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For better and for worse, this is what Rush became - 70%

greenberger, December 19th, 2013

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.