Review Summary: It's not Rush. It's Geddy Lee and some other guys. After you stop expecting Rush, the album improves.
During the time in between Test For Echo and Vapour Trails, Rush's bassist, vocalist, and keyboardist, Geddy Lee, collaborated with some other musicians to make a solo album. The album that came from their labour was My Favourite Headache, a very good album. However, many people overlooked the album, as it definitely was not what they were looking for. Having spent almost 30 years with a band through its prog years and its synth years and any other dtylistic changes they underwent, many fans expected a follow up for Test For Echo. What they got was a Geddy Lee solo album.
The important thing to keep in mind with this album is that it is in fact a solo album and not a Rush album. I know it's hard picturing that signature voice and plucky bass sound anywhere other than with Lifeson and Peart backing it up, but just like you don't expect to hear Danny Carey playing in A Perfect Circle, let the album stand as a solo album by a guy who happens to be in Rush. And with that in mind, the review can begin.
The album begins with its title track, bass thundering away in a song that seems to be about indulging and glorying in your depressive state. With time changes and mood swings, this song rocks from dangerous to melancholy very quickly, with Geddy making use of both his high and low registers to deliver some outstanding vocals.
The next song is "The Present Tense", a track that makes use of overdubbing of Geddy's voice a lot in its chorus line. This is a great straight rock song. It's nothing flashy, but it doesn't need to be. It hits where it's supposed to and does its job well.
"Window to the World" comes next, and Geddy seems to take a back seat on this one, as much as the lead vocalist can in a song. Instead, this song goes to the other musicians, with a spacey, desert-y guitar that gives this song an arid but enjoyable sound.
"Working at Perfekt" is a stand out track for sure, incorporating a string section in the best possible way. This song also showcases some of Geddy's better lyrics. Since he passed the torch to Peart for Rush early on, we've seen very little of the world through the eyes of Geddy Lee, his lyrics appearing in only a few songs after Fly By Night ("Tears" off of 2112, and I think "Cindarella Man" from A Farewell To Kings). With this song, Geddy Lee shows marked improvement in his ability to write decent lyrics.
"Runaway Train" seems to function a lot like "The Present Tense". It has an infectious riff and some decent lyrics. It's basically about going out and getting what you want, and not letting anything other than you direct your life. It definitely speaks to the musician's way of life, and to Geddy's personal experience in particular.
For me, the next three tracks are this album's failing. They seem very filler-like. "The Angel's Share" slows it down but brings no warmth to the song, making poor use of the strings we heard earlier in "Working at Perfekt". "Moving to Bohemia" and "Home On the Strange" both seem to be songs that let off some of the tension of the rest of the album, which has a lot to do with failure and depression. These two both seem to be mindless tracks, probably done after the other tracks were recorded if only to lighten the mood. They seem like harmless tracks that Geddy and the guys could have fun playing, and while that's great for them, it didn't sit as well with me.
The album picks up with the slow ballad "Slipping", a song about personal failure. I found this track to be incredibly powerful, as this is a subject few songs, and few bands for that matter, touch on in their lyrics. More often than not lyrics dwell on the failures of others, or personal triumph, and I thought it was really special that such earnest and honest song writing came from one of my favourite musicians. Geddy takes a seat at the piano for a great keyboard part, with odd chord progressions and the warm sound required for a slow track.
"Still" seems to pick up where "Slipping" left off in terms of the lyrics. It talks about those times where the world just seems wrong, but how you have to perservere in spite of them. Once again making use of all of his vocal prowess, Geddy sings warmly and emotively, carrying the melody with grace and feeling. The other musicians back him up admirably, supporting the melody and providing additional warmth and emotion.
"Grace to Grace" finishes the album very well. The whole band rocks out on this one. After the two last songs' somewhat somber tones, "Grace to Grace" lifts the spirits with a more hopeful tone and upbeat speed.
Other than "The Angel's Share", My Favourite Headache is a strong album from some great musicians. On order to see it for what it is though, you just have to take a step back and say "This is not Rush. This is a member of Rush doing an album with other musicians." With that firmly in your head, I encourage you to listen and enjoy.