In disgust, I ripped my headphones from my head and dropped them on the desk. My head slumped a little.
It was finally time for Rush, i.e. singer and bassist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer Neil Peart, to call it a career. Or so I thought after listening to Snakes & Arrows upon its release May 1, 2007, the band’s 18th studio album. The 13 song, 62 minute record was hardly ear candy, instead Snakes and Arrows went down more like sour milk.
Then I listened again. And again. By the third or fourth go-round Snakes and Arrows was not only starting to sound like Rush but much of the album indeed continued where the opening song “Far Cry” – with that pulsating hook showing more than anything Rush remained in their prime – began which probably led to the initial high expectation to start, being the album’s first single release.
Consider Snakes & Arrows as the gift that keeps on giving just as long as you take the time to slowly unwrap every layer and nuance contained in one of Rush’s best albums.
Rush Snakes and Arrows Album Review
“Far Cry” opens Snakes and Arrows in a sprint to the finish much like the band accomplished with “One Little Victory” to begin Vapor Trails but the following four songs roll back the quick tempo and racing melody for an almost subdued pace that initially doesn’t work in any of the songs’ favor.
A laboring guitar along with a degree of heaviness underlies “Armor and Sword” while “Workin’ Them Angels” brightens things up before embracing the weightier sonics and then “The Larger Bowl” drops the mood real quick. “Spindrift” continues this somewhat gloomy pace now nearly midway through the album.
But all four tracks contain a majestic quality to the arrangements, you just need to find it. The sometimes overarching guitar chords take a bit to sink in but the tender acoustic moments offset and compliment the frequent intensive approach. You won’t find Lee singing much better than on “Workin’ Them Angels” or “The Larger Bowl,” and though “Spindrift” gets a bit cumbersome the chorus and Lifeson’s guitar solo strengthen this one.
“The Main Monkey Business,” the first of three instrumentals on the album, highlights the mastery of what Rush does best – arranging songs with varying tempos and time signature changes thereby incorporating several different sounding sections into one cohesive unit to create the best Rush instrumental in this melodic achievement that takes the listener to various euphonious places.
The run of near perfection ends as Snakes & Arrows hits a rough patch in “The Way the Wind Blows” a band favorite according to Lee who said as much when introducing the song live. Not so much for fans though as this one let the wind out of the sails in concert and on the album too. On the whole, not a bad song nor a skipper, at least on every run though the album, but it fails to impress much and lacks a strong melody.
But “Hope” delivers an Alex Lifeson classic. A sweet guitar instrumental, dripping with emotion made better only with another minute of this short two minute acoustic goodness. A tough listen nowadays to be honest.
The sails drop again on “Faithless” a song about having no faith in some immortal power who controls the dice. Peart was not shy in his disdain for religion but we got the point a few albums ago and the accompanying music, despite a rather pleasant chorus, sinks this one like a rock.
Rush resumes control from here on out as the rest of Snakes and Arrows heads in a different direction musically and consummates the first half by using favorable rock rhythms starting with “The Bravest Face” a somewhat out of the box piece featuring a tinge of blues and contrasting stripped down sections giving Lee the driver’s seat vocally. A strong deep album cut in “Good News First” probably won’t invite new fans but the faithful will certainly enjoy this rather quirky upbeat prog rocker. The third instrumental “Malignant Narcissism” rocks pretty steady, was nominated for a Grammy and the song’s brevity the only complaint.
Finally, “We Hold On” closes out the album in another classic album-ending song filled with cutting guitar, balanced by occasional softer strings and Lee, again, in another fine vocal performance.
Snakes & Arrows ranks in the Top 5 of Rush albums and if not for just two songs this near masterpiece of a hard rock album would get the rare “A” grade.
Rush Snakes and Arrows Songs:
- Far Cry
- Armor and Sword
- Workin’ Them Angels
- The Larger Bowl
- The Main Monkey Business
- The Way the Wind Blows
- Bravest Face
- Good News First
- Malignant Narcissism
- We Hold On