20 Rush Albums in 20 Days: Signals
DAY FIFTEEN: Rush, Signals, running time 43:12, released September 9, 1982
The change between Moving Pictures to Signals is enormous, the latter providing a richer texture with more keyboards, a fuller sound and an electric violin to boot. Even Geddy’s voice is different here, as he uses his lower register throughout and employs heavy reverb and delay. I was expecting not to like Signals very much, and to be sure, it falls flat on a few tunes, but it held a few pleasant surprises for me.
The first two tracks should be surprises to no one. The album begins with Geddy’s low synth – talk about “signaling” a change in the band’s direction – and continues with Neil Peart’s best lyric ever in “Subdivisions.” “The Analog Kid” is among the band’s best ever, offering a brief return to a heavier guitar sound before heading back to the rich keyboard sound of “Chemistry,” a good track that struggles mightily to overcome its cheesy lyrics (credited to all three band members! Not sure three heads were better than one in this case). “Digital Man” is a great track that would sound right at home on Grace Under Pressure, with Alex’s crunchy chord-driven guitar part. Here, the band employs keyboards just the right amount, not as a lead instrument but as a texture-adding element, even contributing a rhythmic pulse during the chorus, a technique used on the next track as well, “The Weapon.” This song that starts strong before laboring about half-way through, especially during the instrumental section that offers dated keyboard patches and little forward momentum (a sign of what was to come on some of the songs from the band’s next release).
Just as the album begins to drag a bit, “New World Man” does for Signals what “Kid Gloves” does for Grace Under Pressure, breathing new life and energy into the mix, with a running time of less than four minutes (and serving as Rush's highest-charting single ever). I’d never been a fan of “Losing It,” but today I really appreciated the verses that dance over the initial 5/8 rhythm. Lovely stuff. It’s also cool that Lifeson was willing to share soloing duties with Ben Mink’s electric violin, but like “The Weapon,” this song loses steam about half-way through. The last track, “Countdown,” is a bit of time capsule, both musically and lyrically, and for me it was never one of Rush’s stronger tracks, as it meanders through too many different sections without offering enough of a hook.
When I saw my first Rush concert in October of 1982, they played every song from Signals except “Losing It.” In recent years, “Analog Kid” has made a welcomed comeback, and “New World Man” and “Digital Man” have been played as well within the last decade or so.
All in all, a good recording, probably on par with Grace Under Pressure, though I think I favor the latter just a bit more.
Tomorrow, I’ll be listening to…drum roll, please…number 14, Roll the Bones, as Rush throws its hat into the world of rap. Get ready…