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Vapor Trails

Classic Rock, Hard Rock & Metal, and Rock album by Rush

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Brought to You by the Letter 3

  • Aug 5, 2002
Pros: Rush is back and as skillfull as ever

Cons: The new direction seems a little off at first

The Bottom Line: Did I have a dream? Or did the dream have me?

Well. Okay. Alright. I can barely remember the last time I dipped my toe into the cold waters of music reviewing, but here goes...

Six years. Six years its been since we were presented with the last collection of original, studio recorded Rush material, which, as you probably know, was titled Test for Echo. A fine cd, not the best Rush I've heard, nothing groundbreaking, but a nice piece of work to be left with should something happen that would cause the dissolution of Rush or the deaths of any of the members.

Well, wouldn't you know it, that something did happen. Drummer/lyricst Neil Peart's daughter was killed in a car crash. Less than a year later, Neil was still in grieving when something reared its ugly head again in the form of a cancer which took his wife. Poor Neil was really put into a funk with this, and I guess he needed some time off from his band duties to deal with his depression. Do you really blame him? So the band went their seperate ways, possibly for good. Of course they left us with Test for Echo and, a couple of years later, a breathtaking compilation of live recordings on a triple set called Different Stages.

Well, Neil has since remarried and I guess filled that black, empty void in his heart. One day he was sitting in a bar and inspiration struck in the form of a quote nailed to the wall. With the quote firmly emblazoned in his head, he ran home, started writing lyrics and called his partners in crime, bassist/singer Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson and said "It's time to make a new Rush cd." And in may 2002, this new cd, deemed Vapor Trails, arrived to nourish its needy fans.

It has since become a topsy-turvy world, because Rush, long lambasted by those idiot critics and all but ignored by mainstream audiences, began racking up a considerable amount of acclaim and with good reason. Vapor Trails contains Rush's best work in a decade.

With Vapor Trails, Rush finally completes that 180 degree turn from their synthetic 80's sound that they began with the more alternative-sounding Roll the Bones. The synthesizers and keyboards are done away with completely, and the band goes back to basics with the guitar-heavy sound it started with back in the 70's. If the sound of Vapor Trails could be summed up in one word, it would be crunching, with the music going into dark heavy metal territory at times. But when this happened back in the 70's, you could always count on Alex to lighten things up with his flight-of-the-bumblebee guitar solos. Not so this time. Alex, surprisingly, turned down solos.

The first song-also the first single-One Little Victory, is one of those dark metal sounds. It's one of those songs that would wake you up with a start in the morning, with Neil beating what sounds like a military cadence on his skins and Alex just grinding away on his guitar. To fit the new sound, Geddy had several layers added to his voice to create more of an echo-y sound. Just listening to this song, it becomes clear that you're listening to a new Rush, a Rush which will probably accompany us through the next decade.

The closest song to alt Rush of the 90's is probably Ghost Rider, which starts out sounding dark but lightens considerably, with lyrics highlighting Neil's travels by bike:
from the white sands
to the canyonlands
to the redwood stands
to the barren lands

This is my personal favorite off Vapor Trails.

Certain songs will sound light, but they never get too light, and the lyrics will often go in the opposite direction. This is most noticable on How It Is and Sweet Miracle. Both have uplifting-and maybe even inspiring-music, but the lyrics beg to differ:
From How It Is:
It's such a cloudy day
seems we'll never see the sun
or feel the day has possibilities
frozen in the moment
the lack of imagination
between how it is and how it ought to be

From Sweet Miracle:
i wasn't walking on the water
i was standing on a reef
when the tide came in
swept beneath the surface
lost without a trace

Neil clearly hasn't beaten out his pain yet, because many of the songs do seem to have a depressing theme or at least an aura. And he beats his drums with a kind of ferocity that simply wasn't on any other Rush cd I've heard. He also places a lot of emphasis on the night, writing about the moon in Earthshine and about dreams in Nocturne. And the ever-popular subject of the meaning of life is tackled in The stars look down:
What is the meaning of this?
the stars look down
what are you trying to do?
the stars look down

Oh, and before I forget, the boys decided that they weren't finished with the Fear trilogy after all, and added another part called Freeze.

One of the major problems with Vapor Trails is that quite a few songs sound similar, so if you hear them on the radio, don't expect to be able to identify them in just a couple of notes. Alex's guitar and Geddy's bass and vocals remain as awe-inspiring as ever, make no mistake, but Vapor Trails is still a group effort if ever one existed. No members of Rush are trying to compete like in the past (at least that's how I think of it. But hey, these guys are the best at what they do, and a little friendly competition is what gave them their sound).

And even after all the sorrow and darkness, Rush still ends Vapor Trails on a positive note with Out of the Cradle:
it's a method on the edge of madness
it's a balance on the edge of a knife
it'a a smile on the edge of sadness
it's a dance on the edge of life

Does that mean we'll hear more Rush? Let's hold our breaths on that one.

Vapor Trails may seem a little odd at first, but it grows on you. Of course, like every other Rush cd, you do have to enter it with an open mind. Don't be expecting A Farewell to Kings or a Moving Pictures, and you'll find Vapor Trails to be one of the best cds Rush has ever made. If we have to wait another six years for a Rush cd as good as this, I won't mind.


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More Vapor Trails reviews
review by . July 05, 2002
posted in Music Matters
A rich, complicated album. The first time I put it in (I'm a HUGE Rush fan since 1976) I enjoyed it but worried it might be a bit plodding. A week later, I couldn't turn the darn thing off!!! It is a textured album, every song dense with sound. No signature guitar solos, but it still jams. Peart's drumming is not as obviously flashy, but it's pretty darn solid, and Geddy's bass has never been fleeter.The lyrics are truly outstanding. Remembering Neil Peart's tragedies of recent years makes these …
review by . June 01, 2002
It took me several listens to start enjoying this album. It definitely rock hard, but it's also Rush's most complex album in many years, with a recording that perhaps needed some more clarity.That said, I think the songwriting is outstanding. Initially I have to admit all the songs kind of bled together indistinguishably and it was a difficult album to listen to. However, as I began to dissect the music, I found I liked it quite a bit! Complex textures abound on this album, as Alex Lifeson explores …
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Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial.      Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
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The songs onVapor Trailsmay not be as instant or accessible as those on their previous albums, but the Canadian trio is definitely playing harder and bolder than they have in years. Layers of guitars have replaced most of the keyboards, setting Alex Lifeson free to explore new territories and textures. Geddy Lee is also given more playing space, such as on "Peaceable Kingdom," where his bass parts take the role of rhythm guitar. The arrangements are intricate and interesting throughout, yet never overwhelming. "Secret Touch" twists and builds from melody to a monsterous jam, while Neil Peart's awe-inspiring drums give extra power and dynamics to the album's heavier numbers, such as "Nocturne" and the bombastic lead cut, "One Little Victory." Lee's vocals and harmonies add great depth to "Earthshine," while the airy "How It Is" soothes with nice open chords and jangling guitars. Rush has taken one step forward while keeping one foot back in a rawer sound, all the while continuing to evolve musically.--Gail Flug
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Label: Atlantic, Wea
Artist: Rush
Release Date: May 14, 2002

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