After more than two decades of delivering hit albums on an almost yearly basis, the members of Rush took three years off from each other to break the pattern of being in the band and find themselves as human beings.
Bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee spent time with his family, guitarist Alex Lifeson released his first solo album, and drummer/lyricist Neil Peart pursued various projects, including the Buddy Rich tribute series "Burning For Buddy."
When they reconvened early this year to record their 16th studio album, Lee, Lifeson, and Peart found a renewed musical spirit that's evident throughout "Test For Echo." The Atlantic album will be released Sept. 10.
Lifeson says, "We've always been close, but the three of us reached a new level in our relationship, and I think it really shows on this record. The last time we had that vibe was on 'Moving Pictures,'" the Canadian band's 1981 double-platinum album, which yielded the hits "Tom Sawyer" and "Limelight."
Although the members of Rush knew they risked losing touch with their fan base by taking three years between studio albums, the break was critical for them, according to Lifeson.
"After 20 years, we needed to just explore ourselves as people. Our lives had been centered around the band," he says. "When I think back over the last 20 years, I think in terms of tours, or where were we recording at any given time. My connection is always to the band, and we needed to break away from that."
It took some settling in, but after an initial soul-searching period of working together, the band found its creative muse again.
"During that first week, I really wondered about the future," says Lifeson. "I thought that maybe this was going to be the last record, and maybe we would tour it, maybe not. But once we got into it and once we finished the record, I thought, 'We've got a lot of stuff in us yet.' We were already talking about the next record while we were working on this record. I know there's a future there for us."
Highlights on "Test For Echo" include the epic-sounding title track and first single, which explores themes of global communication: the acoustic-oriented "Half The World," featuring Lifeson on the mandola; the instrumental "Limbo," the title of which is a tongue-in-cheek reference to Rush Limbaugh; and "Virtuality," a song about life on the Internet.
The album was recorded at Bearsville Studios near Woodstock, N.Y., and McClear-Pathe and Reaction Studios in Toronto with Peter Collins, whose credits also include Jewel, Bon Jovi, and Suicidal Tendencies. It was engineered by Clif Norrell and mixed by Andy Wallace.
As it did on 1993's "Counterparts," Rush has minimized the use of keyboards and concentrated on solid, bass-drum-guitar grooves.
Lifeson says, "We've been working towards that for a while now. Even with [1991's] 'Roll The Bones' we were starting to go more in the direction of getting back to a three-piece sound. And it's been progressive since then. This record has virtually no keyboards."
"Test For Echo," which will be released worldwide simultaneously by Atlantic, will be worked aggressively to Rush's core fan base, according to Atlantic VP Vicki Germaise, who says the title track will go to album rock radio Sept. 6. Atlantic plans to follow that track with "Half The World" and "Virtuality," which Germaise believes have the potential to cross over into pop.
"If you look at where Metallica's getting played-rock-oriented top 40 stations-this really sounds mainstream for them," says Germaise, referring to "Half The World."
Jo Robinson, assistant PD and music director and midday DJ and music director and midday DJ at active rock station WRCX Chicago, finds the Metallica analogy appropriate. She says, "About eight months ago, [PD] Dave Richards said, 'Let's start testing some old Metallica. Let's make sure it's cool to play a lot of Metallica in anticipation of their new album.'
"Well, when we found out about the Rush album, we looked at each other and said, 'This is the same situation. This will be an event in Chicago the same way the Metallica album was an event. We'll make it seem uncool not to listen to Rush.'"
Retailers are equally excited about the prospect of a Rush album. John Grandoni, director of purchasing at Carnegie, Pa.-based, 155-store National Record Mart, says, "We're already getting some requests for the new album. We've always done well with Rush. I'm sure sales will be excellent in the first two weeks, but the key will be to go beyond the hardcore fans and spread it to the next generation."
Rush plans to tour behind "Test For Echo" starting Oct. 18 in Albany, N.Y. and will swing through various points in North America until early next year, according to Lifeson. The band will return in the spring of 1997, hitting amphitheaters and sheds.
During that break, Rush will mix its fourth live album, which will feature material recorded on the "Counterparts" and "Test For Echo" tours, as well as previously unreleased tracks from a late-'70's date at London's Hammersmith Odeon, according to Lifeson.
Rush's shows are booked by International Creative Management in the U.S. and the Agency Group in London.
The group's music is published by Toronto-based Mark Cain Music.