Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Music > New Single Watch > Rush

Last week, a member of this blog had some choice unflattering words to say about a musical genre near and dear to my heart. In this post, he particularly took the time to malign one of my favorite bands of all time - the quintessential Canadian power-prog-trio Rush. Rather than launch into a vitriolic, comments-section-worthy battle of opinions, I decided this week to take a look into the future and write a little about Rush's new single. That's right: even though all three band members are pushing 60 years old and have been rocking together for 35 of those years, they're still coming out with new material.

"Caravan" (along with B-Side "BU2B") was released June 1, 2010 to radio stations and for digital download. The two songs will be included in the band's upcoming album Clockwork Angels, which is currently slated for a 2011 release. They're also planning on playing both songs in this year's "Time Machine Tour" (for which I bought tickets the day they came out, so expect a full review of the show the week of August 16. Also possibly a five-part retrospective on Rush's career in the five weeks prior to the concert, just to get you/myself in the mood).

If you happened to budget an extra six minutes to your blog-reading time this afternoon, I encourage you to check out the single below. Or, if you like, continue through the jump for some commentary.

Caravan - 5:41

After a mostly atmospheric opening, the main theme rises slowly, as if out of the depths, before bursting out full force. It's a pretty rudimentary melody, with the guitar (Alex Lifeson) and bass (Geddy Lee) echoing each other in descending chromatic intervals of the E-minor scale. Musically, this song is all about simple building blocks: an easygoing theme, devoid of virtuosic flourishes, a regular time signature, except for an extra beat thrown in before the chorus, and minimalistic arrangement, without excessive synthesizers that characterized the band's '80s repertoire.

Because of the musical simplicity in the verse/chorus, some of Neil Peart's lyrics (that's right, the drummer is also the lyricist; Lee and Lifeson collaborate on writing the music) seem to float over the melody rather than seamlessly intertwine with it. The lyrics present imagery juxtaposing a modern steam train with traditional covered wagons/camels (two types of "caravans"), and further explore the theme of traveling into the city where a young man doesn't have to stop "thinking big" (see "Subdivisions" and "Dreamline" for other examples of this theme). Despite some lyrical confusion, the format does allow for drawn out instrumental breaks, which allow the band's true talents to shine through, without the distraction of Geddy Lee's grandma-esque vocals.

BU2B - 4:21

"BU2B" starts off with a driving 4/4 rhythm, which continues throughout. It's a solid groundwork, perfectly framing lyrics that reference the precepts of Deism (referring to God as a "loving Watchmaker" who "loves us all to death") and questioning established beliefs learned in childhood - the title is an acronym for the first line, "brought up to believe," which, I'm embarrassed to admit, I wouldn't have figured out had my girlfriend not spelled it out for me. Sometimes there are parts of Rush that go over my head... and they're not even the parts meant to mystify.

The song is very much a continuation of "The Larger Bowl" off 2007's Snakes & Arrows, both in content and in structure. Excluding the outlying second verse, the second line of each "stanza" becomes the first line of the following stanza, with the final line of the song an echo of the opening line. "Larger Bowl" follows the obscure (and pretentious) Pantoum poetic structure, where the second and fourth lines of one stanza become the first and third lines of the next stanza, and so on until it all comes full circle. "Larger Bowl" also deals with ideas such as questioning the universe's plan.

I know only two songs from Clockwork Angels have been revealed so far, but I see some similarities in style between the style of their new songs and the style of Snakes & Arrows three years ago. The sound is harder, the mix is back to basics, and lyrical content is equal parts poignant and personal. Gone are the anthems about man's capacity to act and sweeping epics about mystical, poetic opium-dreams. The lyrics are a little heady and pretentious, sure, but they're about what thoughtful people tend to think about. And all three of them can absolutely tear up their respective instruments - not counting the vocal instrument. But I'm a firm believer in the theory that Geddy Lee's willingness to multitask (bass and vox and keyboards) has helped keep the band together these long years, as there's no drama/baggage commonly associated with a dedicated lead singer.

As far as the big picture (and with a career spanning more than 35 years, we're talking BIG picture) Clockwork Angels will be Rush's 19th studio album. The band's oeuvre can be pretty accurately broken down into eras, each spanning four albums, with the fourth generally the most innovative and exciting of the grouping. At #19, Clockwork Angels would be the third in the current four-album series, which started with 2002's Vapor Trails, the band's first album following an five-year hiatus that began after the tragic deaths of Neil Peart's daughter and wife. If they're true to form, we can bet on these rock legends producing some compelling material in the years to come.