Record Review


Vapor Trails (Anthem/Atlantic) The good news is Vapor Trails is Rush's best album in a decade. The bad news is it's still no Moving Pictures. Come to think of it, it may not even be Grace Under Pressure. Flame throwing middle-aged fortitude into the hammerlock intensity that marked Rush's previous studio effort, 1996's otherwise empty Test for Echo -- a ferocity captured on the subsequent live disc, '98's crushing 3-CD opus Different Stages/Live -- Vapor Trails leaves a residue, all right. High scorch. Musically, the Canadian trio has never sounded tighter, heavier, at times crushing, almost always compelling. They're playing like monsters inc. Alex Lifeson's solos are camouflaged in the Trail's fireball sound, but his rabid riffing is incessant. Geddy Lee continues shaving octaves off his screech, but the man's bass playing is thunderous, Olympian. Neil Peart just plain whales behind the kit. Unfortunately, the New Age-y lyrical meltdown that began on '91's Roll the Bones ("The Big Wheel"), and embarrassed on '93's follow-up, Counterparts ("Nobody's Hero," "Alien Shore," "The Speed of Love") undercuts Vapor Trails to high, B-grade fare like '89's Presto rather than 2112-type A-list. Opener "One Little Victory" is a roiling juggernaut in classic Peart speak, but rejoiner "Ceiling Unlimited," with its terrific drive and killing bassline, confirms the drummer's long, slow transformation from Nietzschian superman into cultured man of taste ("If culture is curse the of the thinking class..."). "Ghost Rider," title of Peart's bound diary from the cross-country odyssey that followed the deaths of his wife and daughter, is another jaw-rattling rocker looking for a limelight chorus. "Peaceable Kingdom," "The Stars Look Down" are unmelodic, messy; "How It Is," "Secret Touch," and the title track, conversely, boast strong choruses, and chaotic arrangements in search of order. On the other hand, "Secret Touch" thrives in said chaos for almost seven minutes. It also touches off the back nine of Vapor Trails, which plays far better than the first half. The foghorn pierce of "Earthshine," the pummeling "Nocturne," illuminating. "Sweet Miracle," with its saccharine message, is a sour ballad -- anathema to longtime Rush-heads. Aging songwriters are often under the illusion fans want to grow up with them. False. We want to stay young with them. Save NPR for old age, give us Tom Sawyer. (Rush plays the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, Saturday, August 17.)


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