Released: 2007, Atlantic
Even the most devout Rush fan must have thought that there may never be another great Rush record. There was an enormous amount of evidence to support such a hypothesis: their last studio record of original music, 2001’s VAPOR TRAILS, was a lackluster platter of forgettable songs, they had released two live albums in a five-year stretch, RUSH IN RIO and R30, and they had recorded a useless EP of cover songs, FEEDBACK. With such a stretch of inconsequential offerings, it seemed like the creative juices that had never seemed to fail them had finally run dry. Thankfully, this speculation has proved false as 2007 has brought the release of SNAKES AND ARROWS, a true return to form for the Rush canon.
Sounding fresh and familiar all at the same time, SNAKES AND ARROWS is packed with several instant Rush classics. Geddy sounds as vital as ever on bass, even experimenting with a fretless for the vigorous instrumental “Malignant Narcissism,” and Neil, as always, delivers a vital drum performance. Perhaps, though, the most striking feature of the record is the way in which Alex shines on guitar in ways that he hasn’t in many years. A constant inventor of creative ways to use his instrument, his guitar lines never sound like anyone else’s and this is never truer than on this album. This time, though, there are actually more moments of guitar soloing like the brilliant, but all too short, piece in “The Larger Bowl” or the bluesy intro to “The Way the Wind Blows.” There is even a Zeppelin-infused acoustic guitar instrumental, “Hope,” that sounds like there are layers of guitars playing when there is only one.
Perhaps the only good thing that came out of the FEEDBACK sessions is a push towards a more organic style of composition that shows itself throughout the album. There is little use of keyboard or synth and the songs sound less layered and more alive. The album opener, “Far Cry” is probably the heaviest track on the album and it hits you immediately with its insistent beginning that breaks into a groove oriented lick for the verses, all leading to a classic Rush chorus. “Armor and Sword” is a slower and more somber track than the opener, but the structure is extremely complex and varied. While it sounds completely modern and new, it still feels like it would not be out of place on an album like PERMANENT WAVES. “The Larger Bowl,” whose lyrics follow the literary form of a pantoum, is a jangley number that is just infectious. Perhaps the best track is the instrumental “The Main Monkey Business,” which is simply six minutes of frenzied playing, featuring guitar and bass lines that you will immediately latch onto. It can be said that the second half of the album suffers a little bit from sameness in that most of the songs share similar tempos; however, even with that slight shortcoming those songs still have identities of their own and are extremely enjoyable.
Lyrically, the album tends to be on the darker side, focusing on topical problems throughout the world on a global and personal level. Although a pessimistic attitude shows itself frequently, there is a sense of hope that underscores the whole affair that lifts the album up from being too much of a downer.
Ultimately, this is the kind of album that Rush fans have been awaiting for what seems like a very long time now. It starts off strong and continues to impress throughout. The production quality is light years beyond that of the muddy VAPOR TRAILS, and above all, the songs are memorable and lasting. With so many great tracks, listeners will find new favorites upon repeated listens, making this an album that will not wear itself out too quickly in your collection.