Mercury Records, 1982
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/26/2002
Let's recap things here for those readers who might be stumbling into our Rush reviews for the first time: Following their recording history, I've categorized Rush by "stages" - namely, four studio albums and one live album per stage. Stage one featured 2112; stage two was Rush breaking out into the mainstream with Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures. 1982 brought "stage three" and Rush's eleventh release (ninth studio), Signals - and with it came a whole lot of baggage.
What sort of baggage? Geddy Lee and crew were facing the unenviable task of following up Moving Pictures, arguably their best release to this point. Many people were probably expecting Rush to follow the same path that led them to mass popularity, and create an album occasionally seasoned with synthesizers while maintaining a fine balance between rock and progressive.
Instead, Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart took a major U-turn musically; Signals is much more reliant on synthesizers and is as far removed from Rush's early days (and, in some ways, even the days of "Tom Sawyer" and "Limelight") as one could imagine. It's definitely an experiment for Rush; too bad it isn't always successful.
This disc is best known for two surprise hits - "New World Man" and "Subdivisions". Both tracks are hardly in thesame league as, say, "Tom Sawyer" just in their overall sound. Where "Tom Sawyer" was arena rock wrapped in beautiful music, these two tracks are pretty close to being pure pop with the occasional bite of guitar. Even for hits, they're a shade disappointing, since it often feels like Rush's freedom has been yanked out from under the band. That's not to say that these two songs are bad (though I'd give anything to have rock radio in Chicago give "Subdivisions" a rest); indeed, each track offers hints of what was to come in the near future for Rush. But they're not the band's high water marks.
It often feels like there is a theme running through Signals, despite the fact it is not a concept album. From the standpoint of a listener going at this album without the benefit of a lyric sheet, I get the impression that a lot of these songs deal with the possibility of nuclear war and the catastrophic destruction that would occur if both sides used the bomb. Tracks like "Analog Kid," "Chemistry" and "The Weapon," while not necessarily dealing directly with the subject, seem to have an underlying theme to them. This is pure melancholia - and it's not always pretty.
The big weakness with these tracks is the overreliance on synthesizers, as well as a shift to a more mellow sound. Yes, Lee still is able to rock out on the bass, and he shows he's just as adept on keyboards as he is on the four-string, but just because you have a new toy doesn't mean you have to bring it everywhere - in the case of this album, practically every single track. It gets to the point that the one real rocker, "The Analog Kid," sounds out of place among the electronica.
In Rush's defense, Signals could well be labeled as an experiment - namely, Rush having enough say in the marketplace that they could create music that pleased them in order to see how some ideas would work. Synthesizers would be used for some time to come - sometimes good, sometimes bad. Lee and company had to figure out just what the right combination was for their purposes. Signals misses the target with this combo.
|Being a big fan of their late seventies albums, it may seem surprising to say Signals is by far my favorite Rush album. The massive use of keyboards and the notable influence of The Police in their music, mixed with great songwriting makes this album quite a unique work in the bands career. |
After Signals I lost interest in the band. They kept composing good songs, but their albums started sounding too plain, lacking the great dynamics they show here on Signals.