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Rush has always been a hit-and-miss band, sometimes riding the wave of creativity successfully, and sometimes making some of the most boring music you'll ever hear. Roll the Bones is, thankfully, in the first category. After dipping their toes into the synth-driven mid-80's style of dreary, keyboard-laden pop, Rush started swimming towards more rock-oriented waters with Presto, a solid album. Roll the Bones improves on that direction with a release that manages to rock out in that quintessential Rush way, yet remain accessible and- dare I say it- fairly commercial.
But not in a bad way; in fact, what makes Roll the Bones a definite winner is the songwriting, which hits a consistent high point here- a rarity for the band. For every Tom Sawyer there are plenty of uninspired compositions in the Rush oeuvre. Because the trio is so talented, fans tend to overlook this vital detail, but the fact is, a lot of Rush's songs, in a notes-on-paper way, aren't that interesting; a dangerous flaw when you're a band often guilty of being soulless. For whatever reason, however, Roll the Bones is full of strong melodies and satisfying instrumental interplay, giving these musicians a solid platform on which to show off their chops.
Dreamline kicks things off with a catchy guitar riff and one of those strong vocal melodies that set the tone for the album, followed, oddly, by the slower Bravado, which is actually kind of pretty (a rarity in the Rush canon.) But it's the title track that really kicks things into gear- a funky, fun effort for a band that is usually neither funky nor fun, complete with a silly-but-somehow-perfectly-fitting white-boy rap on the trail of a great Alex Lifeson guitar solo. Roll the Bones shows that the band is still capable of great things when everything comes together.
Lifeson, in fact, might just be the star of this album. Perhaps because his guitar was in hibernation for the last several years, he really lets loose here with some of his best playing (and writing,) really pushing these songs to a higher level as they rise up to the musical challenges his bandmates throw at him.
It's this perfect balance and interplay between drum, bass and guitar that makes Roll the Bones so groovy, most evident in Where's My Thing? an instrumental jam that stands up there with the best of Rush's efforts, and by far the best track on the album. It's the song that made me realize how much better Rush is when they let their instruments speak by themselves, and how great it would be if the band ever decided to make a fully-instrumental album, because they write much more interesting music for their instruments than they do for Geddy's voice.
This album, however, isn't a bad second choice. The highlights are many, and even the weaker moments are still interesting, which makes you wonder why they've been so inconsistent as songwriters. I'm not sure that Rush really qualifies as "metal", but with this release, they sure do qualify as "great".
If you like synthesizers and large productions, then you might want to take a big breath. Inhale deeply of Roll the Bones for it is the last time you will hear those sentiments in a Rush album; the band herein finishes what was started on Presto, if not back on Power Windows, and closes out an era of musical direction. Pop, synths, and super production collide with a reemerging focus on guitar, and compositions with depth, to offer a momentary glimpse of how the 80’s could have sounded and worked, but failed because they didn’t before passing into the twilight of history.
Alex Lifeson is a welcome presence on here, his guitar an active and thankfully noticeable force herein. Welcome back! The band is at its best when you are allowed to go my man, never forget that. The keyboards are a texture, one that is notable but no longer an equal member of the band, its roll for the previous three albums properly consigned to the lead guitar. Alex, with Lee, is all over this thing as they should be. And Lee is simply Lee. After thirteen studio albums, what can be said but he continues to prove what the bass is capable of accomplishing. It’s a lead instrument, its rhythm, it does solos. Hell, you can cut a tin can with it. When combined with Alex it lifts Roll the Bones to a level not seen in almost a decade.
Neal Peart continues his journey for the perfect drum sound. His days of electronic drum sounds have disappeared, showing that a good drummer is a percussionist, a greater part of the whole that still maintains a wonderful warm sound, indifferent to supplying simple patterns in a verse or busting open the skills only he can deliver. He’s simply great when he needs to be but not shy about disappearing into the back if the song demands it. Speaking of Peart, his lyrics are the best he has offered since Grace Under Pressure, the album thematically based around the concept of chance; many of the songs deliver the theme up in intelligent ways that add depth to the experience.
The album itself demonstrates the theme in some interesting song styles and structures. “Dreamline” opens the album with a nod to the recent past in dramatic shifts from verse to chorus, but with Alex opening up in it, the style now works. Neal’s lyrics are almost conversational in tone making the offering brilliant. Contrast this to the title track, whose chorus features an acoustic guitar while an interlude to the solo features one of the few raps I like. Yes - A rap. It’s centered on the persistent theme of chance and I can’t help but like the deep voice rolling out the smart lyrics. Then again, I’m highly biased having seen this live: A giant skull with the mohawk bust this part out. “Where’s My Thing? Part IV” is the groups first instrumental since “YYZ”, and its just great. Sure, it suffers from high production, and it’s too bouncy for its own good, but its just so god-damn fun I can’t help but like it. Every band should take five minutes to show off. “Ghost of a Chance” is Rush’s answer to a ballad, and one of the few love songs they have put out, but an entrancing if not well written piece. “Neurotica” is an odd song that is infectious; light blending choruses being pushed by Lee, who dominates the verse with a heavy bass line, while Alex opens up in the pre-chorus up all over the map with simple but blistering axe work: a strange combination that is simply great. Finally, “Bet Your Life” is an average closer with pop sentiments, but the lyrics just make the song; the group basically throws several dozen philosophies at the wall while Lee sings over the montage/mess with a simple chorus. Weird and interesting (and lyrically engaging) wins the day on this one.
An eclectic but wonderful culmination of what the group has been doing for the last four albums; it’s easily the highlight of the period and a fitting end to it as well. Yes, it nods to a few pop trends of the time; but it is well written, excellently executed in its performance, and the trio is at full form and equally involved. That easily makes this the best 90’s offering from Canada’s greatest export.
Roll the Bones is a strange Rush album, mixing the synth driven elements of the band's 80's material with some newer elements, most notable in the Getty's vocal melodies and some of the song organization. Like Presto, this isn't a progressive rock album so much as it is a more pop-oriented album, but it still makes for a good listen now and again.
Alex Lifeson continues to play a decisive role in band's post-Hold Your Fire sound. His rhythm work here is well crafted and his solos are fiery and passionate. The main focal point on any Rush album is still Geddy Lee, of course. His vocals don't go as high as they used to, but he still sings better than his contemporaries. His bass work is always relevant and continues to be a driving force in every song. I think Neal Peart's drumming has gotten even better since the previous albums, with even more progressivism audible in his very dynamic playing. Like most Rush albums, the instrumentation is spot on.
Where this album excels over the last few is the songwriting. The first plus is having Lifeson back in the mix, both figuratively and literally. It's nice to hear his guitar playing throughout rather than occasionally. The synths still play a big role, but have been toned down to allow a more even sound. The lyrics are generally memorable, except that notorious hip-hop part in the title track. Seriously, who the fuck came up with that section. That song would be the coolest track on the album (the synths are awesome and the chorus is quite catchy. Most of the songs are similar in mood, not quite up-tempo, but not dragging along either. "Where's My Thing" is the first instrumental written since "YYZ," and it's quite worthy of the band's reputation. Otherwise, nothing that really stands out as exceptional or unbearable.
And that's the only real problem with this album; that none of the individual songs are particularly mind-blowing. Rather than featuring some classics, what you get with Roll the Bones is a set of decent songs that show that Rush hasn't died off yet and isn't planning on it. Far from their best album (it's not even Presto-quality), it still makes for a welcome addition to any fan's collection.
The 80's were gone and a new decade was beginning. During this time Rush still pressed on since the early 1970's. An achievement not many bands have been awarded. But with a new decade and most bands changing images and sound, Rush kept a key element and added some new ones as well. The result is some mediocre music by Rush, which remains underrated to most people, except for die hard Rush fans.
In 1991, Rush landed out it's fifteenth full-length album, Roll the Bones. In the past Rush made some pretty good albums with a few dozen hit songs. But you never hear any of their new stuff on the radio...why is this? What made Rush famous was their undying will to make music complicated in their strange, but unique, progressive rock style. For Roll the Bones, each song has its own feel for progressive music, which is one of the key elements. But Rush added some new stuff, that always this album to be swept under the rug.
One of the thing Rush added was a lot of symphonic/synthesizers. Okay sure Rush has done this before, but this time it comes to just about every song. This is a good thing in that the extra sound boosts the quality of the music, but in a bad way the songs sound very repetitive. The other element that Rush added was how the songs were structured. Most of the songs, like 90% of them, are slow. The songs are very melodic, and don't feature some of the cool stuff that Rush is known for. There's maybe one or two intense solos, no insane drum beats by Peart, and the songs just seem to run together, which is very repetitive and boring.
Even Geddy Lee's singing gets boring. It is almost like he just sat there and sang it while he was watching tv or something. Now this is not to say that the album is bad, it is a very decent Rush album. However, no songs stand out as being hits, or being worth your time listening too. I recommend this to all Rush fans (rather die hard fans). If this was your first Rush album, you would probably throw it out and never buy anything Rush again. Some good songs to check out are: Dreamline, Face Up, and Neurotica.