Monday, November 12, 2012

Why 'Signals' Is My Favorite Rush Album

This came from a post I left at Blabbermouth on the 30th anniversary of my favorite Rush album. Another post had suggested that the guitars on the album had been overdubbed. I think that the poster assumed that Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson were both playing keyboards throughout the album, then Alex went back and added his guitars. The poster was actually right - sort of. Here's what I posted in response, along with a later follow-up.

Uh, the guitars weren't 'overdubbed', not at least in the way you're thinking. Y'see, back in the day, Moog made these wonderful things called Taurus pedals. Basically, it was organ footboard (think Ray Manzarek of The Doors, playing bass with his feet while playing the keyboard 'lead' with his hands) that worked as a synthesizer. In the days before MIDI sequences, Geddy and Alex both had Taurus pedals in their rigs (and I'm pretty sure that Geddy still uses a modern version to this day) to play single-note keyboard lines with their feet while they played guitar/bass/keyboards with their hands. Which basically meant that three guys could play five parts live. Which they did. Well.

If you listened carefully, you could often hear what Rush was themselves listening to in their music. And Signals was clearly influenced by Kraftwerk, and also by Gary Numan. That cold, isolated, mechanically precise sound pervades every track of the album from start to finish. 'Subdivisions' was the song that latched itself into my very soul, a indictment of sterile, manicured urban sprawl that to this day still sends chills down my spine and makes me stop whatever I'm doing to listen to it in utter silence.

There simply isn't a bad track on the album, which is a watershed moment for the band. This was the last album that Terry Brown produced for them, as well as the last album before MIDI-capable (digital) synthesizers became the norm and the old analog synths were swept aside. Signals was a preview of what was to come for the next decade for the band, though thankfully they kicked the habit eventually. Not that any of the synth-heavy albums of that era sucked. IMHO Rush has yet to make a bad album.

My personal favorite song from Signals is the one song on the album that's never been played live, and that would be 'Losing It'. Ben Mink's cameo on electric violin is jaw-dropping. Trying to play it on guitar would would probably be the stuff of nightmares. And Neil's tale of loss and regret even then made the twelve-year-old me sad, because I knew even then that someday I would be the faded, injured dancer, that someday I would be the suicidal writer, each trying desperately to recapture the fire of youth one last time. Powerful stuff, that.

Overall, while Moving Pictures was much, much more successful commercially (and justifiably so), I think this album was far more influential than many might think. Listen to Signals end-to-end, and eventually you'll realize just how much this album influenced future generations. I hear this album's influence every time I listen to Fear Factory, Rammstein, even Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson. That fusion of hard-rock riffs and icy synthwork laid the template for new generations of bands to follow in the decades to come.

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