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Test for Echo is an enjoyable, imperfect album that most Rush fans will never really touch. I was born the year this album came out, and by the time I had thoroughly explored Rush’s early classics, they had released Clockwork Angels and just like that, there was never a period in my life that I remember Rush ever being considered anything less than legendary, infallible Gods. But having finally completed my collection of Rush’s studio albums, I can see why many lost some faith around the late ‘80s and ‘90s.
Nonetheless, this album is surely a listenable one, even though it is the weakest of the 90s, with Counterparts and Roll the Bones surpassing it. After the synth-rock era of the 80s, it is nice to hear some variety in Rush’s sound.
Alex Lifeson is once again an important part of the band, and that’s a relief. He eschews both the early Rush blues and the 80s Rush jazz for alternative rock. While that’s not ideal, you can hear the occasional solo such as that in the title track, and it feels comfortable and familiar. And he riffs! Thank God for the riffs! They would get better and more complex in the 2000s, but at least they’re present again! The riffs on “The Color of Right” are almost Moving Pictures-esque in their catchiness and style, but much more subtle. Alex Lifeson is not the same guitarist here that he was on A Farewell to Kings or 2112, but he’s able to showcase much more than he did on Power Windows or Hold Your Fire. One of the best changes to the albums of the 90s are the increased presence of the guitar, and I cannot stress enough that Alex Lifeson begins to come back to life on this album.
I honestly rarely noticed Neil Peart on this album, and that’s a shame. There are certain songs where he’s very relevant, such as “Driven” and “Time and Motion”, because the time signatures are so odd. But I rarely heard something that blew my mind like in earlier Rush albums or in Clockwork Angels. This just proves that Rush was re-synchronizing itself. Like I said, there are moments where Neil Peart would deliver an amazing performance that busts your gut, but those times are few and far-between. The best moment on this album for Peart is “Time and Motion”, but it never really gets better than that, and this album doesn't do justice to my personal conviction that Peart is the best drummer of all rock and perhaps metal (I’m leaving that one open, though I've yet to disprove it).
Geddy is Geddy, and he delivers the lyrics he needs to, usually in a perfect and powerful fashion, but occasionally, such as with “Dog Years”, with cringe-worthy conviction. This was about when Geddy was really losing the ability to sing as high-pitched as he used to. His voice still sounds great, though, and you can’t really fault the man on losing an ability that’s impossible to 98% of the world in the 1st place. I mean, only dolphins could hear his voice on Rush, and even though that’s fucking awesome, Rush doesn't lost much conviction or power with lower pitched singing, though it does lose a little bit of variety. The bass is definitely an upside to this album, however. Geddy always delivers on the bass, whatever phase of Rush you look at. And that is exactly the same here. He runs up and down and all over the bass with magical fingers that can produce in riff imaginable on the bass.
One of the pluses for this album is the lyrics. Like most Rush albums, the lyrics can be downright awful sometimes, however. “Dog Years” is especially guilty of awful lyrics. I understand what they’re trying to get across; life can go by too fast when we’re not paying attention to life. But, damn, could they not find another way to put that? Then there are other songs like “Test for Echo”, “Resist”, and “Totem” all make pretty good points with insightful lyrics, even though the latter has a line that still makes me giggle: “Aztec and Maya dance around my totem pole”. Perhaps that says more about my maturity than their lyricism. Regardless, this album criticizes TV culture, laments the tortured young eternal-activist, and dealing with heavy emotional burdens. This is balanced, however, with songs like “Driven” and “Half the World” along with the aforementioned “Dog Years” prove that Rush can usually produce some profound shit, but sometimes they just fail. Rush is human, after all, even though I often see them as Gods.
One of the things that I constantly heard about this album was that the songs are not very memorable or that they blend together. That is true to a degree because Rush was transforming from synth-rock band to an alternative/college-rock band and, as a general rule, alternative rock doesn't have a great variety of sound.
If this album had more life and variety, it would've been truly great, and it just falls short of being just that, in my opinion. Oftentimes the songs will start out deceptively fast before slowing to a mid-paced rock. And that’s okay, but it certainly doesn't catch one’s attention like they finally would on Snakes and Arrows and Clockwork Angels. And I hate to always compare this album to Rush’s great work, but that’s how I and most Rush fans will think about it. If this weren't a Rush album, it’d be a great yet forgettable album. It is a Rush album, however. Test for Echo is a great effort, and a respectable album that falls just short of putting Rush back on the mountain of greatness they were on when they released Permanent Waves or 2112. Most Rush fans won’t really care that much about it, but for those few hardcore fans, it’s a necessary addition to understand the steps Rush would take to release a grand opus like Clockwork Angels.
Test For Echo is one of those overlooked recordings much like Presto and Caress of Steel, an underrated Rush album with a strange reputation as being a little under par and patchy in places. It is certainly the first Rush album I bought that left me feeling slightly disappointed upon its initial release and maybe a little underwhelmed, too. However, over the years something else strange occurred and I found myself falling in love with this odd, but interesting 'art rock' album.
Opening track, Test For Echo, is a classy composition (one of their best, in my opinion,with a classic Alex Lifeson solo) with an intriguing guitar melody; it is quietly eerie and subtle, backed with some beautiful bass work and tasteful synthesizer. Indeed, this is really key to enjoying the album: melody and subtlety. It is Rush, of course. The music is intricate and technical, but not in such an obvious way perhaps as, say, the astonishing heights of Hemispheres. The lush and layered instrumental Limbo is a good example of this, as upon first listen it sounds almost straightforward, like some everyday run of the mill rocker, but dig beneath the surface and there are a lot of shifting complexities at work. It really is an excellent piece of music. Water droplets, synthesizers, funk bass, and tight patterns of angular guitar make this one the most unusual Rush instrumentals.
The track Totem has a mystical, almost ethereal feel to it and has some seriously superior guitar work going on with so many ideas that make it a very interesting song in terms of colour and textures. There are some very cool harmonics placed within this track and a fantastic little bridge section just before the main solo bursts into life. This is why Alex Lifeson is one of my favourite guitarists; he has just the right blend of technical playing infused with a rare emotional intelligence.
The album artwork is worth mentioning. I especially like the picture in the booklet of the wolf amidst the rocks howling at the moon (engaged within its own test for echo) under a darkening sky. It is very evocative. The map illustration on the inside cover is very cool as is the artwork of the dogs and sledge driver that accompanies Driven. The entire booklet is a joy to look at, one of their best in fact. Hugh Syme is responsible and he came up with what I see as one of the best Rush album covers to date. I have the Japanese edition on my living room wall, which is a little different with the snow landscape being presented as a nighttime scene.
Time and Motion is classic Rush, muscular, technical, and features some superb playing from every single member. I love the bass run (at 4.00) and Alex's wild, chaotic-sounding solo. Test For Echo is an album that positively brims with highly original and exciting guitar work. There are some great bursts of synthesizer (used very sparingly on this album) during the song that work really well and add another layer of colour and mood to the sound. There are also some interesting time changes which I believe alternate between 12/8 and 10/8 for those of you that are interested in such things. The lyrics on this track are just excellent, especially during that little dark, eerie, and haunting (again, almost mystical) sounding middle section.
'The mighy ocean -
Dances with the moon
The silent forest -
Echoes with the loon.'
Driven is another highlight, heavy and full of great bass work from Geddy Lee and, as always, some first class percussion from Neil Peart. The cymbal work and detail is excellent, especially on the hi-hats, ride, and splash cymbals. The live version on Different Stages is the superior version (for me at least and is definitely worth checking out) with the bass solo section extended and several percussive improvements from Neil, the double choke on the hi-hat springs to mind and is not on the original studio version, so listen out for it as it is a seriously cool piece of playing. Live, this track really comes to life and simply sounds huge.
Dog Years with its bounding (almost punk) rock energy offers a glimpse at a more lighthearted version of Rush, at least lyrically, but it still manages to display Peart's seriously heavy rock drumming skills and it is embellished with some great technical detail. Virtuality has some rather awkward lyrics, but there is a wonderfully heavy riff and fantastic percussion both electronically and acoustically with an array of cowbells and pressed down snare drum fills that more than hold the interest.
Resist is another Rush gem, a beautifully-crafted folk rock composition, delicate in places, but powerful in others. Lifeson's soaring Celtic guitar line is a thing of beauty that almost seems to float; it sounds and feels emotional with an airy quality and always makes me think of a vast green hillside leading to a snow-covered mountain that conceals treacherous black rock while a light blue sky sits high above and the sun is a pale coin, remote and vague. It makes me think of Scotland, where I live.
Test For Echo is certainly worthy of exploring again f perhaps you did not appreciate it first time 'round. Of course, as with all music it all comes down to taste in the end and the proof is in the listening. However, to these ears at least, there is a lot to enjoy if you are willing to give it some time and some serious critical listening. I would recommend trying to obtain the original 1996 edition of the album and not the remaster, as it is (in my opinion) the superior version. The quality of the booklet is better as is the sound quality.
What is considered a rather average album by some, upon listening and studying, one may find that underneath the surface of the music, some hidden detail may reveal itself and you might just see that beyond the initially standard-sounding songs is something that is actually approaching and entering the realm of a very special album.
If you thought the 80’s were a tough decade for Rush, the 90’s would prove to be even tougher. Starting strong with Roll the Bones (just as the 80’s started strong), the band carved out a direction that even their most dedicated fans wouldn’t have expected: guitar-driven modern hard rock. Counterparts was the first album to utilize this much heavier, much crappier sound, but would it be the last? Well…
Test for Echo is a continuation of that Counterparts sound; that is, Rush playing hard alternative. Alex Lifeson’s guitar has a heavy crunch to it (“Driven,” “Virtuality,” “Dog Years”) and he often experiments with dissonance in a grungy manner that might have been cool had he been playing with Pearl Jam or somebody (“Time and Motion”). He rarely solos, contributing mostly in layering distorted and clean tones for the painfully straightforward songs. More so even than on the albums leading up to it, Test for Echo is exceedingly dull. Peart’s eccentric drumming, Geddy’s fluid bass, Lifeson’s guitarwork: all toned back to the point of acquiescence. Even the synthesizers (now appearing very discretely), seem like afterthoughts. So what the hell are we listening to here?
Well I suppose the point here was about the songs, about the lyrics, about the meaning behind the music. Connecting with a 90’s rock audience was not achieved through instrumental prowess, but through simplicity, repetition, and identifiable vocals. Now Geddy’s bass is actually still pretty strong at times, but listening to him dictate from atop Peart’s socially-conscious soapbox becomes positively exhausting. I miss the wailing, spirited Lee who could attach meaning and emotion to occasionally cheesy fantasy lyrics; I can do without the soft-spoken, lifeless Lee who barely makes an impression in these TfE songs. And as far as cheese goes, it’s Peart delivering the goods like never before: from spiritual hooey (“Totem”) to social matters (“Half the World,” “The Color of Right), to embarrassingly bad metaphor (“Dog Years”), he says a lot without saying much at all. I’ll take cheesy sci-fi or Ayn Rand adaptations over preachy bullshit (“Resist,” possibly the worst song they’ve ever written) any day. There’s just no feeling in these songs, and the band doesn’t even try to convince you otherwise. Even the instrumental “Limbo” can’t bring much of the classic Rush sound to mind.
A very shallow rock record, it’s the Hold Your Fire of the 90’s. Interesting only in that the basswork is neat (“Driven” verse especially) and there is some nifty tonal architecture (similar to what Tool might do on an off-day) the band occasionally constructs, Test for Echo is one of those albums for the diehard Rush fanatic only.
Rush releases what is their 16th studio release, and what will ultimately be their last album of the 90’s: Test for Echo. Meant to represent the band asking the hypothetical question of searching for intelligent life in this darned crazy world, but ultimately it’s an apt metaphor for a band searching for their fan base, many departing after a decade of dwindling reasons to care about this apparently venerable franchise.
The new direction started on Counterparts continues, Rush composing another release driven by pure guitar sounds. Goodbye to keyboards and over the top musical extras, but not the heavy hand of production. Over dubbing and layering run rampant, and the only way the guitar sounds heavy is due to much meticulous engineering or the patent pending 90’s excursion into rambling distorted guitars. Would it have killed them to just go out their and bust out these songs like the 3 man rock band they once were? Seriously, an album where Rush circa late 70’s does their take on the 90’s would have been interesting, but certainly not this – An alternative 90’s band that does their take on Rush.
But even that could have been more interesting than this. This is just easy and safe writing. Once again, the band performs well. But the layers of production and repeated simple writing ethic (the correct term is “Phoned in”) make that irrelevant. Even Liberace himself would have a tough time making chop-sticks sound interesting. Same with the lyrics, I don’t always expect a lot in the lyrics, but I do expect more from one Neal Peart. The man who wrote “Xanadu”, “Tress”, Hemispheres”, or “2112” is capable of better than songs about internet relationships or a dog as metaphor for mans life (?!).
The formula is simple – Lifeson play the same alternative rambling leads, or an actually pretty good background lead to Geddy’s bass lead, while Peart plays solid percussion, but nothing particularly amazing for a man with his reputation; each song a typical verse/chorus that repeats and blends with the next song to repeat the cycle. “Test for Echo” opens up, and it is solid enough. Lifeson sounds like he is having a good time, in the front and back when needed. This is not “Something for Nothing” by a long shot, but it is solid. “Driven”, “Half the World”, “The Color of Right” are all decent, but nothing special. After this the album does a repeat of Counterparts and declines, sporadically providing decent songs, but also poor to average filler. In fact, this album falls further as it just starts to blur as your mind wanders to more interesting things. In total, some of these songs are decent, but none can carry an album, making the totality a mere blah. If you want to bother, you can rip a few songs off this to add to half of Counterparts and make a decent Rush 90’s CD.
I have to declare this to be the worse Rush album to date. At least with every other album, including the ones I have rated average to poor, there is at least one or two songs I find the urge to play once in a while. I haven’t picked this one up in years, and only then to write this review. In the end, I can’t shake the feeling the guys were on cruise after 20 years and 15 albums.
Like Queensryche's Hear in the Now Frontier, I also once rented Rush's album Test for Echo from the library and decided to burn it upon a subsequent listen. God, I love the library where I live. You can rent ten albums at once and return them about a month later. They're metal selection is slim to none, however.
I'm not so sure what Rush is doing on this site, as I'm yet to hear evidence of heavy distortion, heavy soloing, etc., but I suppose they have been a large enough influence on the metal world to be included on this site.
Anyhow, this album has one of the most captivating covers I've ever seen. I know you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but if you're getting a very good impression by that cover, you should go with your gut feeling, and that's what I did. The cover consists of a towering sculpture of a person made out of large marble rocks standing on the beach.
The music, of course, is also noteworthy. The only way I'm familiar with Rush is from their singles that I've released, and this album shows the band in an entirely different respective. Every song on this album is less processed and more atmospheric than any single I've heard from them on the radio. Many of the songs are sung with such an emotional sincerity that it's easy to become attached to the music even for just the pure feeling of it. Catchiness abounds on this record as well. Inspiring acoustic work is to be found on Driven, nice syncopated leads on Virtuosity, and a 'wordly' vibe emanating from the song "Half the World". Lyrically, this album is also a standout. The lyrics deal with everything from the shallow experience of talking to someone on the Internet to politics and you can tell Geddy Lee means what he's singing.(Can you believe I once thought Rush's vocalist was a girl? *shrugs) This album probably shouldn't be considered the best in their catalogue, but it stands out as a bold, expressive piece of art with enough driving aggression and melody to become revered by Rush fans, progressive rock and metal fans, and rock and metal fans in general. For its cover art alone, this album is worth picking up.
Although I don't claim to be the biggest Rush fan, I've heard more than enough of their work to know what their fundamental sound is and Test For Echo exhibits a good show of what Rush is all about - diversified rock. While most seem to consider this to be one of their less ingenious pieces, I find it to be both well-balanced and extremely catchy, most of it anyway.
Of course as in most albums there are the stand out songs such as Virtuality, Driven, Totem, and the title track, but what's really great about this CD is that there are no bad songs. Basically, you can stomp your feet to any track, whether or not you really hear anything terribly creative or unique in it. Some may argue that more of the same isn't good enough, but Rush can't be expected to create a new musical theme every time they come out with a new album. I think it's perfectly fine to re-use a good basic sound mechanism as long as you keep shifting the gears around a bit, and that's just what the band does.
I did notice that, unlike the majority of Rush's music, I needed to listen to Test For Echo a few times over before I really caught on to it. It had to grow on me, which came as a surprise since I was used to the usual pick-up-and-play nature of the band. This may be a good thing though, as a CD with more depth will hold your interest for a more expansive period of time.
Lyrically, Rush brings forth their usual blend of thoughtful poetry, real life questions and nonsensical rhyming sequences. If you enjoyed these before, this new serving will sit just right with you. Those who don't care for this style will hopefully be able to appreciate the album for it's music alone, which is not a very hard thing to do anyway.
Test For Echo is a smooth ride through the avenue of traditional progressive rock. Rush fans need not be told to check this out, and new listeners should find plenty of solid, if not entirely unique, musical enjoyment.