Sunday, March 01, 2015

Rush R40 Countdown at No. 16: 'Vapor Trails Remixed' looks to make amends

We're inching closer to the R40 concert in Chicago by counting down the Rush studio albums from least-glorious to Moving Pictures. 

Will and were wildly disagreeing about No. 17, but we're on the same page as we close out the first quarter of the countdown.

No. 16: Vapor Trails and Vapor Trails Remixed

Released in 2002 and 2013.

Highlights: “Earthshine,” “How it Is,” “Ceiling Unlimited.”

Least-glorious moments: “Secret Touch.”

Cool Neil Peart lyrical moment:

“Celebrate the moment
As it turns into one more
Another chance at victory
Another chance to score”
-- “One Little Victory”

This one gets complicated.

As Rush fans, we need to celebrate that the this album exists at all, because it means the band still existed after a six-year hiatus following Neil’s well-documented personal tragedies.

So, while thrilled to see a new Rush release of any kind, the album was still a disappointment. Aside from the unevenness of the material, the album sounded horrible. The layered vocals were tough to understand and the instruments sounded like a big pile of mush.

Switch back and forth between Vapor Trails and Counterparts to hear the difference. “Animate” crackles from the opening smacks of Neil’s drums, and it’s so crisp that you feel like you’re standing in the room.

Vapor Trails, in comparison, feels like you’re listening to someone playing it in the dorm room across the hall with the doors closed.

Much has been written about the process used to write the songs, too. Geddy speaks of digitally recording jam sessions with Alex, then cutting and pasting bits together over the course of 14 months to make songs that might match with Neil’s lyrics.

It’s a magnetic poetry approach that generated some wonderful songs, like “Earthshine” and “How it Is.” But, not so much with large parts of the album.

It was apparent that the band knew there was something wrong with the sound when remixed version of “Earthshine” and “One Little Victory” appeared on compilations. The band went and released a completelyremixed version of the album in 2013.

didn't jump to buy that one. I had the remixed versions of two of the songs I liked best. And, I felt a little burned that the band was asking us to buy something a second time, not because it was including extras or was taking advantage of new technology, but because the first version was screwed up.
Check out the "Earthsine" video from Rush in Rio. It's a great song!

I finally checked out a copy of Vapor Trails Remixed from my local library last month. It is much better. The instruments and vocals are more clearly defined. Geddy is still over-layered, but he’s easier to understand.

First impressions are hard to shake, especially after 13 years have passed. I’m glad the remix is out there, and takes the place of the original. But it’s tough to rekindle a friendship that wasn't so strong in the first place.

And it looks like Will is thinking along the same lines:

No. 16: Vapor Trails

Released: 2002
Well, look at that: We're in perfect agreement. Well, not perfect, because I love Secret Touch, but this isn't a song list; it's an album list.
Yeah, I was pretty excited when Rush finally released this album, and my excitement evaporated almost immediately upon listening. Vapor Trails was a huge move away from Test for Echo sonically as well as musically, and, of course, Rush was saluted for returning to their harder rock roots.

I didn't like it. One problem, as Dave mentioned, was the sound. Rush always had overdubbed Geddy's vocals  but never to this extent, and the whole album dissolved into mush.
Of course, that wasn't going to stop me from seeing the boys live, and I caught their stop in Cincinnati at the outdoor Riverbend venue on a witheringly sweltering August day. 

Aside from the oppressive heat, the thing that struck me when they struck up the notes on their first song from Vapor Trails -- "Earthshine" --was how GOOD the song sounded. I knew it from the album, but this was WAY better than the album, crisper and cleaner. 

That night, they also played "One Little Victory," "Ceiling Unlimited," and "Secret Touch," and it was more of the same:The songs all sounded better live. I haven't heard the remixed version, but I'll take Dave's word for it that it's better.
Here's the band playing "One Little Victory" at the same show.
The larger problem with this album is ... the songs overall aren't that great. Maybe I need to go back and listen again, but if it weren't for "Earthshine" and "Secret Touch," I'd probably have Vapor Trails lower on my list.

For everyone just catching up, here are the previous rankings:

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