Monday, February 16, 2015

Rush R40 Countdown at No. 19: 'Snakes & Arrows' is a far cry from the Rush we like best

As you remember from the last post, Will and I are looking forward to the sure-to-be-glorious Rush R-40 concert later this year. In preparation, we’re ranking Rush albums from the least-great to “Moving Pictures.”

We started the countdown at No. 20 with “Caress of Steel,” which I think a consensus of Rush fans would rank as the band’s lowest point.

And here’s where I start getting in trouble. Remember, people. The least-glorious Rush albums are still better than much of the stuff out there.

No. 19: Snakes & Arrows

Released in 2007

Highlights: “Far Cry,” “The Main Monkey Business,” “We Hold On.”

Least-great moments: “Faithless”

Cool Neil Pearl lyrical moment:

“It’s a far cry from the world we thought we’d inherit
It’s a far cry from the way we thought we’d share it
You can almost feel the current flowing
You can almost see the circuits blowing.”
From “Far Cry”

A lot of people liked “Snakes & Arrows.” I wrestled with this one. I might have had unrealistic expectations. “Far Cry” was released in advance and it’s awesome. It’s everything we love about Rush, with poignant lyrics, precise drum and guitar interplay and a memorable chorus. It seems to have become a concert staple, too.

Then the rest of the album came out. There are a lot of long, lumbering, plodding cuts with lyrics that seem less upbeat than usual. Protagonists in Rush songs usually rise above. Here, they seem to be wallowing.

Geddy’s vocals seem to be layered throughout, making it difficult to understand what he’s saying. For a band that prides itself on its lyrics, that’s a problem. This isn't like Whitesnake finding new ways to rhyme “knees” and “please.” Will noted that the songs sounded better in concert, where just one Geddy was singing at a time.

It’s not unusual for Rush to have an instrumental on an album, but there are three of them here. They’re also the liveliest cuts on the disc. That makes me wonder if Geddy and Alex were struggling to match music with Neil’s lyrics.   

Usually it doesn't take long for a Rush album to embed itself in my subconscious. Outside of “Far Cry,” nothing from “Snakes” ever did. I’ve been playing it again this week to see if fresh ears would make things seem better, and I still can’t reach back and find most of cuts.

The best moments seem to bookend the album.

“Far Cry” is an expression of frustration at the times. “Whirlwind of faith and betrayal, Rise in anger, Fall back and repeat.” The tracks were written throughout 2006, and the world was a pretty scary place. Of course, we had no idea it was about to get scarier.
Check out this video of "Far Cry" from the "Time Pieces" tour. It's really good!

But the closing track seems to be an upbeat response. “We Hold On” speaks of determination and rising up to challenges. “Keep going until dawn, How many times must another line be drawn, We could be down and gone, But we hold on,” and “Keep holding on so long, ‘Cause there’s a chance, That we might not be so wrong. We could be down and gone, But we hold on.”

It’s like Neil is saying, “Yeah, we've got some problems. Things are a mess. But we’re not giving up.”

Like “Far Cry,” the cut moves faster and the refrain is memorable. It’s a good way to close out the album. It’s the stuff in the middle I had trouble with.

Here's the of the countdown. Remember, we're in the early stages.

Tell us in the comments where we have gone astray.


Will said...

I guess if we're going just by the record itself, I can agree that Snakes & Arrows deserves to rank low, but if you're going by songs, I think this one should be higher. The Main Monkey Business might be their best instrumental excepting XYZ (;-) ), and I also like Workin' Them Angels, Where the Wind Blows and Hope, although I prefer the Lifeson solo Peake's Repose going into Halo Effect much better. Far Cry is OK, but Spindrift is unlistenable. THe rest of the album is meh.

That said, I just realized that by naming Rush's 20 albums, you're including Feedback. Don't get me wrong, I love their version of Heart Full of Soul, but there's no way that album should rank ahead of anything except maybe ... MAYBE Caress of Steel. Original Rush beats Cover Version Rush any day of the week.

So, if I'm ranking--and I guess I am--I'd go Feedback 20, Caress of Steel 19. I'll name 18 next time.

Mets Guy in Michigan said...

Valid point about Feedback. I wonder where that will come in. Hmmmmm.

I do like "Main Monkey Business." And I like that Rush is willing to put instrumentals out there. Not a lot of bands will do that these days.