Album Review: Rush – Roll the Bones

Rush Roll the Bones album artwork

September 3, 1991.

I left 29 years ago today, far from home, with no way to get Rush’s new album Roll The Bones.

Listening to local rock radio 95.5 KLOS throughout the previous month, DJs teased the new Rush song from the forthcoming album and sometimes pressed play. Always when I was not listening! But a few weeks before the release date, as a friend dropped me off at home after an evening out, a song lit up the car speakers and within seconds I said “This is the new Rush song. Keep driving.” I was right, hearing the instrumental “Where’s My Thing” for the first time.

Back then, new albums needled you. Record stores usually posted updates of upcoming albums then on the expected release date you often learned of delays. Hang on a little longer…

But for Roll the Bones I had to wait an undetermined period of time until I could get to a record store. I found one in Providence, RI and the sounds of Roll the Bones helped define my time at a college studying a subject I had no interest in. Three months later, after questioning “Why I am I here?” and finally withdrawing, on my last night before heading home I saw Rush at the Providence Civic Center on the Roll the Bones Tour.

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Rush Roll the Bones Album Review

At the time, Roll the Bones sounded like a far different release for Rush. In hindsight, the album fits perfectly within the band’s natural musical evolution. Indeed, they rap. Well, not exactly. Not like today’s or even that genre’s garbage from back then (you are correct, I don’t like it) but Rush raps and somehow makes it work in 1991 and nearly 30 years later.

Roll the Bones also represents a high water mark for Geddy Lee’s vocals. You won’t get a finer performance than this album. I stand by it, bring it on. I figured this out many years ago after listening to Roll the Bones with headphones. My thoughts later proven true when Rupert Hine, producer of the album, made it a point to reign in Lee and said in Classic Rock Presents Rush, a one-off Clockwork Angels magazine, “The first thing I did was to ask Geddy Lee to lower his voice by am octave. It was just too shrill.”

So what of Roll the Bones?  In the words of rapper MC Hammer “Break it down!”

Track by track:

1. Dreamline – My brother gave me a license plate frame a couple of years after Roll the Bones dropped, with the words “We’re only immortal / For a limited time.” It has been a constant presence on my car ever since. “Dreamline” is a phenomenal song with Alex Lifeson taking lead on guitar from beginning to end.

2. Bravado – Rush doesn’t do ballads. At least not traditional ballads. But “Bravado” is as close to a Rush ballad as you’ll get. It’s sweet, soft and a bit aching. I cannot listen today without those stinging words “And if the music stops / There’s only the sound of the rain” hitting the emotion detector pretty hard.

3. Roll the Bones – Love the opening and the use of triggered sounds and keyboard effects throughout this piece. The rap song. The section really is quite awesome. Fans know Rush thought long and hard about the rap even considering employing John Cleese and his British accent to voice the middle rap section. Thankfully they didn’t because it would have gotten old real quick instead they went with Lee and pulled it off. On that tour, Lee actually rapped the lyrics (it sure looked it anyway) but on later tours he triggered the vocals. Lee’s bass rules the roost here.

4. Face Up – It’s a decent song. Certainly not groundbreaking or Rush Hall of Fame worthy but doesn’t deserve the “skip” button.

5. Where’s My Thing – A solid instrumental. I don’t think it rises to the level of “YYZ,” “La Villa Strangiato” or “The Main Monkey Business” as it takes a more progressive rock approach vs. a hard rock approach. I do sometimes get this confused with “Leave That Thing Alone” off Counterparts mostly because of the word “Thing” present in both song titles.

6. The Big Wheel – It’s a decent song. Certainly not groundbreaking or Rush Hall of Fame worthy but doesn’t deserve the “skip” button.

7. Heresy – An underrated Rush song and one that deserves some attention. I love the lyrics “All those wasted years / All those precious wasted years / Who will pay?” which are followed by this awesome melodic chorus: “Do we have to be forgiving at last? / What else can we do? / Do we have to say goodbye to the past? / Yes, I guess we do.” Peart opens “Heresy” with a short drum cadence that sets the tone for the rest of the song.

8. Ghost of a Chance – OK, I know this song was a band favorite and fan favorite. They played it live for many years. I enjoy it. It’s also a Rush “ballad” but on this 10 song album it doesn’t even make the Top 5 for me. The melody drags a bit and the overall tempo compared to the rest of the record interrupts the flow of the album.

9. Neurotica – It’s a decent song. Certainly not groundbreaking or Rush Hall of Fame worthy but doesn’t deserve the “skip” button.

10. You Bet Your Life – In some respects, Rush raps on this song too, just not in the same cadence as “Roll the Bones.” Give Rush credit, I didn’t know you could rap other than what already sounds the same song after song after song. At any rate, Lee occasions some powerful vocals on this one and the overall vibe offers a fun, nonchalant melody that sticks with you long after it fades out.

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Rush tried new things and along with Hine produced an effectual album that no doubt raised eyebrows from their fervent fan base at first but eventually turned into a beloved record. I’d be tempted to say it probably didn’t win new fans, however a high school classmate found me that fall when I went to a football game at my alma mater and he apologized for making fun of me for being such a rabid Rush fan.

Roll the Bones got him to understand what I had already known all those precious wasted years.

Grade: B+

Rush Roll the Bones Track List:

  1. Dreamline
  2. Bravado
  3. Roll the Bones
  4. Face Up
  5. Where’s My Thing
  6. The Big Wheel
  7. Heresy
  8. Ghost of a Chance
  9. Neurotica
  10. You Bet Your Life