Wednesday, January 07, 2009
For many listeners/critics, this album was the point where:
a) They really liked the new direction taken and wanted more.
b) They set fire to the record in protest.
c) They set fire to themselves.
This was an X-mas gift for me back when it first came out, so I went with the first option.
Arguably, these guys are three of the most accomplished players out there. Stunning virtuosity does not always translate to mainstream success, though (not that any artist should focus on pleasing the universe). Their earlier work often strayed into lengthy, conceptual territory.
Beginning with the "Permanent Waves" LP in 1980 , streamlined song writing was the road forward and "Signals" was a great balance between pleasing everyone and no one. Those who enjoyed ten minute swords and sorcery epics now had to look elsewhere.
Geddy Lee's voice underwent a fairly dramatic transformation through this period, finding a greater warmth and tonality in the process. The Roland JP-8 synth was also the centerpiece of most tracks which drove people in the "rock camp" away from the group.
"Subdivisions" and "New World Man" got quite a bit of airplay with the album notching a top five US chart placing. All of the instrumental elements that make their sound unique are in place, though they are tempered with more of a pop-rock feel.
A sea change was also reflected in Neil Peart's approach to his lyrical craft. "Losing It" addresses the universal concern of decreasing skill and stamina that accompanies aging. Hemmingway is referenced, alluding to his decline before his death.
"Digital Man" is the best of both worlds. Shredding and insane shifts in timing sit comfortably with synth overlays and slight detours into ska. Listen to those basslines! No wonder this was brought back into the setlist for their last tour, as it must be fun to play.
Terry Brown was gone as producer after this, reputedly not happy with the shift in direction.
Though they continued to be a powerful live act, the band spent the remainder of the 80's chasing synthesizers down a rabbit hole, to their detriment, on record.