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What. An. Album. Seriously just when you think that there’s no way in hell, Rush could possibly have any more tricks (read classics) up their sleeve, along comes this dazzling masterpiece. How the heck do they keep doing it?? Anyways enough hyperbole, let’s get down to the review. Just so you know unlike their earlier albums, this album did take a while to grow on me. But then again, that is the beauty of some of the best music out there. Only by the 4th or 5th listen will the little details reveal themselves and so on.
The amazing synths really add another magnificent layer of sound to the album as a whole and clearly without them, the album would not have the charm it did. That should be fairly evident from the very intro of “Subdivisions” including the almost speculatively mournful midsection at 2:15. For those of you who think they are too ‘cheesy’ and don’t belong in metal, kindly stop reading right now and don’t bother. Also the first thing that jumps out at you is that there is much more to this album than straightforward prog rock as all of you know, Rush left that approach behind on their last album Moving Pictures in any case. Sufficient to say, if you’re still expecting more of the same this time, you’ll be quite disappointed. However if you’re willing to broaden your horizons and give this album a chance, you will be rewarded. Of course, repeated listening is the key. I for one am more than happy with the new direction their music took. As other reviewers have already pointed out before, there are hints of pop, new wave music and reggae (“The Digital Man”) which works marvellously enhancing the diversity of the music even more. The emphasis is more on to-the-point rockers on a song-by-song basis rather than sprawling progressiveness of their previous era. Instead prog is one of the ingredients of this dish compared to being the main component of the music. Also rather than being used separately on their previous album, Rush have integrated both the guitar and the synths/keys into a powerhouse of a rhythm section along with the groovy spiralling drumming providing a lot of syncopation.
Every single song has something special be it the epic chorus of “The Analog Kid” (“You move me” part is just fucking epic) the simple complexity of “Chemistry” the amazing melodic intro of “The Weapon” played out again in the chorus and the lovely vocal lines of “New World Man”. If you look at it in terms of progressiveness, yeah sure it doesn’t touch their previous albums, but in terms of sheer enjoyment and replay ability the album does stand proudly with the giants. Geddy Lee’s vocals sound different (in a good way) with him exploring the greater depth of his mid-range instead of his high pitched vocals on the previous albums making for some gorgeous and lush vocal harmonies and arrangements. Even the lyrics are way better than anything I’ve heard from the genre in a while being both introspective and simple, yet driving the point home. Take a look at these lyrics from “Losing It”. Heartbreakingly true about most of our lives, just getting stuck in the wheels of society on a daily basis, being unable to think about what we really want for ourselves. Hands down, one of the best songs on the album.
Some are born to move the world
To live their fantasies
But most of us just dream about
The things we'd like to be
Sadder still to watch it die
Than never to have known it
For you, the blind who once could see
The bell tolls for thee...
If you are a newbie to the sound of Rush or just an open-minded rock/metal fan, this would be a good place to start. A fantastic and unique album that truly grows on you with every listen. Highly recommended.
I feel like Signals is an overlooked album among Rush fans. Maybe not the diehards, but certainly nowhere near as widely regarded as the giants of the band's discography, namely 2112, Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures. This is a shame as Signals represents a true highlight of the band's career in some ways. Its a streamlined, forward thinking, and truly progressive record despite its perceived continuing abandonment of extended displays of musical prowess. What those are replaced with are cerebral and emotionally driven excersizes in compacted technicality, some of which deserve to be ranked with the band's best ever work.
Signals is unique in that although aesthetically congruent with the preceding records, it ditches the "rock" framework of Permanent and Moving and replaces it with a heavy New Wave bias clearly strongly influenced by The Police and similar bands of the time. The reggae tinge present on songs like "Vital Signs" from Moving Pictures becomes ever more prominent in places on Signals, also. Case in point, "Digital Man", with its baffling, highly technical drum and bass interplay saturated with washes of Andy Summers-esque guitar that gives the overall effect of "Walking on the Moon" on steroids paired to a set of cleverly obscure lyrics about...something. Signals also marks the point at which keyboards become a truly dominant feature of the Rush sound, which would continue throughout the decade. This is nowhere more evident than when the record opens, with the monolithic "Subdivisions" being driven almost entirely by Geddy Lee's synth work, punctuated by frantic basslines only at certain points. The song is a fan favourite and for good reason, as poignant a distillation of the angst and alienation of adolescence as has ever been committed to tape. Observe the brilliantly written:
Any escape might help to smooth
The unattractive truth
But the suburbs have no charms to soothe
The restless dreams of youth
Another clear highlight of the album is "The Analog Kid", with its soaring incendiary displays of musicianship paired to dreamy, impressionistic words that are obscure, yet vibrant in the sense that you're not really sure what he's talking about, but it hits you somewhere and you relate to it in some way. The song reaches its emotional climax over the lines "And when I leave I don't know what I'm hoping to find, and when I leave I don't know what I'm leaving behind", a moment which never fails to move me. Neil Peart is a highly regarded lyricist for good reason. Even when he's being vague, he can still hit you right where you feel it. Indeed Signals as a whole is marked by this particular writing style, mixing elements of obtuse personal themes with an awareness of technology and how it affects our lives, a theme no less relevant in 2015 than it was in 1982, arguably even more so. The overall musical style is less agressive, more reflective and washed out thanks to the production and Alex Lifeson's increasingly textural riffing. However the idea that Lifeson's guitars disappeared in the 80s is an exaggeration. Its just a different approach and on this album in particular, he still manages to light up the fretboard with some fantastic and original soloing, most notably on "Subdivisions" and "The Analog Kid".
Truth be told I do not consider Signals a masterpiece. It isn't as consistently brilliant and cinematic as my personal favorite Power Windows, as complex or gloriously cheesy as Hold Your Fire, or as universally appealing as Moving Pictures. Tracks like "Chemistry" and "Countdown" have yet to really captivate me, though perhaps with time and attention they will. The somewhat flat production and mixing also doesn't allow even the best parts of the album to truly "jump out" at the listener like they could (see the live A Show of Hands version of "Subdivisions" and you'll see what I mean). Its also not the most catchy album and largely requires some effort to truly grasp (though that is no bad thing in my mind). It wouldn't be until the following Grace Under Pressure that Rush would marry this kind of of sound to an infectious pop hook and a brighter, more punchy and expansive production. The reason I rate Signals so highly is on the strength of a selection of the songs which are up there with the best by this band, or any rock band period. Not the best starting point, arguably, but if you're going to get into Rush this is an album you must get acquainted with sooner or later.
This is one of the more obtuse Rush albums, and took a long time to really open up for me, but really it is up there with their best works. This is one of their mellower moments overall, with a reliance on cool, chilly synths that frankly make this sound more New Age than rock – they are constantly going, forming colorful swathes and transcendental soundscapes that contrast rather brilliantly with the hard, realistic lyrical themes. Geddy Lee's vocals take on a more sedate character than we're used to from him, and the vocal lines are beautifully articulate and hypnotically resonant, sticking with you long after the album ends. Everything is soft and soulful here, but when you really listen to the lyrics and the emotion in Geddy's voice, it becomes a powerful and iconoclastic listen by one of the best bands in rock.
The band was at their peak songwriting here – they dial back their epic tendencies, but replace it with tight musical syncopation on a level most bands could never reach. The songs are all different but fit together as a unit, and when you start the album you'll have to finish it. It's a very complete work and everything is perfectly in place – the more I listen to this, the more I'm struck by its brilliance. I don't like this quite as much as any of the four previous albums, but the layered textures of the songwriting have to be commended.
It's an album about a lot of very real things. The opening “Subdivisions” certainly doesn't waste time rallying against conformity and the oppressive, suffocating regime that the suburbs represent. Further tracks like “New World Man” and the satirically tinged “Digital Man” are also about the changing times and how difficult it is to stand on one's own feet in the modern world, set against colorful keyboards, a few light hints of jazz and pop, and some of Alex Lifeson's trademarked shimmering, radiant chord work on the guitar. “The Weapon,” in one of the album's most poignant and razor-sharp moments, takes a literary-barbed sword to the lies politicians tell to keep the public in line, set against a musical backdrop of slow, ominous build-ups and graven-faced vocals. “Chemistry” is a typically brilliant Rush tune about science and how everything connects, and “Losing It” is a sorrowful dirge on the waning creativity that happens to every artist – one of the album's most haunting moments.
But the crowning moment comes early in the album with “The Analog Kid,” a breezy and sweeping tune full of wanderlust and escapism, through the lens of a quite mysterious, ephemeral sort of love story. These are some of the best lyrics I've ever read, and they get my imagination working every time like good music should. Don't settle for less than this, people. Signals works on many levels, and functions as Rush at the top of their game. Musically transcendent and lyrically brilliant, it's the sound of a band with their eyes wide open to the world and their pens at the ready. Lyrics matter – listen to this and be swept up in its power.
The fawn-eyed girl with sun-browned legs
Dances on the edge of his dream
And her voice rings in his ears
Like the music of the spheres
Rush is truly a weird band- they have always managed to deliver great material right alongside incredibly dull stuff, album after album, with few exceptions. It's almost like they have no perspective on the quality of their work; they just keep throwing it out there: some of it sticks, some of it doesn't, they move on. Signals is a case in point. While Rush deserves some big kudos for not simply following the formula of their previous, and uber-successful album, Moving Pictures, their ninth album is a mixed bag, sort of great in moments, pretty dull in others. It's not just that they brought in the synthesizers, instantly baptizing Signals as a product of the early 1980's- it's that the songwriting itself is several notches away from what they had achieved with their last couple of albums.
With only 8 songs, none reaching the 7-minute-mark (a minimalist milestone for the guys that brought you 2112) you'd expect some tight, exciting little nuggets, but there are none to be found on the album. At best, songs like Subdivisions, The Analog Kid and New World Man can be said to be catchy, but even those tracks lack the creative fire that Freewill (for example) did. And then there's the real sleep-inducing ones that just drag, such as the perfectly-titled Losing It, which I guess is supposed to be poignant since it's about a guy getting older and older, but just ends up getting boring and more boring. Same with the ironically-titled Chemistry, which just feels pieced together without any guiding musical force.
There's also some pretty clunkly transitions within songs- especially evident in tracks like Digital Man, which just sounds like three distinct pieces of music stitched together by a couple of Neil Peart snare hits and cymbal crashes. The fact that this song also sounds like a bad Police rip-off (both in Geddy's Sting-like reggae bass and in Alex Lifeson's sparse Andy-Summers guitar splashes) doesn't speak well for the song, either. On the other hand... it's not altogether unpleasant. Damn those boys, they can't either fully suck or fully rock!
The same dichotomy could be said for most of this album, and, hell, most of Rush's career- a combination of interesting and boring, brilliant and clunky, resting comfortably side by side and resulting in something usually listenable but only occasionally awesome. In many ways, Signals sets the template for the kind of material Rush has been doing ever since; while they are always tweaking and refining their approach, this style of shorter song durations and unconventional-but-still-basically-pop songs, mostly mid-tempo, has remained the basic compositional formula they work off of. I'm not really sure why New World Man, out of the hundreds of Rush tunes out there, remains their only actual hit song- it's really not that great, and they've done much greater. But if Signals is really the first album where Rush finally found their true nature, then perhaps it's quite fitting.
Sprawling, dense, and timeless, Signals remains an absolute Rush classic. It is, for me, one of the most interesting and unusual albums that they ever recorded. Controversial upon release with its radical change in sound and direction, it is strong on synthesizer focus, yet nonetheless it features some of Alex Lifeson's very best guitar work. The Analog Kid, Chemistry, and Digital Man shine with emotion and technical brilliance, especially during the solo sections. They also have me scratching my head every time I hear "the guitar really took a back seat on Signals...". Subdivisions, The Weapon, and Losing It show Lifeson as an extraordinarily innovative, original, and experimental guitarist.
The lyrics in places are almost abstract and I often wish Rush (or rather drummer Neil Peart) had pursued this avenue of writing further as it enables the listener to interpret the imagery of the words on a more personal, intellectual level. Chemistry (one of those rare and fascinating occasions where all three band members share lyrical input) and Digital Man are possibly the best examples of this 'abstract' writing style.
As one would expect, the music is truly progressive. Rush blended elements of reggae and electronics into heavily technical rock whilst still retaining their own identity. This simply illustrated just how singularly unique and individual a band they were at that time and arguably still are. The Weapon still remains as one of the most powerful, dark, and complex compositions they ever recorded. Losing It displayed a softly melancholic side to Rush, a song which builds and builds with dazzling musical complexities that are almost jazz-like in terms of the fusion of instrumentation and time changes.
Subdivisions with its almost scientific, musical precision remains infused with a million memories of the isolation and loneliness of feeling like such an outsider during high school years, of 'lighted streets on quiet nights', and being aware that you were in fact not alone because there were bands like Rush with people who felt just the same as you and somehow, magically, knew how to paint those almost unbearable feelings into a moving canvas of music and words.
Rush returns with Signals, and launches another series of releases that will culminate after three additional albums in their third live recording Show of Hands. The first era of releases were marked by the bands drive to perform, while the second era was dominated by writing, both lyrically and musically. This new era will be dominated by the band becoming composers, with larger productions dominating their albums. On a musical level and notable for many fans was the complete change in sound – The presence of keyboards signals that the band has embraced the 80’s new wave. Further, subtle changes have taken place; epic or exotic arrangements are replaced by shorter pieces infused with larger productions.
The sound slams home, requiring mental rearrangement of what Rush is, for while the core of the band is still here, it is subtle in comparison to the changes. This is an album that, for the average metal loving listener, is designed to fail on several accounts: First, the keyboards take center stage, becoming an equal member of the band. Second, the lead guitar is mixed behind the keyboard. Lifeson’s guitar is there, but more subtle and background. The guitar solos are not as dominant to the other instruments, and even these have been replaced by keyboard solos at times. The end effect is a recipe for disaster, but despite these enigmas the compositions and performances pull through to create something that just plain works. In spite of the new wave influences, Rush wrestles the sound into something of their own that actually rocks well, surviving the test of replays due to its depth and underlying complexity (Something new wave suffered from).
Notable moments: “Subdivisions” is a driving masterpiece, and a good example of how keyboards should be used when envisioned as a full member of the band. “The Analog Kid” features Lifeson the best and with Lee flows nicely, at times sounding as if the duo were just flat out jamming. “The Weapon” continues were “Witch Hunt” left off (or will follow it) as part two of the Fear Trilogy, and is excellent with its explorations of how people, and societies, use fear against each other. “Losing It” is a great ballad, reflecting on the waning years of one’s life with a perspective on Hemmingway. Lifeson has some great guitar work with his solo. If you are going to write a ballad, this is the way to do it. Period. Finally, “Countdown” is designed full gear for commercial and video play, but I can’t help but like it. It’s an infectious song that musically and lyrically builds in symbolism and homage to the launch of a space shuttle. A bit cheesy? Yes, but also tasteful and well done. Sometimes it’s good to remember that music should be fun. Oh… And it also has a great keyboard solo for those that can appreciate it.
Light, the sound rolls and lifts in a well blended whole; there is a depth to this album that once played and released is actually quite good. The band is still rocking, moving with a fluid grace, it soars with the kind of spirit only these veterans can produce or get away with on such a style change. Lee’s bass is still great and his solos work well, if anything his playing is more dominant herein. Peart’s percussion is complex, at times subtle, but still the dominating rhythm machine. While Lifeson’s leads are drowned out his solos are still great, his imprint is still working its magic as a multi-textured part of the whole. The arrangements are excellent, the group writing pieces of music that flow with grace, the production here melding the compositions into an artistic whole, sounds and textures ebbing and rising with a craftsman detail. Once you get by the keyboards and larger production, you see eight tracks that still move with their own integrity, all stories from the group’s vision; composed and performed into a creative whole that shines with a gleam, making you believe for once that digital engineering can realize a musician’s dream.
With Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures, Rush entered the 80's strong, incorporating more synthesizer layers without missing a beat or compromising their style. With Signals, Rush took their new soundscapes even further. Getty Lee's synth work was no longer just another instrument, but one of the primary elements of their songwriting. Not allowing themselves to be confined by preconceived notions of their sound, the band were able to create another classic, one of expression and melody on par with their earlier works, but of an entirely different dynamic.
This album is considerably mellow, even more so than their previous two efforts, but Rush's energy is not spent. The rhythm section that made the band famous is still intact, only now topped with the constant synth presence. Fans of the band's back catalogue will also notice that there isn't any more epic songs on here; rather, the band has chosen to focus on shorter, more straightforward compositions. But don't miscontrue shorter for simpler: these songs are just as intricate as ever, though perhaps a bit more familiar to the average listener structurally. There's also a notable sense of minimalism in the synth work. Though there's rarely a moment without some sort of pad effects, they are never applied more than necessary. The drums and bass still shine through as much as ever and Getty Lee's vocals, while toned down, compliment the music better than ever.
The only real question raised is this: what the hell is Alex Lifeson doing? Because honestly, through much of the recording, I'm not exactly sure. For whatever reason, possibly to favor the increased synth usage, his guitar is mixed somewhat low. Accompanied with the lighter tone he uses on the album, it makes him diffiicult to hear for most of the album. His solos still come through, but even these are toned back a bit, a shame considering how good he is.
But the diminished presence of Lifeson is the only hindrance to this album. This is one of the few Rush albums where every song is of a consistently high quality. Thoughtful lyrics touching more on natural science than science fiction grace every song here, as well as some experimental elements, namely that of reggae-like passages. Check out some of those mellow parts in "Chemistry" and "Digital Man" to see what I mean. Cool stuff, and a definite progression from earlier works.
Altogether, Signals is a fine album, certainly worthy of the Rush name. Fans of their older material (Prog-era) might have an initial hangup, but this album will certainly grow to be a favorite.
Highlights: "Subdivisions," "Chemistry," "Digital Man,"
By the time Rush came out with Signals, their sound was drastically changed. Yes it is safe to say, what metal Rush had was depleted. Thus creating a sound that was unique of Rush. This album really isn't that heavy, in fact it is easier to hear the bass then it is the guitar. It's not a bad album but it isn't the best Rush album by far.
Could Rush out do their last album, Moving Pictures, and be successful again? Well the answer is no. The best way to describe Signals is very atmospheric like. Every song sounds like you are floating on a cloud, because it is that soft. In fact I don't think there are any distorted guitars, if there is they are very hard to hear.
One of the big things that Rush brings in to this album is synthesizers and keyboards. I know Rush has been exploring with this stuff for a long time now. But this album basically leans off of them, using them in every song at just about every point you could expect to have ‘em. Other wise Geddy Lee's vocals are always up to par. Neil Peart's drumming is, and always will be fucking awesome.
Not the best Rush album to get, but overall not bad. The only song that really sticks out as being good is Subdivisions. Some of the other songs grow on you after awhile, like Digital Man, New World Man, and Countdown. That is if the softness of the songs doesn't send you into a sleep first.