Review Summary: Needs more Neil Peart.
Within the time of one year, prolific drummer Neil Peart, of the Canadian rock trio Rush
, lost both his wife of 22 years and his only daughter to a car crash and cancer, respectively. At the funeral of his wife, he somberly requested to his bandmates, Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson, to "consider me retired." This series of unfortunate events, transpiring shortly after the 1997 Test for Echo tour, put the iconic band on hiatus for an indefinite period of time, and Rush fans held their breath as their nerdy rockstar heroes slowly faded into obscurity. However, bassist and vocalist Geddy Lee wasn't determined to stop playing music -- and we certainly shan't deny the man his rights. The result of this musical desire was the conglomeration of various musicians dedicated to forming Geddy Lee's 2000 solo project, My Favourite Headache.
Musically, My Favourite Headache is some sort of moody hybrid, as expected, between the two Rush albums it's spliced in between -- Test for Echo and Vapor Trails. Barenaked Ladies producer Ben Mink takes the role of guitaring and provides capable whirling riffs and sounds throughout the length of the record, alarmingly akin to the absent Alex Lifeson. Arguably the biggest concern about My Favourite Headache was the lack of Neil Peart, who just happens to be considered one of the most talented rock drummers in history -- well, unpredictably enough, Lee has round up Pearl Jam/Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron to emulate the "professor," and truly, if you close your eyes and tilt your head just right
, you can convince yourself that this is Peart himself. In fact, if it weren't for the lack of libertarian lyrics and an abundance of filler tracks, you really could
convince yourself that this is indeed a Rush album. This can be attributed, strangely enough, as both a strength and downfall of this record.
While a bundle of tracks can give the impression of "Rush-lite
," when the band kicks it up and, for the lack of an appropriate word, rocks out, the results are as magical as they are enchanting. Songs like the soaring title track blaze through almost discordant riffs and kinetic bass lines, and skip effortlessly through comfortable dynamics before finally coming to a halt. When the acoustic arpeggios of 'The Present Tense' that suitably portray the folky verses are traded in for a faux-southern riff as the chorus comfortably slides in, it becomes increasingly clear that musically, none of the musicians are playing off their beat, clearly contributing masterfully to the overall sound. Not once do any of the members participate in over-indulgent wankery or technical "progressive" blather (which is kind of disappointing, to be honest).
At this point, you're likely curious how Geddy Lee
performs as the main songwriter. Well, consider the fact that last time we heard Geddy Lee write lyrics was on Rush's 1974 Zeppelin-y debut, where his wordplay was laughably embarrassing and naive (Hey baby, it's a quarter to eight and I feel I'm in the mood!), one can only hope that Lee's lyricism "talent" has taken flight. Well, not only has it gotten itself off the ground, Lee has made leaps and bounds in his songwriting capabilities -- hanging out with Neil Peart for 30 years can do that to you. In the album's highlight, Working at Perfekt, Lee casually slips into his infamous higher range (or what's left of it) as he wails "success to failure, just a matter of degrees." Beyond his melodic construction, Lee performs as expected on the bass guitar, noodling charismatically and tastefully to the song structure while his once irritating vocals prove that, like fine wine, his screech has matured into a soothing croon.
Unfortunately, with all the leaps and bounds made regarding expectations for Lee, there are some definite gripes to be picked at on My Favourite Headache. First off, Lee cranks out, albeit forgivably, some stinker-tracks -- most noticeably in songs like Window to the World, Runaway Train and Still, all of which are songs that plod along melancholically at an unengaging pace, complimented by mutually unengaging melodies. Another misstep is the aforementioned bland musicianship -- while it's important to value beauty over brawn, we all know that these guys are capable of the shred, and it's disappointing to see Lee and his new team trudge inoffensively through riffs and chords.
While the material will unfortunately never be played at any Rush shows, nor will it likely ever surface in a debate about Lee's talent, it is a testament to his maturity as a songwriting and a example of his dependence on Rush. While the majority of the record is wholly enjoyable, it contains an inherent emptiness; a void that can be filled only by Lerxst and the Professor, respectively.