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Between 1974’s debut and 1978’s Hemispheres each new Rush record climbed to a greater level of complexity, intricacy and intellectualism. Yet, at some point, it becomes impossible to climb any higher. Hemispheres is the apex for Rush’s progressive rock era. It’s predecessor, 1980’s Permanent Waves is a major pivot point in Rush’s discography, a merger of their progressive sound with elements of new wave and synth rock.
Permanent Waves introduces a variety of new approaches. The lyrics veer from fantastical allegories of the previous records to more direct and accessible philosophical reflections. Geddy Lee drops the balls-out wails and opts for a melodious and approachable tone. At times, the songwriting is much more streamlined and conventional (though some songs have quite twisted structures). On the surface, Permanent Waves sounds like a “safe” record, but nothing could be further from the truth. This is a deceptively daring record that offers a plethora of original ideas.
The subtle genius of Permanent Waves is best captured by opening track, “The Spirit of the Radio.” Somehow, Rush manage to consolidate all the dimensions that make their progressive epics so impressive into a five minute radio-friendly song. “The Spirit of the Radio” laments the over-commercialization of the music industry and the devaluation of true artistry. Ironically, this critique of commercial radio was itself a commercial hit. It’s not hard to see why. Lee’s vocals are warm and sincere and the guitar lines are absurdly catchy. Yet, what on first listen seems like a direct pop-rock hit is actually quite the compositional achievement. The song doesn’t even have a true chorus. It offers four distinct but related progressions—ranging from a heartfelt and fiery anthem to slow, groovy reggae—that are weaved together through a series of sharp shifts in time-signature. It’s really one of the most intelligent and compelling pieces of pop-rock one will ever come across.
“Freewill” and “Entre Nous” are both excellent, straight-forward rock songs. Both songs have very conventional song structures that put the emphasis on Peart’s profound lyrics and Lee’s earnest vocal delivery. “Freewill” is a simple and direct anthem that challenges to take responsibility for our own destiny while “Entre Nous” is an eloquent reflection on the finitude of all human relationships. There’s also a rather weak ballad, “Different Strings”. The moment Lee croons “Who’s come to slay the dragon?” you know you’re in for a heavy dose of cheese. While “Different Strings” is stronger than previous ballads such as “Madrigal” and “Rivendell,” it is still plodding and saccharine. Still, even here, Lifeson offers a lush, jazzy guitar solo that goes a long way toward redeeming the song.
In contrast, “Jacob’s Ladder” and “Natural Science” are progressive goliaths. The former is a sonic depiction of a thunderstorm, a sort of prog-rock response to the 4th movement of Beethoven’s Pastoral symphony. It starts with a soft yet devious melody and a military drum beat. The soft pitter-patter melody is occasionally slashed by heavy riffs that cut through the composition like lightning bolts. The composition slowly builds up to evermore intense passages of doomy progressive metal, before fading into a soft and reflective synth passage that slowly swells into a final burst of prog-metal. In contrast to the fluidity of “Jacob’s Ladder,” “Natural Science” is a little disjointed, both musically and lyrically. It opens with a dreamy acoustic passage that contains a brilliant analogy between human societies and sea-life in tide pools. “All the busy little creatures/ Chasing out their destinies/ Living in their pools/ They soon forget about the sea.” From there it shoots off in several disparate directions: there’s some scatter-brained synth-rock and some Queen-inspired anthem rock. It’s all quite captivating, but it doesn’t really flow as a unified composition.
Permanent Waves is not the most cohesive or consistent of Rush’s works. There’s an undeniable dissymmetry between the giant prog rock tracks and the clean, straight forward pop-rock songs. Then there’s the sheer brilliance of “The Spirit of the Radio,” which fuses the best of both worlds. Still, any lack of overall cohesion is overshadowed by the sheer quality of the songs in and of themselves. Just as A Farewell of Kings offered an onslaught of new ideas that were then unified on Hemispheres, Permanent Waves is the breeding ground for countless new ideas that will be perfected on Moving Pictures.
Originally written for deinoslogos.wordpress.com
And here we witness, yes, the magnus opus in Rush's career. Til' this date, unreachable for many things. It's hard to make differences between prior watershed albums like the overrated but nice "2112" or the brilliant "A Farewell to the Kings". It's hard to explain why this is it and why this one is not. Maybe, there is a subtle line that defines what can be detailed and what cannot. But we try, we do our best and we believe we are doing it without mixing the heart in the opinion, only using the braincells for the analysis.
This album, full of magic tricks, starts with an anthem: 'Spirit of Radio'. An innocent song, lyrically speaking (this shows us a shift in Rush's lyrical themes), it's about a guy who loves music and specially, non-sold-out music. In this piece we meet many of the concepts that we can find in the most popular songs by our favourite canadian trio, say the songs in "Moving Pictures". A brilliant and hard/heavy hitter opening with an actual rush of instrumental movements. The keyboards prepare the pathways for a powerful mix of guitar and bass kicking. Then, as a sudden, a rythmic change. This song is the starter of modern Rush's song, for the good or for the bad. And as a whole, the band never created (with the exception of the masterpiece 'Xanadu') something as vigorous, dynamic and multifacetic.
'Freewill' is a good song, as well, maybe not as good as our opener, but close enough. The lyrics, once again, are proof of the shift in the band's lyrical themes. From Taylor Coleridge's poetry and Space Themes to "Life Issues". That's not bad, at least for me, as I don't care too much about lyrics, as long as they fit to the feeling of the music. Anyway, this song has some of the most intrincate bass lines by Rush and a distinctive paice. As I stated before, this song is almost like the second part of 'Spirit of Radio'.
From this point on we enter in dark-like realms. 'Jacob's Ladder' has something enigmatic. While the sound belongs to the songs by Rush in the 80's, something here has the taste of the hidden and unique flavours of 'Xanadu' or the finest moments in the song '2112'. A bright, keen and full singing is suddenly broken by a thunder and lightning storm of magic drumming and guitar riffing. This is Rush doing their best, though is debatable if it fits into their finest songs. Mostly because of the hybrid sound. In any case, is a great song, worthy of Rush's bloodline.
'Entre Nous' has something, as well. It's kinda a love song but in an original progressive shape. Even if the sound does not reach a level of excellence, is good enough for mainstream dudes, specially because of the more familiar structure it contains. Goes extremely well from times to times and it's catchy, somehow. The same happens with the weaker song of the album, 'Different Strings'. Although this means not that the track is bad one. Simply, stays in a more old-fashioned way of doing music, despite masterful drumming, which is always usual in Rush. Finally, we get to 'Natural Science', a song that gained the reputation it has nowadays for a couple of powerful live performances that gave us. Again, Rush progressive-ness gets to the highest point, an atmospheric feature, starts like flowing, grows bigger with a frantic bass-driven lyrical section and a petit but tremendous guitar solo and finishes ala-Rush, with an insane drumming combination with a scherzo-like timing and then, the fading, the waves... The permanent waves... The finest song in the album.
The only failure, in my humble opinion, is that the voice sounds very highened in the mix when compared with the rest of the instruments. That thing brings, as the only result, a little loss in the whole heaviness of the album and a little reduction of the effect that makes Rush an undabatable source of light and energy in the metal world: their instrumentation. Because, sometimes, the thing sounds hollow, overwhelmed by the voice, by far higher and ahead in the sound mix. Despite this thing, this album is THE moment of the band. They will reach their definitive recognition in "Moving Pictures" but this was the top spot.
Having mastered the accepted conventions of prog rock on Farewell to Kings and the title track of 2112, and having taken them to excess on Hemispheres, Rush then set about changing the rules to suit their ever-evolving sound. Not a single song on Permanent Waves has a running time of less than ten minutes, but whilst Rush's revised sound is delivered in radio-friendly portions, the content of the songs themselves is as innovative and technically complex as ever.
Musically speaking, this album sees the band sitting on the cusp between metal and hard rock, with hard rock winning out on most tracks but metal still creeping in here and there, usually when Alex Lifeson decides to get a little wild with his guitar (as on Jacob's Ladder). Neil Peart's drumming is, of course, whilst Geddy Lee breaks out some really excellent bass solos. Thematically, the band steer away from fantasy and allegory in favour of a more direct lyrical message - Freewill, for instance, is a song which proves that you don't have to be angry, accusatory, or downbeat to endorse atheism, whilst opening number The Spirit of Radio is a simple song about the love of music.
But the real genius of the album is how all these ingredients, plus Rush's love of complex time signatures and so forth, is broiught together in perfectly formed little songs that are as catchy as hell, without sacrificing any of the complexity. Many other prog rock bands were trying to make their style more accessible at this time, but this was usually at the price of damping down the whole "prog" aspect of their music and leaning more towards a poppy, mainstream style. Rush were one of the few who accomplished a broadening of their appeal without compromising their musical vision, and Permanent Waves is the album they accomplished this on.
Permanent Waves is one of the most accessible and commercial records that Rush ever made and I don't mean that in a negative way. The brilliant opening double pack "The Spirit Of Radio" and "Freewill" are catchy and easy to listen to but contain still enough original guitar riffs, rhythm changes and progressive harmonies to satisfy the fans of the last outputs and not only a new target. Those two songs had everything to become two amazing hit singles and are from that point of view probably the two strongest short tracks Rush have ever written in its long and bold career.
The band still proves that they have kept the spirit of their calm and progressive moments with the strong "Jacob's Ladder". Even if one considers the high quality of many epic tracks from the previous records, this song is still a very special gem and has an outstanding atmosphere that makes it stand out and can be considered as a fan favourite on this record. It's a song that grows one you and needs some attention to dig deeper and deeper into its subtle magic.
Just when the band seems to head for a really great album and a top notch rating, something unpredictable happens. There really is a split between the first and the second half of the record. Seen from a purely technical point of view, the following songs are surely well executed and at least interesting to listen to but they sound somewhat cold, intellectual and too technical to me. They simply don't have the magic and warmth of the first three tracks and rate this album way more down than I initially expected.
That's why I feel a little bit weird about this record in the end. It has its great moments and starts very strong but loses my interest towards the end. I would still not consider it as a bad album but one of the good average records in the discography of Rush. It's definitely not the highlight that it could have been in my opinion but it's without the glimpse of a doubt a great record to kick off a wonderful decade of amazing music.
'Permanent Waves' represents a new stage in the band's development. Musically, the prog was starting to be melded with a new, more commercial approach. It is through this move that Rush experienced it's most commercially acclaimed period. 'Hemispheres' was obviously going to be a hard effort to top, but Rush was able to put together a record that, while not beating its predecessor, harbours a quality and flavour of its own.
The record starts with one of Rush's most well-known and radio-played pieces, 'The Spirit Of Radio'. The guitar work for the signature riff of this song is intense and is very hard to play. There is prog to be had here, but unlike 'Hemispheres', which was content to go on along with its long song lengths and comparatively noncommercial approach, there's also an optimistic radio-friendly sound on here, an AOR sound that helped Rush to become as popular and as influential as they are. While commercialism generally is frowned upon (especially by prog audiences), there's no fault here and it's done in such a way where it only makes the music more listenable.
'Permanent Waves' is an easier album to simply sit down and enjoy as opposed to '2112' or 'Hemispheres', which needs a bit of audience participation and attention to really appreciate. It's music that can be played while driving or while working out. There's good energy here (for the most part, songs like 'Different Strings' convey a more ballad-esque style). The 'epic' 'Natural Science' unfortunately is probably the weakest epic Rush ever composed, taken into consideration though is the fact that the song was written and arranged in a relatively short time (less than a week). The production and sound effects on the song are very cool, such as the vocal effects towards the middle of the song. 'Natural Science' also has a strange evocation of progressive metal despite the fact that the genre itself didn't come into major play until ten years later. The 'intense' part of the song sounds like a very fitting precursor to Dream Theater. If you listen to it, you'll know what I mean.
'Permanent Waves' is worthy of five stars, but not an essential masterpiece of progressive music. Despite some very great songs, it has a comparatively less-strong middle section, but is a great prequel to the band's masterpiece 'Moving Pictures', however. This album comes highly recommended, even if it's not as highly recommended as the masterworks.
You know how some people are so good looking that it becomes weird? Actors, actresses and models who, if you were standing by them in a bar, you’d stealthily shuffle away from because they’d make you feel so uncomfortable? That’s how I’d best describe Rush’s Permanent Waves, a record with six songs, running for no longer than 36 minutes, that’s perfect for no other reason than all six of those songs being really, really good. It doesn’t stand out for its overall punch, or because of the atmosphere it creates, but rather, because it's consistently entertaining. So consistent, in fact, that, yes, I'd go so far to call it weird.
All other so-called ‘prog albums’ are still trembling in the wake of this record. Suddenly, Geddy Lee doesn’t sound like a girl and suddenly, five minute songs are technical while ten minute songs are hooky. Pink Floyd were masters of such songwriting before Rush were, but what separates Rush from the Floyd is their positivity. These are positive-sounding songs that, at heart, are hard rock, and the band, especially Alex Lifeson, loves to underscore them on albums and then unleash them in all their glory when playing live (see “Freewill”).
Seriously, is there any other band that crafts music so enjoyable on so many levels as Rush? I don’t think so. And that’s another reason why Permanent Waves is so good. “The Spirit of Radio”, in particular, is so iconic in its endless barrage of groves and hooks, but there are subtleties to it that no one ever mentions. Most prominently, it's probably Neil Peart’s finest lyrical hour, this man clearly disheartened by what music represents to some people, and what it results in, a theme he’d explore furthermore with “Limelight” on Moving Pictures. The track is so smart, but also so inconspicuous, and it’s probably at its best playing through your car speakers while you’re driving on the highway, the wind blowing through your hair, and your favorite radio station cranked.
The album seems to have a relationship with nature at times, “Natural Science” in particular not only speaking of it but also sounding as if it’s a part of it, thundering waves bookending the epic while everything in-between sounds like it’s happening outdoors as well. The guitars, in particular, sound aqueous, Lifeson clearly having fun experimenting with his tones and filling every hole of space with glorious sound. The whole album is like that, I think, in the way that it’s so full. The day a 5.1 mix of the thing drops will be the day Steven Wilson wets his pants, I assure you.
But what takes the album over-the-top, something that Rush has always excelled at, is that there are songs here that that are great in their simplicity, not their complexity. “Jacob’s Ladder”, probably the weakest track here, is good fun with its thrashing around, but sometimes breathers are needed, which are given to us in the form of “Entre Nous” and “Different Strings”. Both songs sound as if they were written quickly, not because they’re sloppy but because there are no other possibilities for how they could’ve sounded. They both flow so logically, and so well.
No doubt about it, Permanent Waves is the best of the Rush albums. It’s where Rush’s hard rock roots and progressive rock aspirations intersected, and were optimized, the band finding themselves by utilizing an unfounded marriage of ambition and comfort. I’d also argue that to this day, it's a colossal influence on contemporary progressive metal acts, and the obligatory ‘hit single’ that most of them feel the need to include on every new release. Up until Rush, not as many technically gifted bands were writing restrained prog, and while an unfathomable number of bands try to pull it off today (in moderation, of course), few do. Certainly not as well.
2112, Caress of Steel, Hemispheres, A Farewell to Kings... All of those Rush albums are widely regarded as landmarks of the progressive rock/metal genre. They influenced lots of new bands and musicians and played an important role in the divulgation of the progressive genre.
After composing those technical and complex albums, Rush began a new phase, composing more radio-friendly and straight-forward songs than true progressive epics.
This album represents the transition between those two phases; on one hand, it has Natural Science and Jacob's Ladder, two tracks that wouldn't sound out of place on, for example, Hemispheres, and, on other hand, it has Entre Nous and Freewill, two extremely catchy tunes that would fit well on Moving Pictures or Grace Under Pressure, two records that the band released after this one.
After giving the album some spins, it's easy to find evident differences between Permanent Waves and the rest of the 70's Rush catalog.
For example, Geddy Lee isn't shrieking like a madman anymore, as he delivers a more melodic performance.
The songwriting isn't so intricate.
There is more emphasis on the keyboards.
Every song is catchy.
When trying to release a more radio-friendly record without losing their own identity, countless bands failed. Surprisingly, Rush succeeds doing it: Permanent Waves is, probably, a commercial record, but it still has progressive elements all over it, that keep the integrity of the band intact.
The record is an authentic hymn to life. The uplifting lyrics of Neil Peart fit the beautiful music very well, and because of that, the album has an interesting and happy atmosphere (from Entre Nous, an authentic ode to love, to Natural Science, a hopeful track that talks about honesty and sensibility).
Despite being a fantastic lyricist, Neil Peart is also, like everyone knows, an outstanding drummer. He proves that again on Permanent Waves, playing hard and complex patterns that fit the music (instead of playing those patterns just to show that he can do them well); he also shows some versatility, adopting a softer approach to the calm Different Strings.
The first track was the first big hit single of the band and is called Spirit of Radio. In fact, despite being a hit single, the song is pretty complex, featuring some interesting transitions, a reggae-influenced (!!!) section and a fine guitar solo. This tune is also an example of the new vocal approach that Lee adopted. As I've already said, don't expect Geddy to scream like on 2112, he now sounds more like a conventional rock vocalist. And that doesn't work bad at all, as he delivers a nice vocal performance, which fits the warm atmosphere very well.
All the other songs of the album are divided into two categories: the catchy ones and the progressive ones. Freewill, Entre Nous and Different Strings fall into the first.
Freewill contains, probably, one of the “catchier” choruses I've ever heard. Entre Nous is an authentic underrated gem: contains a bass and a guitar solo (that are just amazing, if you ask me) and great lyrics. Different Strings is the softer song of the record, a tune dominated by the uplifting acoustic guitar work of Lifeson and the astounding vocal performance of Geddy Lee.
Natural Science and Jacob's Ladder fall obviously, into the progressive category. Jacob's Ladder is, probably, the only somber song of Permanent Waves. It begins with a priceless build-up and then Geddy begins to sing about a storm that is about to begin... And then, around the two minutes mark, the storm is unleashed, thanks to a fantastic guitar riff and to the precise drum work of God, err, excuse me, Neil Peart. The middle section of the track is filled with a quiet breakdown, which probably represents the end of the storm.
Natural Science contains, again, amazing lyrics and is divided into three sections: Tide Pools, Hyperspace and Permanent Waves (which is my favourite section).
This is a record to be heard as a whole; in my opinion, the songs sound rather weak when heard individually, but, as a whole listening experience, the album is a winner. However, some tunes, especially Freewill, Entre Nous and Spirit of Radio can get old pretty FAST, which is definitely a bad thing. The durability of those songs isn't very good.
If you can, get the remastered version of the record, as the sound quality is thirty times better than the one of the original version. My only complaint about the production is that I can't hear the bass drums on many of the songs, but, otherwise, the production is top notch.
Rush certainly released better albums, but this one is good, nevertheless.
On Permanent Waves, Rush enters the 80’s and the beginning of a new musical direction, compiling what is in essence a transition album between their sound of the 70’s and were they were going in the 80’s. What results is s juxtaposing of elements seemingly opposed: Longer songs opposed to standard length tracks, lyrics that are conceptual metaphors versus succinct statements, outstanding axe work opposite keyboards, and bright musical landscapes rising above foreboding contemplations. But for all its opposing elements it still results in a fine emulsion of sound and content.
The actual tone of the album is darker when compared to the Rush catalog, hopeful moments taking on a grim conscience at times. The album starts out fired up with “The Spirit of Radio” and progresses into moody, slower, contemplative pieces before ending on the conceptual “Natural Science”. Lyrically, it goes from the corruption of music, to facets of determinism, through the stately march of storms, into the exploration of strength in differences, to mankind as arrogant architect of a miniscule portion of what we know. A literal tour de force of philosophy, both complex and accessible (another of those opposing relationships).
Thankfully the music is lighter, but solid enough to carry the load. Lifeson moves through melodies, still a master of the guitar, at times holding off to the solos to breakout into cascading or simple passionate structures. Either form, he is still at the top of his game. Check out the solo in “Freewill”, it’s a whirlwind free-for-all nestled within the songs complex composition. Peart seems subdued, but listen close and you will find a subtle technical conciseness holding up the entire structure, the man being more artist than percussion at times. Lee’s shrieks are almost completely gone; his voice now flowing with the music while his bass work is on target. The band is tight as always, putting forth straight forward, radio friendly tunes and grand complex structures in one sitting. At times both even collide. Traditional sounds hang like a specter of the 70’s interwoven with elements of the new, like a proud parent encouraging its offspring to open its wings and fly. A special note on the increase in keyboards for those who fear the new wave-synthesizer 80’s; consternation is not warranted, for they are only background and a minor part of the albums sound. The guitar is still the hero of the band on this release.
While not the full throttle piece de résistance as many Rush classics within their golden era (The first 8 full releases), and further overshadowed by being sandwiched between fan favorites “Hemispheres and Moving Pictures, this album is still solid, with great moments, and has much to offer in its own right. It’s mostly remembered for radio friendly hits “The Spirit of Radio” and “Freewill”, the last a bit overrated save for Lifeson’s great solo work. “Entre Nous” should have made the radio and “Natural Science” now lives onstage for the great piece it is.
Permanent Waves unique placement in the bands discography makes it a transition album between periods, but with the distance of time freezing these songs into a special place and sound of there own. Note that the band had three of the songs on their set list for their last tour, and that’s half the album. From a catalog 17 releases deep! Take it from Lee, Lifeson, and Peart – This is worth a place in your collection.
Rush have always been an odd band. They build rich, layered cityscapes with only three members. They have a libertarian philosopher for a drummer, and a beak-nosed shrieker for a bassist and singer. They have a guitarist whose cold, calculated genius merely backs up the sound created by the first two. And they invented prog metal as we know it today.
Geddy Lee and Neil Peart really build the songs with their bass and drum lines, giving Rush a quality that few metal bands have – namely, that the bass is more interesting to listen to than the guitars. A few classic rock bands such as the Who and the Beatles have this quality, but in metal, the guitar is normally the main thing, while the bass only helps drive the point home.
The thing about their sound is that it’s a very warm, inviting sound. They rock, time-change, and yes, play really fast, with a vitality that few other prog scientists or shred cyborgs have.
Permanent Waves is their seventh album out of seventeen, and it is this stage in an artist’s career where they usually first begin to drift and run out of ideas. Compare it to other prominent seventh albums. Never Say Die, Reload, or Cryptic Writings this ain’t. Rush sounds like a young band still on their second album – in the stage of their career where they have the money to go out and make something truly amazing, but are still young and hungry enough to want to do so.
There are basically three pairs of songs on this album. The first pair is the album’s two hits, “Spirit of Radio” and “Freewill”. “Spirit of Radio” is a happily humming tribute to…well the radio, back when radio was worth a crap and Drowning Pool didn’t exist. It’s one of the times when Rush’s “progginess” and skill make their songs warmer and more happy. Not Dragonforce happy, mind you, but the kind of happy that evokes genuine joy, the kind of happy where you can hear the essence of life bouncing and shooting through the song. “Freewill”, on the other hand is a little darker and more uncertain of itself. Its lyrics struggle with an age-old question, but it seems very confident when the chorus comes around. After all the struggling with questions of fate on the verses, it’s a welcome thing to hear Geddy state on that chorus “I will choose the path that’s clear/ I will choose free will”.
The next pair of songs are the album’s two epic nature stories. “Jacob’s Ladder”, a simple but poetic description of a thunderstorm (“Thunderheads are rumbling in a distant overture”) starts out with a deceptively simple 11/8 pattern, a few talk/sung lyrics, and then the clouds close in. The stormy instrumental section stays, raining on your parade until a synth drone announces the parting of the clouds. It’s a good song, but it is absolutely OWNED, as is everything else on this album, by its partner, the 9-minute epic “Natural Science”. The crowning moment on the whole album comes when the first chorus hits in all of its head-spinningly complex glory. And it’s damn catchy, too. Then the track blasts into “Hyperspace”, its “mechanized world out of hand” contrasting with the simplicity of “Tidal Pools”. After an uncharacteristically awesome solo from Lifeson, the song finally brings it full circle with “Permanent Waves”. Its grand fanfare wraps the album up all nice and ties a bow on it.
There is one more song group. These are the more acoustic songs, “Entre Nous” and “Different Strings”. They are both tender semi-acoustic songs about how humans relate to each other. “Entre Nous” is more rockish and electric, but it slows down for a very cool acoustic chorus. “Different Strings” is more of a platform for Peart’s lyrics, which are both instantly comprehendible and deep at the same time. It reminds you of one of those acoustic songs Led Zeppelin used to do, particularly “Thank You” off of their second album.
If Rush is your thing, this album is highly recommended listening, despite its length. It’s prog that you’d actually listen to for fun, instead of admiring the fast playing or searching for the meaning of life in the lyrics. Is there anything wrong with that?
Ever since I started listening to Rush, I've is superior to its much-heralded successor, 'Moving Pictures'. I like that album a lot, too, but 'Permanent Waves' just seems more consistent overall. Additionally, the concluding song on MP, "Vital Signs", just might be the LAMEST song Rush ever recorded. Besides being the very first album to come out in 1980 (!!), it marked another first for the band as well: No longer was their work about side-long epics with sci-fi themes. This album saw the band mixing their brand of prog-rock with radio-friendly tunes. There, I said it! Radio-friendly. Yet, for those songs' relative accessibility, they rock hard and are still flawlessly composed.
The disc opens up with the pair of radio hits I was alluding to above, "The Spirit of Radio" and "Freewill". The former has an upbeat melody but, oddly enough, contains lyrics that lament the state of radio at that time. Evidently, besides being a drum wunderkind and one of the most literate lyricists in all of rock, Neil Peart was also a prophet. I was too young to remember what was played on the radio back in those days, but Peart somehow knew just how polluted and filth-ridden the FM waves have become as of late. The latter delivers exactly what it promises: a song that underlines the importance of making your own decisions. One of my favorite lyrics makes an appearance in the chorus, when Geddy sings: "If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice". Alex plays a cool solo after the second chorus. Despite being easier-listening, these two songs have enough time changes to keep the listener engaged.
Every great album's gotta have an epic, and "Jacob's Ladder" is the first of two. Fans of the band's earlier work should greatly enjoy this one. My favorite parts include the instrumental section which is in 5/4 time and later on a spacey part featuring Alex cranking out a convoluted riff in 13/8 (which is one of his finest moments as a guitarist), complimented by Neil's uber-precise percussive work and Geddy's eerie synth-playing. Clocking in at around 7 1/2 minutes, this song is sustenance for the ears. Up next is the quasi-ballad "Entre Nous". The reason I use the prefix quasi- is because Peart eschews sappiness in favor of profundity, yet the song is a tad on the light side. In any case, I have no gripes about the song.
"Different Strings" is a very atmospheric track and is even softer than "Entre Nous". Replete with great lyrics and beautiful synthesizer accompaniment, this is a nice lead-in to the final track, the 9+ minute "Natural Science". WOW, and I thought "Jacob's Ladder" kicked ass. If this is not the greatest song Rush has ever recorded, it is almost certainly in the top five. A song about the environment and divided into three movements, proceedings start with the sound of ripples in the water, followed by some nice melodic singing from Geddy and acoustic guitar work by Alex. Then things kick into high gear. For all the precise musicianship, this tune never sacrifices memorability. Neils drumming in this song isn't just virtuoso--it's OBSCENE. I have encountered professional drummers who have thrown fits after trying (in vain, of course) to play Neil's parts. The sounds of waves crashing against the shore stamp finality on the album.
The fact that this album contains only six tracks does not hold it back much, if at all. My sincere wish is that Rush return to making epic songs on new albums like they did on this record and those previous. It is a pleasure to listen to and review albums like this. 'Permanent Waves' should be in your collection regardless of what kind of metal you fancy; it's that damn good.
Warmth. As the shining silver disc spins round the spindle, travelling along its intransient and unwavering path as it always does, the music produced induces a peculiar feeling in its host. Warmth creeps from out the headphones nestled in your ears and travels through your nerves, tingling, thrumming, gently probing for those secret places in your heart where it might curl up and brighten your day. It speaks of comfort and companionship, unquestioning affection and heartfelt belief in music for the sake of music. As I glance at the pulsating red line that runs through the liners, the lifeline that is the 'permanent wave' of the album's title, I come to realize something profound and beautiful about this record. There is devotion here, and love too. Rush loves us.
Permanent Waves is a bouncing, ebullient, and wondrous landmark from Canadian rock's ever true standby's; a goddamned institution, say true. There is a glorious life in these hallowed licks, and one can take comfort in the knowledge that Rush poured all of their expertise and all of their will into every note. Rush were the ultimate craftsman, never letting a song leave the nest without the strength to fly and grow and that is why they have lasted. That is why they are legends and the father's of a whole subgenre of heavy metal. That is also why their very best material can function on a host of levels.
Examine Permanent Waves as an exercise in musicianship. These songs are crafted to exist as constructions of verse solo and chorus, as conventional pieces of rock music. But they are also home to an astounding level of exploratory interplay between marvellous instrumentalists. One can follow any instrument throughout the album, noting its progress, appreciating the impressive variance and melodic ability exhibited by each. They're all independent of one another, all playing toward the same goal but undertaking their own journey's to reach it. If you were to isolate any of the instrumental tracks I suspect that each would be quite listenable and enjoyable. This stuff is no less than masterful.
Geddy Lee never stoops to simply hammering on a chord to establish a rhythmic base; rather, he flits around the whole canvas of this sonic work of art, weaving his way between Peart and Lifeson, soloing here, riffing there, playing what the song requires. He does what even his greatest influence John Entwistle (The Who) sometimes failed to do, which is respect the song. It is such a powerful aspect of his particular musical genius, something that many of his followers fail to grasp. John Myung (Dream Theater) understands it; Steve Harris (Iron Maiden) does not.
Neil Peart, no less than the Father Son and Holy Ghost of progressive rock drumming, understands this just as keenly. As a wiser critic than I once said, you never know what he's going to do but he is always on the beat. Peart is the drumming equivalent of Lee, a master of rhythm who also plays some of the best leads in the business. The man's fills are the stuff of legend, and his soft-touch ability is amongst the best in the business. Consider his unconventional approach to the heart-rending ballad "Different Strings". A lesser prog drummer might've overplayed the track into an early grave; another might've left it so barren that it lost its yearning intensity. Peart elects to apply a twitchy, almost nervous ticking to several sections, at other times he barely kisses his cymbals with his sticks. In other tracks, such as around the 04:00 mark of "Entre Nous" the man hammers out power fills that belie his unflagging precision with force and strength. The man is feel incarnate.
And no other guitarist could be more of a fit than Alex Lifeson. He too exhibits a duality in his play, flitting between virtuosic soloist of the highest calibre and masterful rhythm artiste. He riffs majestically on "Jacob's Ladder" and with deadly metallic precision on "Natural Science: Hyperspace", solos with a delicate psychedelic tone on "Different Strings", and displays often his impressive acoustic prowess.
Each one worthy of study, but it is the way they fuse together that makes them what they are. Three minutes into the spiky prog-AOR of "Freewill" Lee begins to solo. Next, Lifeson begins shredding, but Geddy doesn't stop. Stereo solos. Finally, Peart joins in the fun by bashing away at his kit underneath Geddy, somewhat synchronising with Geddy's licks and yet also keeping time. Roughly 120 seconds of solo stuffed into 40.
"The Spirit of Radio" may be the finest example on this album of Rush's extraordinary cohesion as players. There is great irony in the fact that the most beloved radio hit from the album, the lead single is in fact a highly complex prog-de-resistance with unfettered performances and an almost freeform feel. There are bouncy, melodic rock sections, a reggae inspired break, labyrinthine bridges connecting disparate parts, headbangable metallic riffs, and coursing through it all the permanent wave of naive wonderment as represented by Lifeson's shrieking bursts of static-y transmission tying the package together.
That last bridges into how Permanent Waves is equally strong as a collection of wonderful songs. The heroes here are lyricist Peart, who crafts unencumbered odes to nature, love, understanding, and music that express in equal parts literary prowess and a naive belief that what one says is more important than the constraints one is supposed to adhere to in saying it. The songs are almost dauntingly hyperverbose, and Geddy Lee must be given a hand for rescuing them from seeming cold or distant. Who but Lee could've rescued these words?
"Each of us
A cell of awareness
Imperfect and incomplete.
With uncertain ends
On a fortune hunt that's far too fleet."
They are comforting, grandfatherly even, but good songwriting? Perhaps not. But Geddy, Geddy reaches down and screams them from the tips of his toes and in his passion you come to believe that this unwieldy ill-conceived rhyme is a profound statement. For all my occasional smirking at his wailing voice, Geddy has the rare ability to make lyrics stick. He wails with all of his soul, and he makes possible all of the thoughts that Peart wishes to express.
And sometimes, he doesn't have to. "Jacob's Ladder", a creeping tour-de-force that could very well be the blueprint for Metallica's progressive instrumental masterworks, is a semi-instrumental with few technical pyrotechnics and only brief verses bookending the piece. Riffs advance and retreat like armies on a battlefield, the band locked in step and singularly purposeful. It is both unvirtuosic and highly cerebral, Rush experimenting with an almost classical style of composition. Organ-flavoured keys, militant-metal riffing, and circular spiralling leads. Unconventional simplicity at its best.
In a scant thirty-nine minutes Rush deliver a testament to sheer unadulterated Rush-ness that is representative of everything this band stands for. It IS pretentious, it is sweetly innocent in its morality and its view of the world, it is completely and utterly honest with the listener. It is rarely simple and seldom underwritten and yet it breathes freely and without reserve. Not every moment is 'perfect', not every song structured as I would have done it, not every brilliant riff carried as far as it might go... but I wouldn't change a single note. Permanent Waves feels like a living entity, timeless and yet I feel that my appreciation of it might change in years to come. Even if I set it aside and never listened to again, even if I came to feel tired of its unrelenting gentle tone and sweet nature, I would not change one fucking note.
Because it is Rush. And this is the way it had to be.
Stand-Outs: "The Spirit of Radio", "Different Strings", "Jacob's Ladder"
The album begins with the sound of guitar pull-offs sweeping across the soundscape soon to be joined by bass and drums. The opening track “The Spirit of Radio” is an anthem to the powerful force of the radio and the music industry. In keeping with this theme, most of the album Permanent Waves is very radio friendly. With the exception of "Jacob ’s Ladder" and "Natural Science", the songs here are of radio length: around 4 minutes or so. Two of Rush’s most popular songs came from this album. The aforementioned “Spirit of Radio” and “Freewill” still receive radio air time.
At this point in their career, Rush was slowly phasing away from the progressiveness of previous works like “2112” and “Hemispheres”. This is not to say the material here is not progressive, in fact, this is a great album for those that want to hear two different sides of Rush: The longer epic side, and the shorter, more accessible side. Even in the shorter songs, there is an element of experimentation. For instance, in “Spirit of Radio”, near the end the song goes into an unexpected reggae-like bridge section before hitting the guitar solo. A few albums later, they began to add more of the reggae riffs into their sound (Vital Signs and Digital Man being good examples).
For those that like longer, more experimental songs, Permanent Waves has a lot to offer. I’ll be honest, I’m not a huge fan of “Jacob’s Ladder”, however the more I listen to it, the more it grows on me. It’s a seven minute, mostly instrumental song. After an ominous beginning with lyrics about “clouds preparing for battle”, the song goes into a lengthy mid section. Here is where the “short song” crowd will likely tune out. The riffs here have a military march feel to them, very fitting of the previous lyrics. Some synth later comes in, along with Geddy’s vocals shaped into a robotic voice. The guitar returns, slowly growing louder and building up to a loud climax. I can see why some could see this as a boring song, as I used to think that way before, but there’s a lot here that is heard only after a few extra listens.
The big, epic track of the album is “Natural Science”. This is an excellent track and is definitely the highlight of the album. Not only is the concept here noteworthy, the music and atmosphere created as so fitting of its title. It begins gently with the sounds of waves hitting a beach. In comes an acoustic guitar with some reverb added on, making it sound as if he’s playing it on a deserted beach somewhere. Right as the first set of lyrics is finished; the sounds of seagulls can be heard in the background. Pretty cool. There’s some rich visual imagery here in the lyrics. For example: “Wheels within wheels, in a spiral array, a pattern so grand and complex, Time after time we lose sight of the way, Our causes can’t see their effect.” Add to that more strange vocals effects during the “Hyperspace” section and you’ve got a song that’s full of interesting twists. It’s a shame that this was one of Rush’s last “epic” songs.
So putting this all together, there’s a good mix of shorter, accessible songs, and longer more complex ones. Rush may have gotten more radio friendly at this point, but they still had the artist integrity and the brains to come up with some great progressive rock songs. Permanent Waves is a fine album, maybe even superior to Moving Pictures.