WITH LITTLE FANFARE at home, Rush just carries on as Canada's leading export to the world of pop music.
Rush has been on the Canadian scene for almost 20 years now, and its new record, Presto, marks the 17th release for this progressive-rock power trio.
Yet perhaps because they play a loud, abstract and rather unfashionable brand of music, their success may not be widely appreciated in Canada.
But consider their staggering sales figures - 30 million albums worldwide, according to their Toronto-based label Anthem Records.
By comparison, a spokesman for Anne Murray estimates the singer has sold 20 million albums around the world.
For Bryan Adams, the estimate is between 14 and 15 million; for Bachman-Turner Overdrive, about 10 million.
If Rush has become the most successful pop music act in Canadian history, it has done so, in a sense, by ignoring pop trends. Most progressive rockers faded away in the late '70s, but Rush just kept at it, developing an intensely loyal following for a kind of music that, if done right, was plainly still in demand.
This is perhaps the essence of Rush - a serious commitment to their own music combined with strong respect for the audience.
"We always pour our hearts into an album," says drummer and lyricist Neil Peart. "But it's also the artist's responsibility to communicate what you're trying to say well enough, so that people can get it.
"It's not being commercial, it's being accessible."
This kind of conceptual hair-splitting is typical of Peart, who said during a recent interview in Toronto that he likes to "drive semantic wedges into ideas that don't really exist and drag them out and stamp them with something I'm thinking about."
On the new record, Peart deals with a number of these self-created conundrums, especially the distinction between dreams and illusions.
In Peart's view, dreams are realizable goals that inspire one to live a better life; illusions are fantasies, often held over from adolesence, that just defeat one's possibilities.
This can get a bit precious and heady at times - it's progressive rock, after all. But most of the songs on Presto contain an enjoyable blend of spacey metaphor and literal meaning, provided, as always, you can get past the walling vocals of bassist Geddy Lee.
The most striking tune on Presto is a song called The Pass, which contains a gorgeous, haunting melody in a parable about the glorification of toughness and anger. It seems particularly aimed at youth and working-class culture, where the "rebel without a cause" is often viewed as an exciting and romantic figure.
"That's certainly the song I worked hardest on, because it's such a delicate subject," Peart says. "It's sad that there are people who are so fragile that they cannot take the brutality of life, but to start honoring that and seeing it as a heroic epic is something different."
Considering the blue-collar base of a hard-rock audience, this is indeed a delicate point, and more so because Peart, at 37, has achieved success beyond most people's wildest dreams.
On the other hand, Rush have worked their way up from nothing - they released their debut album on their own label after no one else would sign them. And Peart himself used to sell farm machinery by day while playing the drums in bars at night.
Peart's songs, understandably, are optimistic and full of energy, and they seem to stem from a genuine thirst for life. He is an avid cyclist, traveler and adventurer - he recently climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa - and there's a wide-eyed sense of wonder on Presto that grows more infectious with each listen.
"Another theme on the album is response," says Peart. "The idea that you don't go through life just looking at things.
"It doesn't matter if you've been all around the world - you may have seen it, but if you haven't felt it, you haven't been there."