CD Review of Snakes & Arrows by Rush

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Snakes & Arrows
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First off, it must be said: there ought to be a law stating that no Rush album should ever contain more than ten songs. Eleven Rush songs in one sitting, and you’ve been overserved. The band themselves observed that rule for over ten years, and while there is surely a snarky comment to be made about how that was due to the band’s inability to write more than six or eight good songs at any given time, it will not be made here on the grounds that that would be both untrue and unfair.

This is a strange time to be Rush. On one hand, their music hasn’t been remotely sexy – nor, to be honest, has it been particularly good – since the release of Counterparts in 1993, the last year that classic rock radio meant, well, anything. On the other hand, the bands that are currently in power rotation on modern rock radio are regurgitating classic rock riffs by the pound. (Heard that new White Stripes single yet? Holy recorders, Batman.) This puts Rush in a position to benefit greatly by simply being…Rush. Instead, they make the, ahem, 13-track Snakes & Arrows, the most atypical Rush album of their career. For a band that has had such an insular method to their songwriting, they picked a curious time to display the influences of others.

Leadoff track “Far Cry” is everything you expect from a Rush song, chock full o’ odd time signatures, air guitar-friendly riffs and a nifty pre-chorus/chorus section the likes of which Rush hasn’t assembled in ages. From there, things get, well, interesting. Alex Lifeson’s acoustic guitars get a severe workout on the entire album, including the lilting instrumental “Hope.” “The Way the Wind Blows,” meanwhile, is downright bluesy, or at least the intro and verses are. The chorus is actually kinda schmaltzy.

Lilting? Schmaltzy? Not words that one normally associates with Rush, true. In fairness, this would not be the first time the band has embraced the middle of the road, and many of those songs (“Ghost of a Chance,” “Tears,” “Losing It,” “Different Strings”) rank among the band’s finest. However, Snakes & Arrows strikes this chord much more often than any Rush album has ever dared, and the overall lack of energy from a power rock trio, frankly, is jarring.

As for those new influences, some are more welcome than others. The grandiose “Spindrift” is proof that the band is more than aware of Muse’s existence (full confession: it is this writer’s personal goal to see Rush cover Muse’s “Stockholm Syndrome”), and “Armor and Sword” brings to mind what the front half of Metallica’s “One” would sound like if it included some of Lifeson’s ringing guitar harmonics. “Bravest Face” sounds like King’s X doing an impression of Rush (take that comment any way you like), but perhaps the most startling moment on Snakes & Arrows is “Faithless,” which sounds like…Staind. Yep, Rush found an unlikely ally in Staind’s 12-step lyrical recovery and plodding beats (with all due respect to the losses drummer and lyricist Neil Peart has suffered in the last ten years, reading about it gets ponderous in a hurry). Does the world need two Stainds? Does a Rush album need three instrumental tracks?

Perhaps Snakes & Arrows only seems like a disappointment because it gives the listener literally twice as many opportunities to actually be disappointed as the typical Rush album once did. Cut the track listing down to ten – or if you want to get really old school, six to eight – and we could be talking about the comeback of the year. Instead, we’re talking about the band that wouldn’t leave. What a shame.

~David Medsker