Friday, April 29, 2005

Rush: Vapor Trails

By: Rush
Year: 2002

After the 1996 release of 'Test for Echo' tragedy struck. Painful, personal losses in the life of drummer Neil Peart left the future of Rush uncertain. Alex Lifeson kept himself busy with some producing and his restaurant The Orbit Room. Geddy Lee released a solo album that helped to tide some of us over. And Neil rode his bike, trying to find some healing on the road. Faithful fans waited patiently for some bit of news, but for many years nothing was forthcoming.

Then the news hit and hit with an amazing power. Early 2001 and the band was back together and in the studio. The tension began to build. And it had plenty of time to build. It had 17 months to build in fact. And shortly before the release in May of 2002 the first single hit, and it was a sucker punch to the gut of anyone who brushed Rush off as no longer being relevant. "One Little Victory", with its thunderous double bass drumming, gritty, in-your-face riffs, and driving, dynamic bass kicks the album off and silences all doubters. Rush is back, and they aren't playing around.

From the frenetic energy of the first track to the thriving energy of the last, 'Vapor Trails' is quite possibly Rush's most energetic work to date. And with such an impressive catalog (now 18 studio albums, 5 live discs [the last two containing 3 discs each], and multiple compilations), that is really saying something. Recorded entirely without keyboards, the feel of this album is much grittier, much more aggressive, and much more organic. Rush has been criticized in the past of making music that is too cold, too calculated. And while 'Vapor Trails' has many of the Rush trademarks, such as odd time signatures, unexpected musical direction, and instrumental acrobatics sufficient to spin your head, they are toned down somewhat from past albums. But that doesn't take away from the power of the album at all. Musically 'Vapor Trails' is unrelenting. It is powerful, it is beautiful, it is haunting and it is heavy, all at the right time. Lyrically it is poetic and introspective. Hopeful, yet often cautiously so, Neil Peart deftly works much of his own journey into the words, and his healing is evident. 'Vapor Trails' admirably answers the call of its predecessor 'Test for Echo', and shows that there is plenty still ahead for Rush.

Tracks to catch: "One Little Victory" is just a great song. Heavy and melodic in equal parts, this one really gets the blood pumping. "Peaceable Kingdom" was originally to be an instrumental, but became the band's reaction to the events of 9/11. Some of Alex's best, most aggressive guitar work is found here. "Ghost Rider" is the autobiographical song of Neil's journey to healing on the road. "Secret Touch" is just about the most energetic, greatest 'jam' song these guys have ever written. "Earthshine" has a great groove, with a meaty guitar intro that is unforgettable. There really are no stinkers on this album.

Rating: 4/5
Being objective about this record is very nearly impossible for me. My love of Rush is so strong that I fear my bias will bleed through. I would love to objectively give this record a 5 out of 5, but cannot do so in good conscience. The writing is brilliant, the playing equally so. But the production scars what would otherwise be a perfect record. Some of the songs are recorded so hot that the clipping is unavoidable. And there are times where a clearer, more pristine sound would be more what we expect from Rush. The issue of the production has ruined this album for some, but for me is not nearly as dramatic as to do that. But it does necessitate knocking the score down one point.

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