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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
This album was a tough one for me to rate, and that's for one reason. On my other Rush reviews, I talked about how some of the songs on them are my favorites. However, this one contains my absolute favorite Rush song, and possibly in my top ten songs in general by anybody. That song is "Subdivisions". So why does that make it hard to rate? Simply because the rest of the songs are good or just mediocre, and nothing else spectacular. So that made it tough to rate. To be fair though, I'm rating the whole album, so I can't put this up there with "Permanent Waves" and "Moving Pictures".
Let's start out with what is so incredible about "Subdivisions". It has a beautiful intro, using synth and drums mostly, and what is weird is that the synth does outdo guitar here. The guitar is way less heard, so you would think that's something I wouldn't like. But I do, because it is composed in such a perfect, fitting, and spectacular way. There's still a guitar solo, and small riffs thrown in. So to me, instrumentation is perfect. The vocals are at their best on this song, and they flow perfectly with the instruments. There's so much emotion behind them here, and it sounds rather upset and hopeful. The lyrics are also one of the greatest things about it, as it's about being different, and going against what mainstream society wants you to do. It's about being unique and how one can be judged by doing that, and this song has always had such a great meaning. Because of it, this album gets a higher rating than what the other songs really offer. So, as far as the other songs, some of them seem to follow the same format but it is in no way done as well as with this track. Let's take the next one for example, "The Analog Kid". It's also very dominated with synthesizer, but on here it doesn't pull it off as well as the first track. It should never dominate the guitar, other than that one exception. Especially in metal music, however I wouldn't necessarily call Rush metal. On previous records, they did a great job fusing the two instruments, but on this one, I think they started to go overboard a little bit, or maybe even a lot at some parts. Some look at this as one of the last really standout Rush albums, and I can see why. Now, don't get me wrong, I still like it, and "The Analog Kid" is still a good song. Especially the main chorus, but I think that they just lost it a little with this record.
Lyrically, I've noticed a lot of this has to do with technology and electronics. I mean just look at the songs titles; "Analog Kid", "Digital Man", "New World Man", "Chemistry". They all seem to be about progression and technology. So as I wouldn't call it a concept album, they seem to be aiming a particular message at the listener. What's ironic though is the amount of technology used in the songs. They seem to have let go of all of the nature sound effects that were once used, and basically move to high-tech instruments. I already mentioned the synthesizer, but there's also an electric violin, and sequencers. I think this may be part of the reason that I don't like it as much, because the music seems less real. Nothing wrong with a little bit of that, but like I said, they really overdid that stuff here. Another noticeable change is that the ridiculous song lengths have disappeared. That calls for less run on songs, which is definitely a plus for this record, right? Wrong! There's still a lot of parts where I get bored and that it runs on, even with the more normal song lengths. "Digital Man" does, because it runs on and hardly even sounds like rock music at all. It's very monotone and is nothing like this band ever writes. So does "The Weapon". There are good parts of this, but the middle chunk of it annoys the hell out of me. It's nothing but a bunch of keyboard sounds thrown together with another monotone rhythm in the background. When I listen to it, I just wait for it to end. Mainly because the next track is one of the more decent ones, "New World Man". I like that one, it's not as great as the charts seem to think that it is, but at least it's better than a lot of the songs on here.
So how do I sum this up? Mainly just the fact that track one is far superior than anything and saved this record's life, along with a few other songs that are enjoyable. The rest, very synth driven, run on, and nothing like what Rush could be capable of, and rather disappointing. If nothing else, listen to "Subdivisions".
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.