Roll The Bones


Atlantic, 1991

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Rush has so many albums -- 18 studio and 5 live by my last count -- that it’s easy to overlook one or two. Imagine my surprise when I was checking the high stacks of the DV Archives (over 5,400 strong) and discovered a big, dusty hole where Roll The Bones ought to be.

Not that it’s ever been one of the original Canadian power trio’s more well-known discs -- it’s a true sleeper, eclipsed by earlier classics like 2112 and Moving Pictures, and overshadowed by latter-day “return to form” albums like Vapor Trails and Snakes And Arrows.

What it is for me, is the album that got me back into Rush, after a decade of largely ignoring what had been one of my favorite bands in high school. Rush, like all too many groups of their vintage, spent a good part of the 80s tinkering with synthesizers. And while there are strong moments to be found on albums like Signals and Power Windows, there’s little with the immediate, visceral impact of a “Closer To The Heart” or a “Limelight.”

I hadn’t bought a Rush album since Moving Pictures when Roll The Bones came out in 1991, but something -- premature nostalgia, most likely -- compelled me to pick it up, and I’ve never regretted the impulse. This, folks, is in fact one of the stronger albums in Rush’s entire four-decade catalog.

Part of the reason for that is evident right away. Rush has a tradition of strong album openers, and “Dreamline” might be the band’s best track of the 1990s, opening with a skittering riff from guitarist Alex Lifeson as bassist-vocalist Geddy Lee essays one of drummer Neil Peart’s more evocative lyrics: “He’s got a road map of Jupiter / A radar fix on the stars / All along the highway / She’s got a liquid-crystal compass / A picture book of the rivers / Under the Sahara.” Lifeson’s guitars and Lee’s synths barrel in as the urgency builds: “They travel in the time of the prophets / On a desert highway straight to the heart of the sun.” The song structure is interesting, too -- essentially two distinct choruses, one with lyrics that change each time, the other that repeats, both memorable and compelling.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Rush’s albums often revolve around a theme and Roll The Bones is no different, focusing heavily on thoughts about mortality, fate and chance. The powerful title track -- rich with some of Lifeson’s most dynamic playing and serial musical left turns -- suggests that “We draw our own designs / But fortune has to make that frame.” This unusual but engaging cut includes a cheeky spoken-word break -- calling it a rap would be generous -- and is in fact one of Peart’s more effective tries at translating Ayn Rand’s atheist/rationalist philosophies into something resembling entertainment. It’s also a track that, appropriately enough, takes chances; the spoken-word break in fact feels like an analog to the reggae breakdowns the band improbably wedged into their big 1980 single “The Spirit Of Radio” -- a bizarre segue that shouldn’t work, but does.

A third highlight is the band’s return to instrumentals, once a mainstay of their albums. “Where’s My Thing” is among of the very best the band has ever cut, a concise (3:49) explosion of pulsing riffs and energy, with three world-class players taking turns delivering knockout blows. Like the rest of the album, it benefits also from the airy, super-clean production of Rupert Hine (who co-produced with the band).

Just about every Rush album contains tracks that could only be described as filler, but on this disc there are thankfully few. “Bravado,” “The Big Wheel” and “You Bet Your Life” are all powerful, melodic numbers with sweet hooks and plenty of heart. “Face Up” is a driving, almost prog-funk number that demands the listener’s attention, and “Ghost Of A Chance” is its gentler twin, with dark verses but a pretty chorus. The weakest tracks here are “Heresy,” the least compelling of the big airy cuts (though as always, Peart’s work on his monster kit is a pleasure), and “Neurotica,” which tries for anxious and ends up annoying.

Roll The Bones asks the listener to take chances and be bold; why not do the same and pick up this, one of Rush’s more underrated albums? I came out a winner.

Rating: B+

User Rating: A-



© 2008 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Atlantic, and is used for informational purposes only.