Vapor Trails (2001)


1.One Little Victory
2.Ceiling Unlimited
3.Ghost Rider
4.Peaceable Kingdom
5.The Stars Look Down
6.How It Is
7.Vapor Trail
8.Secret Touch
9.Earthshine
10.Sweet Miracle
11.Nocturne
12.Freeze
13.Out Of The Cradle

 

I tried to like this one. I really tried. This is Rush's most "emotional" record of their career for personal reasons that most fans are aware. The background: Drummer Neil Peart, easily one of the most private, introverted celebrities of the rock and roll world loses his only child in an automobile accident about five years prior. The event is so tumultuous, that Peart's wife health implodes, and she becomes serious ill and dies a mere few months later of cancer. So Peart, not being very outgoing, handles the tragedy the only way he knows how to – he packs up some meager belongings on his motorcycle, and rides. And rides. He tries to put distance between himself and the pain, but sadly, he discovers that time alone will only heal the wounds, so the journey is difficult indeed.

What this essentially meant at the time is that the band was on a prolonged hiatus – even permanently perhaps. The other two understood that their band made needed time to heal. So about five years goes by before they make an effort to once again create magic in the studio. Such emotions, painful as they may be, can produce majestic works of art and heart filled emotion, but sadly, this isn't the case here. Oh, lyrically, there's definitely a lot of pain here. Never has Peart been more revealing as on this record, and the struggles and trials are felt throughout. He's bitter, he's sad, he's confused, he's angry.

No, what this record is lacking is listenable music. We must remember that Rush has never "played it safe" in the record studio. They could easily churn out a disc filled of "The Spirit of Radio" clones, but they've always made an effort to expand while incorporating new sounds around them. This may be part of the problem. Whatever was "new" around this time may have appealed to many, but most of Rush's long term fan base was turned off by the grit featured here. This record is heavy, grungy, crunchy, distorted, loud, and, at times, hard to really listen and enjoy. It's almost as if the band tried to record this record in their garage and come up with the worst acoustical arrangement possible. Again, I guess a lot of people liked records like this. In other words, this record almost sounds purposely messed up. It's not that the tunes themselves are bad, but the arrangements and production take a lot of joy out of what should be a great musical experience.

Add the fact that this record is chocked full of songs – 13 at over 62 minutes (To compare, HemispheresA> was 4 songs at about 36 minutes), and the record actually becomes almost painful to sit through. Although, as mentioned, it's a fine album lyrically, the production is so bad that most of the time you can't even understand what Geddy Lee is singing. For whatever reason, somebody somewhere decided to not let Alex feature many guitar solos (there's one, maybe two total).

This is an angry record, as it should be. It was also probably quite scary to attempt in lieu of the circumstances. You have to admire the guys for soldering on, but one wishes a bit more care had been applied to the finished product. Quite frankly, listening to this album gives me a headache.

NOTE: More than a decade later, Rush would release a re-mastered version of this record, as the band admitted that, they themselves were less than satisfied. I'm not sure what exactly "re-mastered" means, but it almost seems as though this record was "redone". Fortunately, the new version is quite good and fixes most of the problems. I'm not even sure you can purchase the original anymore.

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