Mercury Records, 1982

REVIEW BY: Eric Atwell


Rush went digital in 1982. Well, not completely. Signals was actually the first digitally mixed/mastered album. Upon listening, you wouldn't consider this an improvement though, especially compared their pre-digital '81 release, Moving Pictures. Signals' soundscape is muddied with the band's attempt to incorporate thicker synthesizer tracks into the album's mix, and is a harsh contrast to Moving Pictures' lush layering and bright, powerful drum performance. If you can accept the more challenging sound though, Signals has a lot to offer the casual listener.

"Subdivisions", the opening track, contains Neil Peart's typically descriptive and melodramatic lyrics. This is immediately apparent after the opening fanfare (with a synthesizer intro no less): "Sprawling on the edges of the city/ in geometric order/ an insulated border/ in between the bright lights and the far unlit unknown." As an ode to dorky suburban high school kids everywhere (subdivisions - get it?), the song certainly succeeds. Geddy's skinny tie in the video is pretty telling as well.

The opening riff to "Analog Kid" is a sure reminder of Alex Lifeson's intensity, but the track is still plagued by the album's overall darkness. The song is a rocker, with a sensitive, Alan Alda-esque chorus. Lifeson, Lee, and Peart had really refined their jaw dropping chops by 1982, thus the overall performance on Signals is a solid reminder of just why these guys are so good (the debate over Geddy's voice rages on - personally I like it). They exhibit a certain control over the band's prior tendency to write parts that went, "okay, it gets really hard right HERE!".

The album contains a couple socio-science lessons. I found myself enjoying Peart's pedagogic turn in these tunes; these were the infants of his dense, real-world lyrics that persistently pop up on subsequent albums. Lifeson's "wall of sound" is in full effect on "Chemistry", and the band blends a passable amalgam of drums, synth, bass, and electric guitar. The verse harkens back to the days of Rush's sci-fi backdrops, and is actually quite powerful.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

It is worth mentioning at this point Rush seemed quite enamored to the white reggae sound of The Police. The hooks on many of Signals' songs, especially the chorus to "Chemistry", are filled with a ska-like blend of cha-chink guitar chords and soaring vocal/synth melodies. In contrast, the last track on the album is a prototypical Rush structure. As the album's other science lesson, "Countdown" relives the first Space Shuttle launch, to which the band was invited and attended in an area known as Red Sector A (a nod to the Rush geeks out there - you know who you are). Actually quite cool are the siren-like moog/oberheim calls (who knows?) and Geddy's insistent Cape Canaveral scene establishment.

I hear "New World Man", the album's biggest hit, was originally called something like "Project X," and was designed to fill the remaining 3:41 allotted on the album. This is notable because "New World Man" is the only track on Signals that has a real clarity. It's a refreshing change, kind of like getting earwax removed. Another "man" song, "Digital Man", is my personal favorite. Neil Peart puts pretenders to rest with his brilliant neo-prog-reggae drumming, and the song takes some interesting turns around Lifeson's always creative chord voicings.

Following "Digital Man" is "The Weapon", an interesting tune with futuristic (go figure) lyrical content. Starting with a boppy sequenced synth intro and futuristic guitar part, Peart establishes a picture of collective mind control, where fear is the actual weapon. The song realizes in the end that fear is a weapon that can be just as easily used against "them". Pretty cool.

"Losing It", a ballad about true talents losing their ability to create and move, incorporates intricate group interplay with a violin guest appearance. This song itself is new ground for Rush, but is based in their traditional inclusion of a studio ballad on their usually very live-friendly albums. Its poignant content is a sensitive departure for Peart, and is leveraged by his commonly strong, detached style (I don't think the man wrote a recognizable love song until the early 90s - not that this should be one): "The writer stares with glassy eyes/ defies the empty page/ his beard is white, his face is lined/ and streaked with tears of rage."

Signals represents a time of transition for Rush. Constantly evolving demanded a lot of creative song manipulation. The melodies are typically linear and indicate the vocal part and instrumental parts were created separately, and forcefully fused at a later time. But for Rush this method has proven successful as they've managed to succeed over the years without the acceptance of mainstream music outlets like Top 40 radio and MTV. In fact, I find this style of songcraft endearing and certainly more sincere than most of the stuff coming out now. I give this album a B mostly because it could have used better production (oddly enough, Rush fired their longtime producer Terry Brown on their next album, Grace Under Pressure), but I still think it has long lasting value if you're willing to give it a spin.

Rating: B

User Rating: B+


© 1998 Eric Atwell 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 Mercury Records, and is used for informational purposes only.