Sunday, September 11, 2011

Music Review: Rush - Roll The Bones (24+ K Gold Edition)

As documented in the Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage (2010) documentary, the band have stubbornly gone their own way now for nearly 40 years. This was shown by recording what was thought to be commercial suicide with a side-long suite on their do-or-die fourth album, 2112 - or by including a reggae break (of all things) in their otherwise radio-friendly track "The Spirit Of Radio." As they explain in the film, the various paths they have chosen over the years always had to do with the music they liked, not what would sell.

This tendency was made crystal clear with their 1982 album Signals, the follow-up to their all-time bestseller, Moving Pictures. The general consensus was that Rush had gone New Wave. Don't get me wrong, with songs like "Subdivisions," Signals was a classic. But the new emphasis on keyboards was pretty different. For some of us, the eighties were a tough time to be a Rush fan. By the time of their 1987 hit "Time Stands Still" I had lost interest. From "Working Man" to Aimee Mann in 13 years was a little hard to swallow.

With their 1991 Roll The Bones release, the band seemed to realize this. While the album did contain some keyboards, their use had been dramatically curtailed. The result was a record that many saw as a return to form, and has taken its rightful place as one of their finest efforts. As if to signify this, Roll The Bones has been selected as the latest 24K + Gold Edition CD from the Audio Fidelity label. The process behind these releases is a meticulous one, and quite intriguing for those of us who appreciate the ultimate in sound quality.

The first step is the remastering phase, which is done from the original tapes. Once this task is complete, the digital master is etched onto the glass disc surface in real time by laser. From this, the CD is made out of real gold, rather than the standard and often imperfect aluminum. The end result is a remarkably clean and “warm” sounding product, with the original analog depth intact, as well as the convenience and precision of digital technology.

As for the album itself, as mentioned there is a much stronger emphasis on the guitar of Alex Lifeson. The fact that the guy has never really been credited as a master of the instrument is beyond me. His solo during "Ghost Of A Chance" is a prime example of his talent. Lifeson's playing has always been full of dynamics, with the high and low ends of the fretboard equally represented. But one of the traits that may be less obvious is his sense of rhythm. In "Ghost Of A Chance" these qualities are all prominently displayed.

The title track may feature keyboards a little more than on most of the other tunes, but it is so damned catchy you hardly notice. All three members are such remarkable musicians that it is almost pointless to single anyone out. Yet certain songs showcase certain talents. For drummer Neil Peart, his turn on "Face Up" is his most powerful on the record - especially during the tune's introduction.

Peart is also the lyricist of the group, and while his words have always shown a philosophical bent, his thoughts on Roll The Bones seem especially metaphysical. Even my least favorite of the ten tracks, "Neurotica" goes this route. You have to pay attention to the lyric sheet to pick up on this however, because the "Neurotica - Exotica - Hypnotica - Chaotica" chorus may drive you Nutica. Hey, it wouldn't be Rush if we didn't have something to gripe about, right? I think I speak for a lot of long-time fans when I say that Roll The Bones was a welcome way for them to begin the nineties though.

This new Audio Fidelity 24K + Gold Edition CD sounds much better to me than my 20-year old original disc does. I played a favorite cut, the instrumental "Where's My Thing?" from each version to compare, and the differences were surprisingly noticable. To paraphrase Charlie Sheen, this audiophile Roll The Bones CD is "Winning."

Article first published as Music Review: Rush - Roll The Bones (24K + Gold Edition CD) on Blogcritics.

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