Review Summary: Back with all guns blazing.Chapter XVII: Out of Tragedy Comes Excellence
To say the mid-to-late 90s were not very kind to Rush is quite the understatement. First there was 1996's Test for Echo
, which was widely regarded as one of the band's biggest disappointments with the critics and the fanbase; then there was the infamous car accident that killed Neil Peart's daughter and the battle with cancer that his wife lost. Any of this would have been good reasoning to retire and call it a day... hell, he actually DID tell his bandmates he was retiring around that time. But was this the true end for Rush and Neil Peart's careers? Nope! Instead, Peart decided to take a lengthy sabbatical throughout North and Central America to reflect and mourn what events had transpired. After writing a book about his travels, he decided to remarry and then tell his bandmates that he was finally ready to return to the fold. What came of all this was Vapor Trails
, a great comeback album that displays the band in top form again.
Don't get me wrong, however; it's still not the perfect comeback a lot of people were clamoring for. The most common criticism of Vapor Trails
is a pretty well-founded one, and that's the record's mix. It's easy to conclude that the record was a victim of the loudness war, which was becoming more frequent around the 2000s; because of this, there's a bit too much loudness and compression permeating the whole thing. Luckily, this doesn't do much to lessen the impact of the songwriting because of how strong these tunes are from the get-go. One listen to the opening number "One Little Victory" can tell you that this isn't synth-era Rush anymore. Instead, we're given some of the beefiest and most metal-oriented guitar lines Alex Lifeson's ever played, highly overdubbed and layered bass lines courtesy of Geddy Lee, and the most inspired lyrics and drum work from Neil Peart in over a decade. It's really great to hear Rush go back to a more traditional sound again, and Vapor Trails
represents sort of a mixture of all their eras into one. "One Little Victory" has a more modern progressive rock/metal sound to fit the 2000s, the motifs of "Ghost Rider" and the title track sound like something that could come out of their Roll the Bones
days, and the more prominently displayed virtuosity on this album recalls their more complex 70s and early 80s material like A Farewell to Kings
But what pushes Vapor Trails
over the edge is just how damn inspired the whole thing sounds. This is not only a reinvention of the band, but it feels
like one. A lot of this comes from Peart, whose lyrics on this are probably the most personal and hard-hitting the band have ever had in their career (alongside Clockwork Angels
, I'd say). Also, as I mentioned, this album can be really hard-hitting and heavy for Rush standards, especially "One Little Victory," "Peaceable Kingdom," and "Secret Touch." The latter is especially notable for its heavy syncopated main riff which is perfect for some headbanging; what I'm saying is that these tend to be some pretty metal songs, which is something that Rush would continue for the next two albums. But the intensity levels are never excessive, and the band usually know when to scale things back and focus on a more layered or subdued musical environment. One of the best traits of Rush has always been how the three musicians blend their instruments together and sound like a cohesive unit despite such complex pieces, and Vapor Trails
is no exception to this. It also helps that Geddy Lee's vocals are quite varied on the album, able to fit whichever mood the song has created with ease. In fact, he can still hit some pretty damn high notes despite his age around this time, especially that one note he sustains near the end of "Peaceable Kingdom."
is no classic, but it's a substantial improvement over Test for Echo
and probably the band's best work since Power Windows
. Despite the weird production (which has thankfully been improved in the 2013 remix) and being a bit too lengthy (over an hour long), this is a great display of Rush being reborn for the new decade. Musically, it makes enough nods to their past while remaining firmly in the present, with a great variety of lyrical and musical concepts to reflect this. All of this leads to my final words: thank you for rejoining the band, Neil Peart.