PHILADELPHIA - The cover of Rush's latest album. "Counterparts," shows things that can't exist alone, such as a nut and bolt.
The CD itself showcases three other things that haven't existed apart for the past 20 years: drummer-lyricist Neil Peart, guitarist Alex Lifeson, and bassist-singer Geddy Lee.
Peart attributes the Canadian band's longevity to a combination of Lifeson's spontaneity, Lee's "melodic instinct" and "meticulous Passion," and his own "obsessive drive."
"We root each other and we uproot each other," said Peart.
Rush has been pushing the envelope of progressive rock since its first self-titled album in 1974, combining sonic power and intricacy with lyrical integrity and intelligence. Lee's bass playing has influenced countless musicians to take the instrument out of its strictly rhythmic role and into a melodic one.
They've done everything from concept albums ("2112") to live albums ("All the World's a Stage," "Exit?Stage Left," "A Show of Hands"O. Their classic, "Tom Sawyer," from 1981's "Moving Pictures," is still one of the most requested songs on rock radio. Rush has done 18 records, including a double disc anthology in 1990, "Chronicles."
The hand's 19th effort is pared down, less dependent on technology and more reliant on the natural sound of guitar, bass and percussion. The band brought back Peter Collins, who had done their more heavily produced records, "Power Windows" (1985) and "Hold Your Fire" (1987), but this time, they wanted simplicity.
The formula seems to have worked - "Counterparts" debuted at No. 2 on Billboard's album charts, the band's highest debuting album ever.
Peart is Rush's wordsmith, and he is fascinated with the concept of yin (the passive and negative female force) and yang (the active and positive male force). He can use a nature metaphor one minute, a technical one the next.
He's also a disciplined writer who favors restraint as opposed to what he calls "unabashed emotionalism."
Here's a lovely example: people always think. 'Oh, it must be so healthy psychologically to be a drummer because you can just smash things all the time,' " Peart said. "Well, you can't. You have to control yourself. You have to smash them at the right time with the right intensity and a sense of flow. l never feel released when I'm playing drums - I just feel tremendously disciplined."
"Counterparts" deals with personal issues: the nature of love ("The Speed of Love," "Cold Fire"); ambition ("Cut to the Chase"); and Carl Jung's concept of the masculine animus and the feminine anima ("Animate").
But Peart says it's not conventionally introspective, but more a combination of personal experience and imagined situations.
"That's really a style of lyricism that I congenially dislike," he said with a laugh. "I'm not really fond of self-revelation in lyrics because I think it's a bit indulgent."
Peart's mind works as deftly as his drum patterns. He speaks of Jung, T.S. Eliot, politics, history, his fascination with Chinese and African culture and his love of cycling in rapid succession.
"These songs grow out of reading and conversations and thinking and driving and collecting phrases," he said.
He keeps a journal while traveling and says he has years worth of material gathered. And he finds certain themes repeating themselves.
"That little gateway between innocence and experience I find I'm always coming back to readdress," he said. "The nature of ambition, for instance, gets examined in some way or another on probably nearly every record."
Critics call Rush stuffy and pompous, and they tend to be a band people either love or can't stand. But their seriousness often masks their humor.
On the "Roll the Banes" tour, two huge inflatable rabbits (echoing the cover of their 1989 album, "Presto" arose from the sides of thc stage and bobbed along in time to "Tom Sawyer." And the title of their live album. "Exit?Stage Left," was in deference to the cartoon character Snagglepuss.
Peart admits that 20 years of touring has taken its toll, and the band has discussed giving it up.
"I always tend to push for continuing to tour because I thank it's So important a part of a vital band," he said. "I think for the risk taking aspect, for the discipline of playing at a hundred percent night alter night, playing live takes you to a level that you would never willingly drive yourself to."
"It's not easy, but I have to think the equation works out for the good. It is good."