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Rush - Vapor Trails Print E-mail
Tuesday, 14 May 2002
Vapor Trails,
Anthem/Atlantic Records 2002
| Performance 8.5 | Sound 8 |

ImageMany Rush fans, myself included, had serious doubts that a seventeenth studio album would ever be recorded by the kings of Canadian progressive rock. In August of 1997, drummer Neil Peart’s daughter died in a car accident at the age of 19. Less than a year later, Peart’s wife lost her battle with cancer and passed away. Rush released a live album as a "thank you" to their fans and most believed that it might possibly be the end of the group.

Singer/bassist Geddy Lee released a solo album in 2000 that wet the whistles of Rush fans who were starved for new tunes from the trio, and finally, after five long years, Rush is back with Vapor Trails, an album filled with new energy and a rocking sound that may pleasantly surprise those who found late '90s Rush a little on the light side.

My initial impression after first listening to Vapor Trails was that Rush has finally ditched the highly structured song formats and have gone to a more spontaneous "play what you feel" method of songwriting. Most of Rush’s albums have been memorized note for note by aspiring drummers, guitarist and bass players who long for scholarships to the Berkeley school of music, but this isn't that kind of record. All of the performances on Vapor Trails are much more about the "feeling" of the music than the actual notes themselves. Believe it or not, there is a great deal of sloppy playing on Vapor Trails, but it works well. Guitarist Alex Lifeson has tuned the guitar down, turned up the distortion and ditched anything that resembles a traditional guitar solo. Instead, he has opted to create a sonic wall with layers of overdubs, backward guitar fills and other strange noises that have been mixed well into the background. You also won’t find many 12 tom-tom ultra-mega drum fills from Peart, the man who inspired thousands of aspiring drummers to go out and get the biggest drum kit possible, complete with gong, xylophone, twenty cymbals and three kick drums. Aside from the double bass drum flurry on the intro to the band’s first single "One Little Victory," don’t expect to be hearing many drum parts from Vapor Trails being bashed out by heshers at your local music shop. Just as guitar stores have the "No Stairway to Heaven" sign posted, drum shops have a similar poster that reads "No Tom Sawyer" thanks to Mr. Peart’s drum gymnastics, but he’s kept it a little more subtle on Vapor Trails.

For all the solid songs on Vapor Trails, there is really only one clunker. "Ghost Rider" is mid-tempo, sensitive rocker with a cheesy chorus melody that just never grew on me. "How It Is" is on the border of being a tad corny as well, but features some super-funky Geddy Lee bass with four or five killer guitar tracks overdubbed during the verses that give the song some redeeming qualities and make for an interesting listen.

As much as I miss Geddy’s high-pitched art rock vocal squeals and Peart’s lyrics about spaceships, dragons and mythical lands, I know that those days are long gone. I’ve given up hope that Rush will make a modern-day concept album with three songs that clock in at 15 to 18 minutes each, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t making music that is still very good. In a day and age when the emphasis seems to be more on image and look than musicianship, Rush has come through with an album that could inspire a new generation of fans to go back and learn about where art rock came from.

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