Album Review: Rush – Test for Echo

Rush Test for Echo album cover

The Beatles have the White Album. Metallica has the Black Album.

Rush has the Maligned Album.

Test For Echo.

Hardly a favorite among the Rush elite, Test for Echo, the band’s 16th studio album, was released earlier this month in 1996 and lived on the edge of becoming Rush’s final album as well as a double album. Neither of those details came very close to fruition but nonetheless floated around and emerged later during interviews.

The Test for Echo Tour featured Rush playing “2112” in its entirety and I got a taste of front row seats at the first night of the two-night stand at The Forum. A friend who had connections with the box office upgraded my seats. Turns out, the seats didn’t exist and I was told to go back to the box office just as the lights turned down. Sorry, not missing a minute of Rush so I ended up grabbing front row seats on the side of the stage in an unused open section. Geddy Lee and I had a moment, however so brief.

Personally, Test for Echo proves the notion of how music carves away a long-term emotional response based on the period of your life. Around the time Test for Echo was released I was sick. Nothing major, but something that to this day when I see the cover of Test for Echo or hear, especially the title track, I get this very subtle queasiness.

In some respects Test for Echo turns me off! Until I listen and remember how most of the album qualifies as exceptional Rush music but indeed some of the tracks probably make the Worst Rush Songs list.

Advertisements

Rush Test for Echo Album Review

Test for Echo continues the band’s intentional move away from the keyboards of the 80s to the more guitar focused sound of the 90s that was especially prominent on the prior album Counterparts. The 11-song record stretches nearly 55 minutes and includes an instrumental, lyric help from Pye Dubois and one of the best songs Rush ever recorded…according to guitarist Alex Lifeson who also at the time said Test for Echo was one of Rush’s best albums.

The title track opens the record and may reveal a bit why fans disagree with Lifeson’s assessment. A classic Rush trademark that endeared the Toronto-based trio to many musicians comes from their success in mixing up the time signature in songs. “Test for Echo” ranges from a snail’s pace then to a rabbit’s pace and back again. They may not have incorporated the slow-fast pace through the song as eloquently as past efforts but…”Test for Echo” reverberates as a hard rocker for sure.

In your face guitar opens “Driven” another solid rocker that cranks up Lifeson’s amplifiers who bounces back and forth from heavy electric to sweet acoustic.  “Driven” takes a staccato cue from the opening track by incorporating a bunch of melodies throughout in a range of paces.

“Half the World” brings a softer side of Rush with a pleasant melody even if the chorus repeats a bit too much. I remember an interview with Lee where he was asked something along the lines of whether this song was a return to the sounds of the band’s 1978 album Hemispheres, or something like that, because of the “half the world” words. Perhaps I misunderstood but I found it annoying. Get over it already.

“The Color of Right” could sum up classic 90s Rush. Lots of melodic guitar, stately Lee vocals, nothing overtly hard but about midway a pretty awesome jam commences allowing Lifeson to lead.

The heavy “Time and Motion” slumbers along at times and starts a slow descent for the album. It has a “Red Sector A” feel without the structure or motif but likely would have worked pretty well live. “Totem” closes out the first half of Test for Echo with a kind of folksy riff. You feel like clapping while tapping along with a foot. It doesn’t suck, the chorus gets stuck in your head but it’s just a bit out of kilter for a Rush song.

Advertisements

“Dog Years” won’t win anyone over lyrically, you wonder if the guys at work were having a little fun with this one, but musically it moves along pretty well with solid guitar harmonies that prevent you from hitting the skip button.

Drummer and lyricist Neil Peart certainly had his pulse on the future when he wrote “Virtuality” as the internet was in its infancy when Rush began work on Test for Echo.  Lifeson brought some of his solo album Victor to this song on guitar. “Virtuality” feels hidden away on Test for Echo, an overlooked Rush song that would have fared better positioned on the first half of the record.

“Resist” is one of the best songs Rush has ever recorded and what Lee and Lifeson did with it acoustically on the Vapor Trails Tour and R30 Tour was brilliant and unforgettable.

Test for Echo closes with the instrumental “Limbo” that has its moments but probably ranks last on the list of Best Rush Instrumentals (idea!) and finally “Carve Away the Stone” another folksy type song that doesn’t resonate. It has a pretty solid rock jam halfway with a ripping Lifeson solo but overall “Carve Away the Stone” sounds repetitive and wanting.

Test for Echo surely gives some of the best Rush has to offer but when compared to all the albums prior, also some of the least desired. OK, worst. None of the songs on Test for Echo just plain suck, but they get old quickly.

And, that helps explain why Test for Echo falls on the wayside. You forget all the rock tempos and mellifluous Lifeson guitar featured on more than half the record but when stacked up side by side in a round robin tournament against all other Rush albums you see why Test for Echo keeps losing.

Grade: B

Rush Test for Echo Track List:

  1. Test for Echo
  2. Driven
  3. Half the World
  4. The Color of Right
  5. Time and Motion
  6. Totem
  7. Dog Years
  8. Virtuality
  9. Resist
  10. Limbo
  11. Carve Away the Stone