Review Summary: Be cool, or be cast out, son.
Come the 1980's, Rush had been picking up quite a lot of steam ever since respective albums Permanent Waves
and the even bigger Moving Pictures
; two albums that escalated Rush from the limelight into superstardom. And it was plain to see why. Rush had never had any particular adherence to a genre; each album was simply something different
. The Canadian trio had been able to brilliantly incorporate elements of different genres into their own style of progressive rock. Despite this, the 1980's would eventually become one of their most productive decades. Did Rush still have the flair and the genuine ability to release a good, if not better, album? Signals
came in 1982, and the answer is both a meek yes and a heavy no.
does continue down the road Rush had laid a while ago. Except this time, Rush completely changed their style. The Canadian trio had decided to dip a little in a different pool; they wanted to put their hand in an area they honestly didn't know. Geddy Lee and his two good 'aul Canadian friends had tried keyboards before; but those moments, in previous albums, were a rarity. Now, in Signals
, Rush still used their old style of progressive rock - blending time signatures, intricate guitar, thumping bass, and heavy drums - and fused in synthesizers. It was a new approach for the three, but it didn't entirely mean it would be a failure. So, the three had written most parts of Signals
based on observations about the world around them; for example, the band checking out a Space Shuttle launch in Orlando. So after plenty of rough drafts and hurt fingers, presto, Signals
To put it simply, Signals is an average record at best. Rush was and is truly one of the most pleasing rock acts, and due to their impressive catalog, it's safe to say fans always knew they'd enjoy the experience. So after an endless string of impressive, fresh, well-sounding albums... Signals
is a bit of letdown. While it isn't bad, per se, and is impressive in scope, considering this is experimental... there's no substance. The appeal is there, but it wears and folds like a cheap suit.
It wouldn't be fair to land criticism entirely on the band's approach to synthesizers, however. The instrumentation in itself is still as rigid and expertly composed as ever; Rush does their usual great mix of progressive guitars, sonorous bass, and the wide range of techniques on Neil Peart's ever-awesome drumming. At times, the synthesizers do blend in well with a handful of songs; they can either be dark and eerie, or high-keyed and frequent. Subdivisions
is an excellent album opener in itself, and the strongest track on the album, implementing some of the new techniques brilliantly all in five minutes. And here and there, there are fragments of genius: the ska bridge of Digital Man
, Ben Hinks' excellent violin on Losing It
, et cetera.
But that's where it stops. Some songs fall entirely flat on their ass, because some of them are just plain dull. New World Man
is a radio-friendly approach, one that loses its appeal after about a couple listens. The instruments' composition feels very forced, imprecise, and stale. Countdown
is a potentially good song, marred by the slamming use of synthesizers and the constant, driving rhythm. Most of the songs do have an enjoyable element to them, but they're all filled to the brim with more forgettable elements.
Regardless of everything mentioned, Signals
is not bad. Far from it. It was at this point that Rush began to experiment, and they were inexperienced in their approach. For those who want to start with Rush, this is not the album for you. It's like a pharisee; it seems enjoyable, but when you delve into it's filled with more rags and dust than you'd expect. But for those who know Rush and are looking for an album to at least enjoy, even a little bit, look no further than Signals.