3. Permanent Waves
Transitional albums. Most of the time overlooked, other times viewed as simply an excuse, a “hey, let’s cover the single with nonsensical, experimental tracks because we can” desperate attempt for direction. Rush’s seventh LP, Permanent Waves, is an exception to this stigma, combining all of the bombast of Hemispheres and 2112 with the sentimental foreshadowing of their follow up monster, Moving Pictures. The band, at this point, were at the peak of their epic phase, and with Permanent Waves, they reach further into the progressive genre, plugging in synthesizers and effects to magnify their already gigantic sound. With top notch musicianship, ambition, and energy, Lee, Lifeson, and Peart’s performance on the 1980 album stamped their place in progressive rock history. Oh, and Permanent Waves earned the number 3 spot on 5 Days of Rush! Which, of course, is a more prestigious award!
I’ve always had a soft spot for this record. Hell, my favorite Rush song, “Spirit of Radio” (yes, I know) is on the record and that automatically boosts its overall score a point or so. Clocking in at just over 35 minutes, pacing is never an issue, complete with a balanced experience with both shorter, single-style tunes and longer, epic suites. With such little time, the band creates enough complexity to make even the most hardcore prog fan flinch. “Jacob’s Ladder,” plods along — in a good way, of course — with complex fills (Peart never disappoints), melodic chords, and Geddy’s typical, multi-limb output. Rush’s exploration with electronic influences start to emerge during the track’s midsection, complementing Lifeson’s staccato guitar nicely before exploding into the opening notes of “Entre Nous.”
Throughout the album, Lee’s keyboards never indulge, but create atmosphere. That’s the way keyboards should be. There’s never a moment where I sat back and rolled my eyes like I would for, say, a Dream Theater instrumental section. No offense, prog metal gods. For a transional album, that is quite an achievement. Using just the right amount of experimentation, Geddy Lee’s musicianship takes the wheel. His bass performance is off the charts, as well. Take “Free Will,” one of Rush’s more popular singles. Those of you new to Rush, if you listen closely to the bass — which, I know is so hard to do in the first place, given its reputation — you’ll notice that Lee’s lines almost duel Peart’s grooves. And if you know anything about Peart, that’s a feat within itself. Not to mention the guy sings while hitting said lines. If Geddy had another limb, he’d probably play rhythm guitar. Just guess what that would sound like.
After this photo, Geddy Lee then proceeded to play “YYZ” on each bass/guitar with his toes.
Even after three reviews, I still feel like I’ve given Alex Lifeson the short straw. It’s not disinterest, but rather an abundance of overwhelming talent across the board. Again, how three men produce such a sound is awe inspiring. Yet, it’s without a doubt that Lifeson’s riffs rest on the mantle of Rush’s discography. So, why neglect such talent? Weird sounds, complex chords, harmonics, staccato, tremolo, punchy solos, his sound screams for more commentary. On Permanent Waves, Lifeson shows off his more melodic talents, attacking when needed — see the intro riff to “Spirit of Radio” — but mostly sitting back for atmospheric purposes. Not exactly his most ear splitting work, but the expression in his guitar deserves recognition. “Free Will” shows off his talents nicely. His main riff travels time changes and chord changes flawlessly, all the while adding that much needed color to Rush’s rhythm section.
As previously stated, Permanent Waves places above Moving Pictures due to its balance. With added influences, Rush knew exactly where they wanted their sound to go, all the while building on the sound they already established. For example, “Natural Science,” and “Jacob’s Ladder” never feel like epic tracks, with seamless transitions and instrumental sections that keep the listener interested. Also, taste. Each element feels organic The album discards formula and pushes the agenda, which is exactly what progressive rock stands for. So, in this regard, Permanent Waves is a quintessential progressive album, a pioneering, and often overlooked production.
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