After the beast that was 1978's Hemispheres
, there wasn't any way Rush could take progressive rock any further. That album was the pinnacle of their progressive era, and being the best of the lot, it was naturally the last. With the late 70's, prog was no longer the top genre. Things like punk and new wave were taking over the world, and Rush could either catch on and adapt, or become the next Foreigner. For the Canadian trio, the choice was clear.
Neil Peart loved The Police, and Geddy and Alex loved the Talking Heads. So what happens when a prog rock band listens to new wave bands?
Enter Permanent Waves
Opening with one of the band's most iconic and most recognized songs, The Spirit of Radio, already from the getgo we can see change in the band's style. The musicianship is still tip-top; they are not the Buzzcocks, but they aren't Emerson, Lake, and Palmer either. It's like some sort of new wave/progressive combo, much like King Crimson's 1981 album Discipline
. The riffs are layered and upbeat, like many other Rush songs, but it sounds more machine-made, more produced, but it still has that Rush spirit that we have come to love. It is simply the sound of a great band coming into a new decade nicely and taking advantage of the wide array of technology that was available to them. Any fan of Rush welcomes this change.
Coming up with Freewill after that, we have another of Rush's "radio" songs. You can hear this song on your local classic rock station right now, just turn it on. Despite its massive airplay, it does not make it any less of a classic. The song is, without a doubt, the musical showcase on the album. Alex's guitar and Geddy's bass compliment one another quite nicely, and while they are both just as complex as the playing on previous records, it is a different type of complexity; it's, dare I say, complex with mainstream sensibilities? Despite mainstream and pop musictypically being simple in nature, the song is catchy enough to be a top 40 hit. The chorus is one that even those not familiar with Rush know, and it's just an all-around classic song. It also contain's Geddy Lee's highest note, which can bring a smile to anybody.
After these two seemingly pop-ish songs, the progginess picks a bit back up, but throughout the entire album, there is still the change: Synths lie in the background of many of the songs, and the musicianship, while excellent, sounds more studio-ized and robotic than on previous albums like Fly By Night. Songs like Jacob's Ladder and Natural Science are a great mixture of late 70's Rush and this new sound that they employ on 1980's Permanent Waves, making for a great transition into the synth-driven mid-80's.
Permanent Waves is Rush at their most technologically advanced...for the time being. Many Rush fans in 1980 were undoubtedly expecting Hemispheres 2: Electric Boogaloo, and what they got was an album nearly as excellent and far more unique. While the synth-sound would not be perfected on this album, it is still an essential release containing some of Rush's finest tunes.