Sunday Soundtrack: RUSH – Counterparts

Rush - Counterparts

Considering how willing Rush were to adapt to the current musical times, Presto and Roll the Bones displayed them shifting toward an alternative rock sound with a mellower vibe. But then you have 1993′s Counterparts… and if Roll the Bones had many hints of alternative rock, this album puts the genre right into the foreground of the music. By this point in Rush‘s music, it was definitely difficult to call them a progressive rock band anymore; the songwriting and musicianship was just getting more and more straightforward, and the band hadn’t created an epic 10-minute+ song in years. However, as with Porcupine Tree‘s Deadwing, this record does display both progressiveness and high quality through little nuances and nods here and there. So how does it compare to Roll the Bones? Well, despite having their minor differences, they’re both about equal in quality.

What keeps Counterparts consistently interesting is based on some really fascinating risks it makes along the way. Songs like “Animate” and “The Speed of Love” are just your typical mid-tempo Rush songs; they’re okay, but they just sound like leftovers from the last few albums. But then “Stick It Out” comes through your speakers, and… well, Rush just turned grunge for this one! Between the extremely thick riffing in the chorus, the much darker lyrics, and an angry overall vibe, it sounds as if Rush briefly channeled the heavier moments from Pearl Jam‘s Ten record. Other songs like “Double Agent” and “Alien Shore” are extremely satisfying as well when they keep this heaviness intact, and this aspect is also what somewhat saves the bland nature of the album’s sole instrumental “Leave That Thing Alone.” Counterparts is widely regarded as Rush‘s real return to their guitar-driven roots, and it’s easy to see why.

RushAs I mentioned before, this album also makes a return to some of the band’s progressive elements, although not in the most obvious ways. A lot of these aspects are based on the little things such as subtle dynamic shifts, some key and tempo changes here and there, etc. For instance, there’s the way “Alien Shore” combines Neil Peart‘s off-kilter drumming with Alex Lifeson‘s beautiful clean guitar portions, creating a nice instrumental contrast. Or there’s “Double Agent”‘s mix of midtempo alternative rock and more technical spoken-word passages. But as with previous Rush albums, the beauty of this record is that the band are able to show off their incredible talents without coming off as overly flashy or unnecessarily technical. Geddy, Alex, and Neil all play parts that are still within each song’s intended atmosphere or range, particularly Geddy Lee, whose bass playing is pretty low-key on this one.

Luckily, this is all able to make up for one pretty noticeable shortcoming: the damn lyrics. I enjoy Neil Peart‘s writing as much as the next guy, but his work here is insanely hit-or-miss. Some songs have incredibly endearing and relatable lyrics such as the AIDS-inspired story of “Nobody’s Hero,” but songs like “Everyday Glory” and “The Speed of Love” have some really awful cringe-inducing lines. Hearing Geddy Lee sing about how “love is born with lightning bolts; electromagnetic force” is pretty hilarious, but lines like “Mama says some ugly words; Daddy pounds the wall” are just painful to listen to. The problem is that they don’t sound like what Rush naturally sing about, so it comes off sounding incredibly forced and awkward. Also, as I said earlier, that instrumental “Leave That Thing Alone” is just not very good. The heavy portions are good, but the overall product sounds a bit boring and uninspired compared to previous classics like “La Villa Strangiato” or “YYZ.”

However, this was still a surprisingly great effort. For all the problems it may have, the songs that are good are just fantastic. The musicianship is awesome as usual, the heaviness was a sweet upgrade from the thinner sound of Roll the Bones, and the experiments with alternative rock were (mostly) bold successes. It may be clunky and it may have problems, but there’s just too much to like here to pass it up.

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