Music Preview: 'Snakes And Arrows' Finds The Canadian Trio Vital After Nearly 40 Years

By Scott Mervis, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 21, 2007

As true believers Tony Soprano and Adam Sandler must know, people don't pay much attention these days to a new record by Journey or Styx.

Most of those bands that emerged in the mid- to late '70s as the pillars of album-oriented rock cling to the work of their past but lost their relevance long ago. Part of the problem was the challenge they created for fans in even keeping track of who was still in the band.

Rush is another story. Although the band has always engendered strong feelings, good and bad, a new Rush album still matters, and you won't find the Canadian trio pairing up with REO Speedwagon or anyone else for a nostalgia trip. It's a full evening of Rush, with two long sets and a focus on new material.

The band's latest record, "Snakes and Arrows," its first in five years, entered the Billboard chart at No. 3 when it was released last month, making it Rush's highest chart debut since "Counterparts" in 1993. Rather than dropping out of sight, it's still holding at around No. 60, and the single "Far Cry" was the most added track on rock radio.

Not only is "Snakes and Arrows" popular, it's good. No, great. Having been at this for nearly 40 years now, Rush remains an instrumental powerhouse, and the record is smartly themed to these times where faith and religion have driven people to war.

Without being too direct or preachy, lyricist Neil Peart addresses such issues as 9/11, the Iraq War, the Patriot Act, Katrina and global warming when he has vocalist Geddy Lee wailing, "It's a far cry from the world we thought we'd inherit/It's a far cry from the way we thought we'd share it."

On "The Way the Wind Blows," Alex Lifeson generates a nasty blues riff worthy of Page or Hendrix for Lee to lament, "Now it's come to this/Wide-eyed armies of the faithful/From the Middle East to the Middle West/Pray, and pass the ammunition."

Ultimately, though, "Snakes and Arrows" isn't the message of despair one might find from an Ozzfest band. Rush signs off with "We Hold On," which Peart discusses in the essay on the band's Web site: "If many of the other lyrics illuminate the struggles we all have to face, in love and in life," he writes, "this one shows how we deal with it: We hold on."

"Snakes and Arrows" began to take shape in the winter of 2006 when Lee and Lifeson visited Peart in Quebec with demos they had made in Lee's Toronto studio. They were rough songs made from the lyrics the drummer had sent them.

"It is always a thrill to hear my words sung for the first time, when those dry, printed lines I've labored over finally become charged with life," Peart writes.

"Plus, there's a sense of affirmation in knowing that Geddy found those words worth singing (many are sent; few are chosen)."

While hard-core Rush fans might get impatient through the five-year gaps of new material, Peart notes that it's better that the band work on its own mature time schedule.

"Three decades of working together have given us wells of experience to draw upon, sure, but perhaps more important are the longer intervals between songwriting sessions, when we can let those aquifers fill. In the early years, it was an album every six months, then every year, then every two years, but in the past decade, for one reason and another, it's been five years between projects. And it seems that with more time to learn and grow, we can still surprise ourselves."

Among the nice surprises on "Snakes and Arrows" are the instrumentals that showcase Lifeson's guitar work, particularly "The Main Monkey Business," a propulsive blend of acoustic and crunching electric guitars.

"There's a lot of playing on this record," Lifeson told Billboard. "To me, it's got our whole history in it, somehow. It's got little bits of the way we wrote songs in the past, the kind of chords we might have used, but not in a nostalgic kind of way."

Part of what keeps Rush current is the renewed interest in progressive rock (even Wilco has a prog song on the new record) and the number of bands that grew up on Rush that now reflect that influence, from Tool to Coheed & Cambria to Mastodon.

"We like to feel we're current," Lee told Billboard. "We listen to a lot of younger bands, especially Alex. A lot of those bands cite us as an influence. It's ironic that bands that have been influenced by our playing or our past have some instruction for us, too. They help us grow."

Where: Post-Gazette Pavilion.
When: 7:30 p.m. Monday.
Tickets: $25-$81. 412-323-1919.