Review Summary: Alex Lifeson goes beyond guitar instrumentals to serve up a quirky mix of hard rock, grunge, altrock and the downright weird.
Rush are undoubtedly one of the most enduring rock acts of all time. While many other famous bands who came to prominence in the 60's and 70's are either dead and buried, literally in some cases, or only indulge in 'farewell tours' every few years and half-baked comebacks with half the original members the Canadian trio are still going strong and making relevant music to this day.
It would be reasonable to assume that one of the reasons for Rush's longevity has been due to each member feeling he can fully express himself musically within the framework of the band and as such there have only been two solo projects by members of the band throughout their long 40+ year history, 'My Favorite Headache' by vocalist Geddy Lee and the album being reviewed here which guitarist Alex Lifeson released under the pseudonym 'Victor'. Lee's solo project was an inoffensive release that didn't stray too far from the Rush formula but here we find Lifeson 'deviating from the norm' with his material and straying off into grunge and alt rock while still retaining some links to his work with Rush.
Some of the music is pretty much what you would expect from the solo album of a rock guitarist. 'Mr.X' has a rather unconventional keyboard opening but soon settles down into the sort of lead guitar instrumental track that wouldn't sound out of place on a Vai or Satriani album. Similairly 'Shut Up Shuttin' Up' sounds like another snippet from one of the aforementioned virtuoso's careers but we encounter a rather more laid back approach on 'Strip and Go Naked' and the result is quite beautiful at times with Alex's heavily compressed liquid tone soaring above the acoustic rhythm section. However, Lifeson obviously has more intent than merely churning out instrumentals to showcase his prodigious talent and album opener 'Don't Care' announces its intentions with an almost vicious sounding hook and a heavily distorted transistorised guitar sound. The vocals from ex 'I Mother Earth' singer Edwin (who performs most of the lead vocals on the album) match the stabbing main riff in intensity. At one point he growls 'I'm going to *** you night and day, do it hard make me pay' which makes you thankful that Alex didn't save this for a Rush album as one could hardly imagine Geddy delivering that particular line with much conviction. 'Promise' keeps the adrenaline flowing and is a mid-tempo rocker the first half of which comes closest to sounding like Rush than anything else on the album. Standout track 'Start Today' features a quite astounding vocal performance from female Canadian singer Dalbello which, at times, almost sounds like it could be Geddy screaming in pain after having had a sex-change operation. Joking aside it's a memorable song with a frenetic riff and some great moments. 'I Am The Spirit' kicks in with a trademark Lifeson riff after a short heavily chorused guitar intro but soon degenerates into pretty standard hard rock fare. The song is rather messy but is saved halfway through by a gorgeous little clean guitar section leading into a promising sounding solo that sadly doesn't last long enough. The title track itself is a rather odd affair with Alex talking us through the life story of 'Victor' over a backdrop of electronic bass and keyboard sounds which eventually melds into a jazzy instrumental section. 'At The End' begins in a similair vein to 'Victor' but there is some light at the end of the tunnel if you can bear the first 3 minutes as we do get some pleasant guitar noodling from the man himself in the second half of the song.
In summary, this solo effort is rather a mixed bag. The experiments on here don't really work very well and some of the more straightforward songs just sound like the sort of material that Rush would probably reject for a full band release. There are, however, some great moments on here that will satisfy any fan of Lifeson's guitar playing and also some quite enjoyable Lifesonesque forays into grunge and alt rock. I wouldn't go as far as saying 'strictly for Rush fans only' but an appreciation of the great man's work with Rush would certainly ease the way into the rather quirky and disparate world of 'Victor'.