Rush – Signals (1982)
Reviews are back, man! The members of Rush should be honored that I started with their liminal point, since many bands would kill to make an album half as good. Signals definitely expands on the streamlined, slick, synthetic ’80s pop side of Rush; those seeking another progressive rock album may be disappointed. Then again, they might not – Signals is also the culmination of 14 years of Rushwork. If you’re as long-lived a band as Rush, you eventually begin to figure out what you’re doing at some point.
So I mentioned that Signals was synth heavy, and that’s true, but it still takes the overall form of a rock album, with Alex Lifeson’s guitar work muted but not entirely overwhelmed by Geddy Lee’s growing army of synthesizers. It would be pretty easy to swap out the synthesizer parts with other instruments if you felt the need, since Geddy’s arsenal tends towards warm, even soothing analog pads and leads. To be fair, Rush has used synthesizers in other roles, such as for sound effects on their earlier albums, but you need a greater variety in order to not waste everyone’s time when they’re as prevalent as they are here. Luckily, we have it, and combined with the more acoustic (or at least merely electrified) instrumentation of the rest of the band, it makes for an aesthetic that’s aged well over the years; this is always something I have to consider with keyboard heavy music of this vintage.
If you’re acquainted with this blog, you’ll know that I tend to focus heavily on an album’s aesthetics when I figure it’s not particularly complicated otherwise. We went into this knowing that Signals was a step down in complexity from Rush’s “progressive rock” era, but to simply stop there would be a terrible blunder. This album does make the case that if you want to create good pop songs and were previously the band that wrote 2112, you shouldn’t entirely abandon your previous strengths, no matter what Phil Collins insists. Signals continues to showcase excellent musicianship and ensemble playing from the rest of the band, but that’s not why it’s worthy of attention, since that’s a given with Rush. For the most part, it successfully adapts that part of Rush’s legacy into the new ’80s pop sound. This sort of thing also provides Neil Peart with a more prominent role for his always important role as a lyricist, although it does lead to the occasional weird misstep (Read: “The Weapon”) when he’s not careful.
Therefore, Signals is another one of my recommendations; a dignified stylistic transition for the band and a continuation of their proficiency. Be thankful that it isn’t quite as pretentious as that last sentence.
Highlights: “Subdivisions”, “The Analog Kid”, “Losing It”