Rush - Snakes & Arrows Review

by Robert VerBruggen

Rock 'n' roll is capable of so much accessibility, complexity, introspection, provocation, aggression, swagger, serenity. Yet maybe one record out of a million encompasses all of that without seeming scattered.

Rush's Snakes & Arrows is that record.

A casual listener will find 13 incredibly catchy and well constructed songs. It's the kind of album anyone can listen to straight through without thinking twice. The tracks end before anyone realizes six minutes have passed, and even the odd time signatures feel natural. Three instrumentals entrance the listener even when they're repetitive.

It's a shame that many will stop here, because there's much to enjoy in Snakes & Arrows' innumerable layers. The band, along with producer Nick Raskulinecz (about whose work with Shadows Fall I remarked, "One could listen to Threads of Life for days") have created a sonic masterpiece.

Acoustic and electric guitars weave together seamlessly, blending into an open and textured sound. In the superb "Workin' Them Angels," for example, gentle strumming in the pre-chorus builds into loud power chords for the chorus. And on "Faithless," the audience can hear synthesized strings in the background, reminding it that Rush was once known for heavy keyboard use.

There is no weak spot here. "Spindrift" provides intensity, while "The Way the Wind Blows" builds a smoky, bluesy vibe into a gentle peace. "Hope," a folksy acoustic instrumental from guitarist Alex Lifeson (under the name "Lerxst Lifeson" in the credits), gives a nice break from the layered bombast. There's uplift in "Good News First" and "We Hold On."

"Armor and Sword," a standout, showcases a heart-wrenching vocal performance from Geddy Lee, with drummer Neil Peart helping not a little with ethereal and intellectual lyrics: "Our better natures seek elevation / A refuge for the coming night / No one gets to their heaven without a fight."

Indeed, Snakes & Arrows features some of the most thought-provoking rock poetry ever written. Peart addresses everything from war to atheism to poverty. On the latter topic he writes: "If we're so much the same, like I always hear / Why such different fortunes and fates? / Some of us live in a cloud of fear / Some live behind iron gates." Later he adds, "It's somehow so badly arranged."

He also weighs in on religion as it pertains to the War on Terror: "From the Middle East to the Middle West / It's a world of superstition."

In fact, about the only criticism one could make of Snakes & Arrows is Peart's occasional lapse. Take the cheesy chorus from "Bravest Face": "In the sweetest child there's a vicious streak / In the strongest man there's a child so weak / In the whole wide world there's no magic place / So you might as well rise, put on your bravest face."

But wait! There's more: "In the softest voice there's an acid tongue / In the oldest eyes there's a soul so young / In the shakiest will there's a core of steel / On the smoothest ride there's a squeaky wheel."

And in "Faithless," he posits this rather lame objection to religion: "I've got my own moral compass to steer by." There's certainly something to be said for following one's conscience, but it doesn't work for everyone (think John Wayne Gacy).

But enough nitpicking, for Snakes & Arrows rises monumentally above the competition. It models everything progressive rock and rock in general should strive for.

Robert VerBruggen (http://www.therationale.com) is Assistant Book Editor for The Washington Times.

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