Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Review: "Permanent Waves"

Coming off the success of Hemispheres, Rush was ready to switch gears a bit.  Their new album, Permanent Waves, was released on January 1 of 1980, perhaps indicative of a new beginning for the band.  

(The album cover is unique in that it is the only Rush album to have a band member on the cover, albeit not recognizably so - that's Neil Peart in the background, waving next to the sign)

This is one of the band's many transitional albums, as they shift from one musical style to another.  There's still a strong prog-rock feel to the album, including two longer pieces, but the shorter pieces have more of a hard rock feel to them, even though synthesizers playing a larger role on this album than previous ones.   The natural response from many prog fans is that this is when the band began to 'sell out', but it's probably more fair to say that, as the group's musical and lyrical prowess continued to improve, their ability to craft catchy-yet-engaging singles had also improved.  It's not that the shorter pieces have been dumbed down in any way, but rather that the band was developing the ability to make musically complex and multi-layered pieces that were nonetheless more accessible to a wider audience.  The album's first track, 'The Spirit Of Radio', received a good amount of airplay on album format stations, and along with 'Freewill' would remain classic rock staples to this day.

It wasn't just the musical side of the band that was evolving.  Starting with this album, Peart would mostly abandon using fantasy and science-fiction motifs for his lyrics, instead moving toward a more philosophical approach.  The albums's two longer pieces, 'Jacob's Ladder' and 'Natural Science', both employ a science-as-metaphor technique, something Peart would periodically go back to on later albums.  Also, Geddy Lee lowered his vocals a bit, helping to make their songs a little more accessible to the general listening public.

This is another extremely strong album, one that became a huge seller for the band - it would reach #4 on the US album charts, and eventually go Platinum.  The band were long past their initial growing pains, and were willing to move beyond the confines of the prog-rock ghetto, all the while retaining their own unique musical style.  Permanent Waves is considered a classic by most Rush fans, and for good reason - although sometimes it is overshadowed by what was to follow.

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