Rush - Vapor Trails

Year of Release: 2002
Label: Anthem/Atlantic
Catalog Number: 7567-83531-2
Format: CD
Total Time: 67:21:00

Love 'em or hate 'em - such is the bane of Rush, Canada's long-enduring power trio. From Rush, the 1974 debut, to 1998's Different Stages, Rush has had a love-hate relationship with diehard fans - including me - and been repeatedly dismissed by many rock critics and listeners. The reasons are set in stone: unorthodox songs, an uncompromising approach to making music, commitment to change with every release, and - the most vilified element of the Rush persona - Geddy Lee's vocals. In keeping with that tradition, Vapor Trails offers listeners plenty to love or hate. Or, more appropriately, love and hate.

When I first heard "One Little Victory" on the radio, I wasn't encouraged. The straight-up hard rock and the vocal arrangements had me worried that Rush had surrendered their unique style for a more contemporary sound. My first few spins of Vapor Trails were similarly disappointing: the production was murky; there were too many over-dubs; keyboards and guitar solos were glaringly absent. Bottom line: Vapor Trails was headed for a permanent place among the rest of the dust-collectors in my cd collection. However, my lifelong affection for Rush has persevered. I keep listening to Vapor Trails and, happily, finding more and more to love.

Let's get the negatives out of the way first. To these ears, the production is the worst I've heard for a Rush album, early 70's releases notwithstanding. The massive layering of guitars and basses creates a sound that reminds me of the Mississippi River at 30 feet above flood stage: a muddy, fast-running mess that's impossible to decipher or control and that buries everything in its path. Adding to the mire is the digital recording and mixing; the songs are so over-treated that crackles and sizzles flow from the speakers (and headphones) unrestrained, sounding like steady rain in places and frying bacon in others (especially noticeable in "How It Is"). But the biggest problems are the arrangements themselves. Rush's decision to not use keyboards for Vapor Trails had me intrigued at first, but filling the key-less spaces with heavily over-dubbed guitars and Lee's wordless harmonies just isn't as satisfying as a well-placed synthesizer or piano melody - or a decent guitar lick, for that matter. Lifeson's emotive soloing is sorely missed, so much that even the layers of intertwining guitar melodies don't come close to compensating. Worst of all, Peart's drums get buried by the proverbial mud, often lost at the bottom of the mix, trapped under Lifeson's guitar tracks and Lee's dominating bass chords. Tragic, that....

So, what is there to love about Vapor Trails? I thought you'd never ask! A-number-1: Vapor Trails is the hardest rocking Rush album in years. For the folks who thought Rush would go soft this time, Vapor Trails is a bare-knuckled sucker punch to the throat. There are no pedestrian moments, no chance for a listener to catch a breath; each song races along according to its spirit, whether it be the uncomplicated hard rock of "One Little Victory", the jangly, Hootie and the Blowfish-style roots rock of "How It Is", or the pounding progressive attack of "Earthshine" and "Freeze (Pt IV of Fear)".

A-number-2: Neil Peart's lyrics are quite possibly better than ever. Clearly, Peart's experiences of the last 5 years have personalized and enlivened his muse, moving his words away from the world perspective to that of the individual. "Ceiling Unlimited" reminds us that there will always be new starts ("The time is now again"); "Ghost Rider" shows us that the joys and sorrows of the past are also a part of the future ("Sunlight on the road behind, sunset on the road ahead") and that we should move forward with our heads up and eyes open. "Secret Touch" is particularly moving, describing the relativity of love and life, that life is the more powerful of the two forces, but also that life directs love to us in its own time.

A-number-3: Vapor Trails is a baker's dozen of pretty damned good songs. Mixing and production notwithstanding, all the songs are well-written and entertaining, many catchy enough that I find myself singing bits and pieces at any given moment. (My favorite refrain is "The way out is the way in" from "Secret Touch".) Favorites? Hell, there are a lot of them, 11 out of 13 songs, I would guess, but.... "Earthshine", Vapor Trails' progressive monster, is my absolute favorite here. The driving verse arrangement is Rush at its hard-rocking finest, but the bridges and choruses bring Yes to mind, with Lee and Peart sounding amazingly like Squire and White, and Lifeson recalling Howe's ethereal soloing. "Secret Touch" entertains by mixing moving lyrics, sweet guitar melodies, hard rock, pounding metal, and a funky closing jam driven by a too-brief solo from Peart. "Freeze (Pt IV of Fear)" - probably the best of the "Fear" entries - reenters the progressive arena, riding high on an offbeat guitar riff and wild tempo changes. "How It Is" vaguely refers to 2112's "Lessons", but the ringing guitars, rolling tempo, and Lee's chorus harmonies are clearly in step with the times, making "How It Is" a prime candidate for release as the next single, one that would not be out of place on the play-lists of alternative rock radio stations. "Out Of The Cradle" rocks Vapor Trails to an appropriate close, restating the premise that "life just is what it is", that the only thing we can do is to never give up, to just keep "endlessly rocking" and make the most of it.

In the end, Vapor Trails is a mixed bag of good songs and bad production values. I, personally, think that Vapor Trails may well be the best Rush album ever, song-wise, but I also think that the sound ranks among the worst I've ever heard - from any artist. If I could have my Christmas present early this year, I would ask for Anthem/ Atlantic to recall all copies of Vapor Trails so Rush could go back into the studio and completely re-do the production. That's not going to happen, so I'll take what's already been given (while keeping my fingers crossed for a re-mix) and advise prospective listeners to approach Vapor Trails with an open mind: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...."

One Little Victory (5:08) / Ceiling Unlimited (5:28) / Ghost Rider (5:41) / Peaceable Kingdom (5:23) / The Stars Look Down (4:28) / How It Is (4:05) / Vapor Trail (4:57) / Secret Touch (6:34) / Earthshine (5:38) / Sweet Miracle (3:40) / Nocturne (4:49) / Freeze (Part IV of "Fear") (6:21) / Out Of The Cradle (5:03)

Geddy Lee - bass, vocals
Alex Lifeson - electric and acoustic guitars, mandola
Neil Peart - drums, percussion

Rush (1974)
Fly By Night (1975)
Caress Of Steel (1975)
2112 (1976)
All The World's A Stage (1976)
A Farewell To Kings (1977)
Hemispheres (1978)
Archives (1978)
Permanent Waves (1980)
Moving Pictures (1981)
Exit ... Stage Left (1981)
Signals (1982)
Grace Under Pressure (1984)
Power Windows (1985)
Hold Your Fire (1987)
A Show Of Hands (1989)
Presto (1989)
Chronicles (1990)
Roll The Bones (1991)
Counterparts (1993)
Test For Echo (1996)
Different Stages (1998)
Vapor Trails (2003)
Rush In Rio (2003)
Feedback (2004)
R30 (2005)
Gold (2006)
Snakes And Arrows (2007)
Snakes And Arrows Live (2008)
Retrospective III (2009)
Working Men (2009)
Grace Under Pressure: 1984 Tour (2009)
Icon (2010)
Time Stand Still: The Collection (2010)
Icon 2 (2011)
Rush ABC 1974: The First American Broadcast (2011)
Sector 1 (2011)
Sector 2 (2011)
Sector 3 (2011)
Moving Pictures: Live 2011 (2011)
Time Machine 2011: Live In Cleveland (2011)
Clockwork Angels (2012)
The Studio Albums 1989-2007 (2013) (boxset) Clockwork Angels Tour (2013)

Exit-Stage Left (VHS) (1982)
Through The Camera Eye (VHS) (1984)
Grace Under Pressure Tour 1984 (VHS) (1986)
A Show Of Hands (VHS) (1988)
Chronicles (VHS/DVD) (1990/2001)
Rush In Rio (DVD/VID) (2003)
R30 (DVD) (2005)
Music In Review 1974-1981 (2006)
Replay X3 (DVD) (2006)
Snakes And Arrows Live (DVD) (2008)
Working Men (DVD) (2009)
Beyond The Lighted Stage (DVD) (2010)
Classic Albums: 2012 - Moving Pictures (2010)
Time Machine 2011: Live In Cleveland (2011)
Clockwork Angels Tour (2013)

Genre: Progressive-Power Metal

Origin CA

Added: June 26th 2002
Reviewer: David Cisco

Artist website:
Hits: 490
Language: english


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