Review Summary: Rush were expected to really pull something out of the hat for this so called back-to-basics release but the relatively uninspired song writing and anaemic production values left many die-hard fans less than happy bunnies.
By 1988 most Rush fans had all but given up hope that their heroes would ever return to the guitar based heavy prog that had become their trademark throughout the 70's and which had culminated with the seminal 'Moving Pictures'. The previous release 'Hold Your Fire' was a competent art rock album and had almost served as a logical conclusion to what the band were steering towards when they embarked upon their synth-rock journey at the start of the 80's but it also seemed to represent the final nail in the coffin for the guitar based hard rock aspects of the band's music. Enter Alex Lifeson proclaiming that the band wanted to go 'back-to-basics' on their next release and inject some of the power back into the trio and the scene was set, the expectations were high; could this be the one that power hungry Rush fans had been patiently waiting for since 'Moving Pictures' way back in 1981 ?
Well, the answer of course was a resounding no. There are of course some well structured songs and a high level of musicianship, this is a Rush album after all, but the lack of real commitment in some of the performances and the tame production values really reduce the impact of the album as a whole. It is puzzling how a group previously renowned for superlative hard rock infused prog that apparently wanted to get 'back to basics' would be happy for this to be released with its thin and anaemic sound. Rupert Hine should have been shot and furthermore should have been let no where near the following 'Roll The Bones' which also suffered from the same problem. Meek production values had indeed inherited the Rush sound.
There are places where the production doesn't get in the way of the music too much as on the superb 'The Pass', which features a beautifully simple yet engaging guitar solo from Lifeson. However when the band decide to rock out their attempts are foiled by Rupert Hine's inability to inject the appropriate heftiness into the proceedings. How different 'Superconductor' might have sounded with a beefier sound ? Instead we are treated to percussion that sounds like it was recorded in a toilet cubicle with superconducting walls and a spiritless Lifeson playing a stratocaster on the bridge pickup through what sounds like a 30 dollar transistor amp with the treble pot on 11. The title track promises much with its infectious acoustic guitar build up and threatens to deliver something approaching classic Rush before melting away to obscurity with it's bland chorus. It's not all bad news however. 'Anagram' entertains mightily with its clockwork riffs and Peart's clever play on anagrams, personal favourites being 'Reasoning is partly insane' and 'end the need for Eden'. Album closer 'Available Light' sports a wonderful shimmering essence, an uplifting bridge and triumphant chorus but again it would have benefited mightily from the injection of some muscle into the sound. Rush fans would have to wait another four years before Rupert Hine was dispensed with and Peter Collins returned to finally instil some power and passion back into the trio on the excellent 'Counterparts'.
This isn't a bad album by any stretch. There are some moments of brilliance and on the more subdued offerings the pallid feel doesn't jar unnecessarily with the material. However, this must stand as one of the most disappointing entries in the Rush discography both for its dearth of memorable material and its woefully bloodless production.