Thursday, May 03, 2007

Snakes & Arrows, a Review

Snakes & ArrowsI've had the record for a few days now, and have given it a handful of listens, so it's opinion time.

As I mentioned earlier, the best thing about the album is that it's produced and mastered tons better than Vapor Trails. Sad that this should be a plus, but considering how bad we had it five years ago, I'm grateful for the little things.

So yes, feel free to put this disc on some big speakers and turn it up, because that will increase enjoyment of the album. It's a little hot (welcome to 2007 disc mastering), but the sound separation is very good, and one can easily hone onto any instrument and easily follow what it's doing. Dynamics are in bloom, with parts of a song getting quiet, then loud again.

All is not perfect with the production though. Fanboys on various Rush forums have noticed some editing mistakes here and there. This is a byproduct of the digital age; if engineers aren't careful when working with the tracks, the end result is a dropout or a skip in the beat. I won't bother to list the problems here (they do exist; I've listened closely to the parts in question), because it's simply better to ignore these small imperfections. They undoubtedly plague most new releases (I've noticed a couple of dropouts on Slayer's remaster of Reign In Blood, for example), and in my opinion, they're too small to get all hot and bothered about it.

So enough about the sound quality - what's with the music? In my opinion, it is good, albeit a bit on the slow burn side. My issue with the record is that there are very few songs that rock and groove. Most are mid-tempo, which disappoints on the first few listens. I also hypothesize that most of the songs were written around the lyrics, which makes for some less than cool riffage out of the gate.

Once I ditched any preconceived notions I had about the album, however, I started to appreciate the time that went into crafting the songs, and especially the order and placement of each tune on the disc. Overall the flow from beginning to end is pleasantly smooth.

There's little point in mentioning Geddy's and Neil's playing, because it's always good, and that hasn't gone away here. Neil's lyrics still seem a bit on the "Life Sucks" side, but I can forgive him if it takes more than a few years to figure out how to deal with the death of his wife and daughter. The best news is that Alex seems to have ditched any hint of modern/muddy/fiercely downtuned tone. He also remembered that Rush fans like guitar solos, and made us proud by playing a few. The one in "Faithless" is a true screamer; it's good to hear his trademark style back in force. And if you want a change of pace, dig his blues influenced noodling on "The Way the Wind Blows." SRV lives!

Much has been made of the three instrumentals on the album. Forget anyone who says they're better than "La Villa Strangiato", because that's just crazy fanboy talk. The first, "The Main Monkey Business", bored me at first, but that's before I realized it got really cool at about the 2:30 mark with some very spiffy riffing and a fair solo (would've been better if Al used the bridge pickup and a bit more treble, but oh well). It quiets down again until 4:30, but then picks up from 5:30 until the end.

Al treats us to an acoustic instrumental entitled "Hope", which is well played, but could've used a change of tempo somewhere in there. The final one, "Malignant Narcissism", features a crazy-cool bass line, nifty bright open chords, mini-instrument breaks a la "YYZ", and is hands-down a l33t Rush jam. But where's the solo? Argh.

Conclusion: the album probably won't gain any new fans. But if you like Rush, and can forgive them for not partying like it's 1999 (or 1989. or 1979), then you'll appreciate that they tried very hard this time around, and in large part, succeeded. So that pushes it a smidgen above the three star rating I was originally contemplating (since it's not nearly as ponderous as A Matter of Life and Death):

Note to the guys: Just try to rock out a wee bit more often next time 'round, please?


Post a Comment

<< Home