Rush reaches new heights

Grade A

Canadian rockers Rush are back with a vengeance, bassist and legendarily unpopular vocalist Geddy Lee said. On "Vapor Trails," Rush's first new album since 1996's "Test for Echo," the band makes a loud, aggressive, intense announcement: Rush is once again open for business.

This album should come with a warning label for people with cheap speakers: You will blow your factory cones to hell. Listeners should also note that potential for air drumming is high.

"It's a nice, calm, reflective record. Just take it out to the Zen garden," Lee said in an interview with Mobile Entertainment.

The humor and spirit of Rush has returned. Drummer and lyricist Neil Peart even declares it in "Ceiling Unlimited," the album's second track. "If laughter is a straw for a drowning man/hope is like an endless river, the time is now again." This is a huge statement, considering what this band has been through lately.

After 1996's "Test for Echo," Peart lost his daughter, Selena, in a car accident. One year later, Peart lost his first wife, Jacqueline, to cancer. The future of Rush was unsure, but in 2000, Peart contacted Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson and said that he was ready.

Rush went to work.

Recording and writing sessions that lasted 14 months produced this album, Rush's loudest, heaviest release in years. While "Test for Echo" was hailed as its best and heaviest album upon the release, critics may have to re-think. "Vapor Trails" leaves the previous album in its wake.

"One Little Victory," the opening track, ignites the album with a scorching drum pattern and an onslaught of Lifeson's buzz-saw guitars and Lee's bass. According to Peart's album notes on the official Rush Web site, the song makes "such an uncompromising announcement: They're ba-a-a-ack!"

"Celebrate the moment/As it turns into one more/Another chance at victory/another chance to score," goes the chorus, a declaration by Peart that his ghosts may be at rest and the time to make music has once again arrived. He continues this theme on several tunes, including "Ceiling Unlimited," and "Ghost Rider," the third track.

"Ghost Rider" begins with a chilling opening statement: "Pack up all those phantoms/Shoulder that invisible load," and continues uphill. Peart, known for writing mostly philosophical lyrics, has never been this hauntingly personal.

"Peaceable Kingdom," easily the best song on the disc, is a direct comment about the events of Sept. 11, 2001. The song talks about the difficulty in uniting cultures when one is focused on wishfulness and one is focused on hatred. "It is kind of a prayer in a way, wishing that there could be some other way," Lee said.

"All this time we're hoping and praying we all might learn/While a billion other teachers are teaching them how to burn," speaks of the futility of dreams against hatred, while the chorus, "Dream of a peaceable kingdom/Dream of a time without war/The ones we wish could hear us/Have heard it all before," only reinforces the song's philosophical stance.

As is the norm with Rush releases, mobs of non-fans will run screaming from this album. However, new fans are always welcome to join the curious brotherhood of proud dorks that comprise most of Rush's fan base.

"Knowing that our music is nothing, if not idiosyncratic, and doesn't really cater to popular taste, we also envisioned advertising slogans along the lines of, 'If you hated them before, you'll really hate them now!' or 'And now more of everything you always hated about Rush!'" Peart wrote.

This summer, as Rush tours again, true fans will once again gather, rejoicing at drummer and lyricist Neil Peart's newest verses or dissecting guitarist Alex Lifeson's newest guitar layering. Brave ones may even sing along with Geddy Lee's trademark screeching.

Welcome back, everyone.


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