Review Summary: Easily Rush’s most underappreciated album, Permanent Waves delivers some of the best prog rock songs ever created.
What can I say about Rush? They are a group of three musicians, all extremely talented in their respective instruments, they are one of the biggest prog rock bands ever, and they are clearly one of the best live bands ever to grace the planet. I was actually introduced to Rush by my friend who showed me his “Rush in Rio” DVD back when it first came out. Tom Sawyer
exploded into my ears with that infamous keyboard line and the crowd going absolutely berserk and singing along with everything…guitars, vocals, keyboards, you name it. I finally reach YYZ
, and my mouth drops. The crowd is absolutely stunning; EVERYONE
is jumping to the beat and grooving to the riff, something that I had never seen on any live video. After watching that, I knew I had to get myself a Rush album, so I went out and bought my very first Rush album, Permanent Waves
. Now after hearing a great deal of Rush’s deemed classic albums, 2112
, Moving Pictures
, etc., I would still have to say Permanent Waves is my favorite of Rush’s 19 studio albums.
Now, Permanent Waves
marks a number of major changes in Rush’s sound. First of all, the songs seem to have been geared toward a radio-friendly audience. This album features two songs that got significant radio play: The Spirit of Radio
. Unlike Rush’s past albums, the songs on this album contain more digestible material to the average listener: the songs seem to have a light, airy feel to them (except for Jacob’s Ladder
, which I will get to later). Second, Rush is starting to abandon the idea of having extremely long epic songs on each album. Sure, Natural Science
clocks in at 9:17, but it isn’t anywhere near the length of previous epics, such as Xanadu
, the Cygnus X-1
series, and the almighty 2112
suite (not to say that any of these are bad songs, which none of them really are or anywhere close to being bad). On top of that, it’s placed at the end rather than the beginning, making it seem like a more listenable album. Finally, Geddy Lee’s vocals have been lowered slightly, making the album more listenable to people not used to his shrieking, soaring vocal range. However, they are still quite high pitched, and still may turn away new listeners.
The technical aspects of all instruments are still as strong as ever, and have been improved overall, especially in the guitars. Alex Lifeson, though still highly underrated, is still a superb guitarist. There are magnificent lead sections throughout Permanent Waves
, including shred solos in Freewill
and Natural Science
. He also has some cool riffing sections in The Spirit of Radio
, especially the lighter breakdown section near the end of the song. His riffs meld together well with Geddy Lee’s creative basslines throughout. Lee rarely plays along with the guitar, and along with the bass being set high in the mix, sets a high bar for the quality of his basslines, and fortunately, well exceeds the bar: there are interesting and creative basslines throughout the entire album, though Freewill
definitely contains the best one on the album, during the solo section of the song. The drumming by Neil Peart, while very good, seemed to be put in the backseat on the album along with the keyboards. Unfortunately, neither instrument got a specific place to shine, though the keyboards seem to be more prominent than on previous albums.
Like mentioned before, Permanent Waves
contains several fantastic songs. The Spirit of the Radio
is probably the most famous one off here, and has probably been heard by many non-Rush fans from the radio. It contains that ever-so famous phased guitar intro and the massive power riff immediately after. And the guitar solo delivers a nice touch. My favorite song off this album, and the other well-known Rush song off here is Freewill
. This song is flawless, delivering great riffing throughout, a very catchy verse (and some slightly cheesy lyrics) and an insane solo by Lifeson. Jacob’s Ladder
is quite different from the other songs. It has a darker, more atmospheric-like feel to it. Geddy’s voice is calmer and softer, and is a nice break from the first two songs. There is an epic solo by Lifeson around 2 minutes in, and the soothing keyboard break halfway in helps make it the best slow song on the album. Finally, Natural Science
, the mini-epic on the album, contains a boring intro until about 1:45, but after that, is a magnificent song featuring fast-paced instrumental sections and another well-composed guitar solo leading up to an ocean-like outro, thus ending the album.
Something I tend to notice with a lot of Rush albums is that the quality of the songs seem to drop off as the album progresses, and Permanent Waves
is no different. Entre Nous
is simply an alright song; it’s definitely not as catchy as the first 2 songs, and there are hardly any redeeming qualities of the song. It is kind of a mid-tempo song, and the verse is kinda cool, but it ends up dragging, despite being only four and a half minutes long. Different Strings
is probably the worst song on here. It’s another ballad like Jacob’s Ladder
, however, it just ends up being boring instead of interesting, though the piano does add a layer to the song that isn’t present anywhere else on the album. Luckily, the two not as good songs are the shortest on the album, and are easily skipped over.
Sure, Moving Pictures
is Rush’s deemed classic album, but Permanent Waves
seems to be ignored a lot because it was released right before Moving Pictures
. Despite the drop-off in quality in the second part of the album (besides the magnificent Natural Science
), Permanent Waves
is easily one of Rush’s best albums, and is worth picking up if you’re a fan of Rush or prog rock in general. If you are unfamiliar with the genre, I’d listen to some of the more famous songs on here, The Spirit of Radio
to see if you will like this album or not. Regardless, it is an excellent album and has a well-deserved spot among the best progressive albums I own.
- The Spirit of Radio
- Jacob's Ladder
- Natural Science