone from a black metal shriek to semi-emo vocals, they’re not that bad on this re-cord.
On Test For Echo, I really despised most of the songs because they were completely in-distinguishable, and mostly did not carry the Rush signature sound we all know and love. It just never clicked with me, and even the “hit” Driven is just average work for Rush. Counterparts provides a slightly more relaxed, less strained version of that sound, and with some well-needed hooks added, it is actually quite a listenable record.
The album starts out with the bass and drum driven track Animate, which is really free in its composition, and shows a more smooth, less jarring side of Rush. Most of the time Rush tries to put some odd time signature in the song to make it more interesting, which works sometimes (Distant Early Warning), and fails horribly other times (Tom Sawyer, who needs to hear that descending riff a million times?). Animate is very streamlined, and pretty much all in 4:4, making for a decidedly easier listen.
Stick it out, the second track, is kind of goofy, and I’m sure they had fun writing these ridiculous lyrics. The way it’s provided through a counterplay between different Geddy vocals in the chorus, and slow grind during the verses, is semi-interesting, but I would not pick this song as the better song, although the riff under the chorus is undeniably metal.
Cut To The Chase is not bad, it has the same easy feel of the first song, and the lyrics are a little less random than Stick it Out. The counterpoint between bass and guitar is fun, and makes the song move nicely. Geddy actually sounds genuinely serious on this song, which he has failed at in the past, often ridiculing himself. There are some irritating pop tricks like repeated background vocals and random keyboards to add to the “atmosphere”, but they’re not overpoweringly annoying.
Nobody’s Hero is a really great short epic, with Geddy’s more serious voice showing through well. Alex winks back at his past solo style in a short burst of overdriven solo after the first chorus. The song is mostly acoustic guitar and bass though, and this works very well. It’s not overly long, and the riffs are very tasteful for the lyrics. This song is definitely a highlight of the album
Between Sun and Moon returns Geddy to his solo album vocals. I address his vocals a lot in this review, as they easily take the foreground on this album. The instrumentation, al-though still talented, has nothing on the earlier ultra-wank Rush. The songs are written more for the songs than for Geddy’s bass fills or Neil’s Buddy Rich imitations. This song is a pretty good example of it. Although there are some show-offs from Neil, it’s pretty basic. Hearing Geddy Lee play a straight eighth bass line almost makes you think he’s tired of playing ridiculous fills.
Alien Shore is a lot of fun. It has kind of an arena rock sound to it, without resorting to cock rock. The two songs that follow (The Speed of Love and Double Agent) actually kind of follow a similar formula in this, except for the random spoken part in Double Agent. Rush doesn’t really put a whole lot of effort into making these songs unique, but they’re still a bunch of fun to listen to. Keys are sparse, but present. Bass is easily the loudest non-vocal instrument, and the drums are appropriate, with Alex easily having the lowest volume, as he has had for the entirety of the 80s.
Leave That Thing Alone is one of those Rush instrumentals that doesn’t resort to too much wanking, and concentrates mostly on atmosphere. They basically take the middle keyboard section of YYZ and extend it, with some new parts added. This fits into the al-bum very well, and Neil actually shows off some really tasteful playing in the mid sec-tion.
Cold Fire and Everyday Glory are good album enders, and actually don’t let up the en-ergy, or suffer from 2112 disease (putting some random tracks written in two minutes at the end of a record). Geddy sounds pretty poppy on these tracks, which would be out of place for earlier Rush, but on this record it works just fine.
Overall this record is a nice disc. It’s not as jarring and progressive as earlier Rush, but it still provides some good tracks, and a smooth listen.