You know that feeling when a band’s best work isn’t their most elaborate one as well? Sometimes, I think Rush peaked with their 1978 album Hemispheres, but at other times I’m more partial to this, despite how it begins to move away from the proggy writing that made the band so powerful in the first place. It was always funny that it began with a scathing indictment of the music industry – “The Spirit of Radio”, folks! I’m surprised the world’s broadcasters didn’t veto it for daring to criticize their perfect little world of ever fewer options, but then again that might’ve unleashed a worse storm upon them than the digital revolution. It must’ve tempted them even then with its extended instrumental intro and strange reggae flavored coda and other deviations from the orthodox pop structure.
Not to dwell on that too much; Permanent Waves has a lot to say from both a musicological and lyrical perspective. While it doesn’t contain any extra lengthy songs (illustrious examples in Rush’s past include “2112” and “Cygnus X-1″) even the shorter songs here retain the elaborate instrumental sections that took up much of the band’s songs. By 1980, Rush’s members had become rather good at playing their instruments – if you ask me, the compositions here don’t really favor one member over another, although you could make a case for Neil Peart’s consistently active style of drumming.
On second thought, what if we did dwell on Rush’s accessible turn? This blog has been sorely lacking in crass anti-commercialism for some time, probably because at one point I figured that wasn’t a particularly useful way to discuss music, but the more I think about it, the more important Rush’s evolution on Permanent Waves seems to understanding it. The first key, though, is actually that music can not be judged by its inaccessibility – the alternative is nobody being able to comprehend or tolerate the best music! The other one, however, is that Rush was already pretty easy to wrap your head around in the 1970s, at least by my jaded standards. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I’m not particularly objective in that regard. Still, Rush doesn’t toss around a lot of avant-gardeisms that some bands I like play with, but they do well enough with the more conventional things. Simplification, though, can only take you so far – while Rush continues to do quite well commercially in the Anglosphere, their more stripped down ’80s and ’90s recordings don’t seem to earn the love that their formative work did.
But luckily for us, you don’t have to care about later Rush in order to appreciate earlier Rush.
Highlights: “Freewill”, “Different Strings”, “Natural Science”
Note: This review covers all four Worldwar books. It does not cover the Colonization series (which is essentially their sequel) because I am not done reading those books yet. In reading this, I noticed that I was kind of on a World War II binge… and yet I still can’t get into Hearts of Iron. Funny how life is.
So in comparison to Stuart Slade’s relatively grounded (if fairly brutal) The Big One, Harry Turtledove alters WW2 by adding in an alien invasion of Earth that forces the various belligerents to put aside their differences as the covers of the books indicate. The “Lizards”, as humans call them, appear to have military technology not particularly more advanced than what’s available in 2014, but it’s enough to push the nations of Earth to the brink. However, the Lizards suffer greatly from the weaknesses of their social structure, which is hierarchical and conservative to the point of absurdity; much is made of the fact they waited 800 years from their initial appraisal to launch an invasion. Footfall by Larry Niven comes to mind; while I haven’t read it, it appears to be a fairly similar story of a mildly technologically superior alien race with dramatically different psychology.
Far from having a central protagonist, Worldwar reads like a series of intertwined novellas about dozens of characters all over the world, each with their own development arcs and various plot devices (things like nuclear bombs, optical lasers, and ginger). All of the various interactions help to make for a rich, detailed world… well, maybe not so rich after the Lizards disrupt human industry, but you get the point. Already by the end of the first book, affairs have become more complicated than initially thought, as even the Lizards are forced to invent new methods on the fly to deal with rapidly advancing human technology. The sheer amount of plotlines sometimes means you have to read for dozens of pages to get to the next part of a particular character’s narrative, but the text is engaging enough that this isn’t really an issue. I also find that at times, everyone’s musings about the ongoing war and its devastating effects gets heavy handed at expense of narrative development, but the characters in this series face all sorts of insane stressors that would have a bad effect on yours truly.
It could be because this hits so many of my interests, but I’m finding it very difficult to find any flaws in this series beyond minor nitpicks. If you like this genre, you’ll definitely enjoy the Worldwar series.