20 Rush Albums in 20 Days: Test for Echo
DAY THIRTEEN: Rush, Test for Echo, running time 53:25, released September 10, 1996
Quick: name the only Rush album whose opening track has never been played live beyond the tour that supported that particular album. You guessed it: Test for Echo, a largely unrepresented album on Rush tours, with only two songs, “Driven” and “Resist,” cracking the set list since 1997. Perhaps for that reason it’s easy to overlook this album, and many Rush diehards consider this among Rush’s worst efforts. But try listening to it again and you might conclude that it’s actually among the band’s best in the last thirty years. I did.
Continuing the trend started on Counterparts (with the same producer, Peter Collins, who also produced – as difficult as it is to believe – Power Windows and Hold Your Fire), Test for Echo zips along with a heavier, guitar-oriented sound, powerfully blending effective riffs, technical time signatures and memorable melodies. What else are you looking for from Rush? The opening track seemed an odd choice to me back when it was released in 1996 since I was used to the energetic, spirited number to kick off an album, but “Test for Echo” sets the mood perfectly, mirroring the bewilderment expressed in the lyrics of a pop culture that glorifies crime. “Half the World” – a radio-friendly song reminiscent of “New Word Man” – didn’t even make the live album from this tour, but to me it’s a terrific piece with compelling lyrics and a great hook, and “Time and Motion” is a barnburner that harkens back to Rush of the early 80s; it’s my favorite song from the album. Even more accessible tracks like “Virtuality” have some incredible moments, with a driving opening riff before resolving into a pop-friendly chorus. This was a song I sort of dreaded listening to with its cheesy lyrics, but today it worked for me. Tomorrow, perhaps not. Opinions are finicky things.
The only two tracks that truly stumble on the album are “Limbo,” a meandering instrumental with no discernible hook, and “Dog Years,” a song that starts off fine before losing its air on a lackluster chorus and an even worse outro. And on the otherwise good track, “Resist,” Geddy overcomplicates things by harmonizing his lead vocal part throughout, muddying a melody that’s only allowed to shine on the live version from Different Stages. A few of the tunes have one section too many, as if Lee and Lifeson felt compelled to include every line of Peart’s lyrics. “Virtuality” is one example. The section that begins, “Let’s dance tonight to a virtual song” detracts from the rest of the piece, and “Dog Years” and “Totem” follow similar courses.
Ultimately, the best of Test for Echo isn’t quite as good as the best of Counterparts, but its weaker tracks are better, making the album a more solid, consistent effort.
Tomorrow, I’ll be listening to…drum roll, please…number 4. I’ll be rewinding a full two decades to the album that kept Rush from calling it a day: 2112.