Rush has never been in a hurry.
In the 33 years since the release of their self-titled debut, the band has released 25 studio and live albums at a pace that has been as steady as the march of time.
But it's been five years since the Canadian rockers last studio release, "Vapor Trails." So the anticipation for "Snakes & Arrows" has been understandably high. Whether it is worth the wait depends on whether you consider Rush avant-rock gods or digital dorks. But the CD did debut at No. 3 - and there aren't many bands who've been around as long as they have who can claim that feat. Or claim that they've remained relevant.
"It took a while," concedes vocalist-bassist-keyboardist Geddy Lee. "We wanted to do a couple of different things musically and present a fresher, more original approach. We wrote a lot of acoustic and bass and tried to make sure we were not seduced by techno. The aim was to produce intelligent melodies and songs that were strong and meaningful, and I think we did."
Now on a 62-city tour that will take them as far as Helsinki, Rush -which also includes drummer-lyricist Neil Peart and guitarist Alex Lifeson - stops at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut tomorrow night to play in the Arena. Tonight the band is at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, N.J. They've also just signed to play Madison Square Garden on Sept. 17.
A lot more mature than in the screechy, early days of "Caress of Steel," Rush is more contemplative in "Snakes & Arrows" than at any time in their history.
"We wanted to reflect a lot on the issues of the day," says Lee. "How our lives are reflected by extreme religious behavior - both near and far away. The point Neil is trying to make in his lyrics is that it is not just the world of Islam. Any extreme religious behavior is bad, whether it be Middle East or the Middle West. You walk through airports and see what everyday folks have to deal with."
Why does Rush feel it has to comment on the religious inclinations of the world?
"Because that is the world we face," says Lee. "This album is more topical. The world has changed a lot in a very short period of time. There's been a lot of conversation, a lot of books written recently about religion - of how God plays in people's lives."
So Rush has become more spiritual? "I dunno. We have always dealt with the world in our own way. One common theme has always been the circumstances that luck - or lack of it - plays in your life."
Don't believe that Lee has suddenly been struck by a lightning bolt and gotten religion. "I'm a cultural Jew," he says with a laugh. "I love my Jewish sense of humor, but I'm not a practitioner."
The CD, however, is loaded with spiritual sensibilities.
Unlike albums in which bands wait until the middle before unveiling their signature track, "Snakes & Arrows" opens with the top single, "Far Cry," which Lee admits "is our most dynamic song."
Although it starts out decrying "the world we thought we'd inherit," the song is "full of indomitable optimism," Lee insists. "It is about the idealism we have for the world. It's about what we have been given to deal with - and that's okay."
Similarly, "The Way the Wind Blows" philosophizes on how nature shapes our psyches.
To these ears, "Armor and Sword" - with its reference to snakes and arrows - paints a bleaker picture of the world than the optimism Lee says they sought in the CD. But in the final analysis, it is what the audience comes away with that is important to the group.
"I want them to smile and enjoy [the music]," he says, when asked what he hopes his Mohegan Sun gathering realizes from the concert. "We want them to get as much of a visual sensation as an aural sensation out of it, and we will also try to make them laugh. They should leave feeling they had a great musical experience."
After a pause, Geddy Lee adds, "Look, I have two children, aged 27 and 13. I want them to be proud that I was a musician and made some decent music. That is what I hope my legacy will be."