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Spins: Rush • Permanent Waves 40th Anniversary

| June 11, 2020


Permanent Waves (40th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition)


With the passing of beloved drum virtuoso Neil Peart early this year, the days are gone when Rush fans can anticipate new music from the Canadian progressive rock heroes. However, it’s a great time to celebrate Peart’s memory and rediscover the band’s rich catalog. The trio has already overseen lavish anniversary reissues of the groundbreaking 2112 with its side-long philosophical/sci-fi title track, A Farewell to Kings with a buoyant single “Closer to the Heart,” and Hemispheres including class-warfare metaphor “The Trees” and challenging instrumental “La Villa Strangiato.” This summer brings an elaborate package honoring the 40th birthday of the band’s famous 1980 breakthrough, Permanent Waves.

The album remains a fixture of classic rock radio thanks to the muscular riffs of anthem “Freewill,” featuring a brief, spine-tingling return of Geddy Lee’s top tenor range at the song’s climax. Peart’s lyrical perspective eschews the divine and foreshadows the individualism of Moving Pictures’ “Tom Sawyer.” Chart hit “The Spirit of Radio” and its major chord guitar heroics still hint at Alex Lifeson’s reverence for players like Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck, but spotlight Lifeson himself as a fully-fledged and influential guitar hero. The song cribs a line from Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” and nods to New Wave contemporaries The Police with a dash of reggae. “The Spirit of Radio” encapsulated Rush’s canny shift from expansive soundscapes toward more accessible and compact song structures, while still putting prog-rock acumen on display.

Permanent Waves’ remaining tracks didn’t storm the airwaves, but most of them remained fan-favorite live tracks through the band’s final R40 tour date in 2015. The brooding “Jacob’s Ladder” conjures heavy weather before breaking into aural sunshine. Peart’s lyrics for “Entre Nous” explored the simultaneous bond and distance between himself and Rush’s audience, later re-examined in Moving Pictures’ “Limelight.” The album concludes with the intricate prog-rock suite “Natural Science.” Lee’s propulsive bass shares space with Lifeson’s guitar as the lead instrument during the song’s frenetic “Hyperspace” movement. Lee gives an open-hearted vocal performance, championing art as an expression over commerce, the virtues of science if applied with integrity, and the most endangered species of all: the honest man. It’s heady stuff, but the trio’s taut power and melodic, invigorated arrangements send tough lessons down with a heaping spoonful of sugar.

The album’s only song to not be publicly performed is Lee’s “Different Strings.” The gentle song peels away layers of unnecessary interpersonal conflict in order to reach the loving heart of a relationship. The song features elegant piano by Rush’s steadfast art director Hugh Syme.

The Super Deluxe box features the main album on heavy vinyl, accompanied by a two-LP set of live tracks recorded during Rush’s 1980 world tour. The bulk of these dozen songs (11 previously unreleased) is composed of performances from Manchester and London, with “Jacob’s Ladder” as the outlier recorded on a US date in Missouri. Other Permanent Waves tracks include “The Spirit of Radio,” “Natural Science,” and “Freewill.” The band sounds particularly feral during a rowdy “By-Tor & the Snow Dog,” as Lee nimbly drives a deep bass groove while Lifeson creates slashing cacophony on guitar. The London crowd cheers in time as the trio’s unison fills count down toward the conclusion of a titanic battle. Peart meticulously guides “Xanadu” and the sprawling bookends “Cygnus X-1” and “Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres,” drawn from the band’s prior two albums. “Closer to the Heart” finds euphoric communion between Rush and its Manchester audience.

With a pair of replica tour programs and three backstage laminates, you can listen to the live set and imagine you’re a VIP at the shows. Other bonus items include replicas of Peart’s hand-written lyric sheets, a notepad from Quebec’s recording haven Le Studio, and a large poster featuring cover model Paula Turnbull on one side and Rush themselves on the other.

A 40-page hardbound book houses a pair of CDs, including one with the first digital version of Permanent Waves’ 2015 LP remaster and another with the 1980 live tracks. Also featured are new artwork by Syme, a comprehensive essay by Ray Wawrzyniak, and previously unseen photos. Just before the credits, the tightly-knit band includes a dedication to Peart that names him as “husband, father, son, friend,” and most tellingly, “brother.”

9 out of 10

– Jeff Elbel

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Category: Columns, Featured, Monthly, Spins

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