After a nearly six-year hiatus (understandable, given drummer Neil Peart’s double tragedy of losing his daughter in a car crash and his wife to cancer), the legendary Canadian progressive trio return with Vapor Trails, a surprisingly stripped-down (no synthesizers!), almost garage-rock record that already has the prog-metal intelligentsia screaming “Grunge!” and “Sellout!”
After several spins, I was trying to figure out what this record sounded like. Yeah, it sounds like Rush for sure, but a different Rush. A rawer, more raucous Rush, tight, yet a little rough-around-the-edges, not the polished, pristine Rush of olden days. Then it hit me—it sounds like bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee’s 2000 solo album My Favorite Headache, which found him collaborating with guitarist Ben Mink and Pearl Jam/ex-Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron. While Peart’s drumming is as flashy and as distinct as ever, Lee’s bass playing is the standout here. He cuts loose, gets funky, and really opens up his role in ways that he never has before—perhaps it’s noticeable because guitarist Alex Lifeson has virtually no solos ANYWHERE on this record. The downside of this is that Lee’s bass is turned up so high in the mix that his vocals are hard to decipher in some spots. I’m not talking “bass to the Steve Harris/Iron Maiden level,” but it is more prominent and dominating that it needs to be.
So how are the songs? They’re all well-done, though some of them just don’t have that Rush hook that pulls you in and has you going back to it. “One Little Victory,” “Peaceable Kingdom,” and “Earthshine” are the definite standout cuts. The thing is, I’ve listened to this record probably 15-20 times since getting it, and I look at the song titles, and I couldn’t tell you how half of them go. Vapor Trails is the kind of record that you like when you’re listening to it, but too little of it works its way into your head (except for the three mentioned earlier in this paragraph—Rush classics, for sure). There’s really nothing wrong with Vapor Trails, it’s just not the kind of “Hey, we’re back!” album one expects from a band that’s taken over half a decade off.
So where does Vapor Trails fit into the big Rush picture? Well, it’s no 2112, Moving Pictures, or Counterparts (possibly their most underrated work). But it is infinitely better than Presto or Roll the Bones. To some, Rush can do no wrong, and I like enough of Vapor Trails to recommend it, with reservations (i.e.—don’t make this your first Rush record).