Something Else! sneak peek: Rush, "Headlong Flight" (2012)

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Building off a hard-charging instrumental, the initial single from Rush’s forthcoming Clockwork Angels finds the trio referencing its storied musical past — in more ways than one.

“Really good. The only thing I don’t care for,” our Tom Johnson says in a new watercooler conversation about “Headlong Flight, “are the blatant homages to past songs, like “Bastille Day” — why? Unless I’m missing something and it somehow ties that song into this album …”

The seven-minute “Headlong Flight,” which was called “Take That Lampshade Off Yo’ Head” before the legendary trio added Neil Peart’s lyrics, is actually the third song to emerge from this long-awaited project — the first Rush studio release since 2007’s Snakes And Arrows. Rush issued two album-teaser singles, “Caravan” and “BU2B,” in advance of 2010’s Time Machine Tour, even as Peart, Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson continued work on the project.

Clockwork Angels, the band’s 20th album, was produced by Rush and Nick Raskulinecz, who’s helming his second project for the group. It’s set for release June 12th.

More from around the watercooler at Something Else! Towers …

S. VICTOR AARON: A strong entry. The playing is clean and so is the arrangement. They are their typical virtuosic selves, in that there is a measure of complexity to it that sets Rush apart from most every other rock band — but not so much that it appears that they’re just showing off. Geddy’s vocals have gotten better with age because they got deeper. They started off too high pitched and, after a long descent, have now settled into a sweet spot.

MARK SALESKI: I really like it. Nice to hear Alex doing some riffing, as opposed to his grinding away at chord arpeggios. I suppose that’s why I don’t mind the “Bastille Day” reference.

TOM JOHNSON: I love the riffing too: Great to hear after so long of the layers and layers of effects. I just don’t like the nod to “Bastille Day” (it’s there about 25 seconds in; you can hear a very similar part in BD from about 45-55 seconds in) because it sounds like they’re saying they need to pull in old sounds to make people listen, which is not true.

S. VICTOR AARON: I didn’t pick up on the references to “Bastille Day,” but I did feel it harkened back to that period. Since that’s my favorite period of Rush, they can keep on catering to the old fans like that!

TOM JOHNSON: I just don’t care for older bands doing such obvious things: It looks like they’re trying very hard to get their “old” fans to pay attention.

S. VICTOR AARON: The only quibble I had was not with the song itself but the mix. Not enough bottom end. Then again, I was listening to a stream on a PC, so that probably had a lot to do with it.

TOM JOHNSON: So many older acts rehash their earlier successes to maintain some sense of forward motion, but Rush isn’t a band that needed that. They really haven’t been accused of slacking off by their core fan base who, let’s face it, are really the only ones that are buying the albums and going to the concerts anyway. It’s only the people who tuned in from one period to the next, or for an album or two, that seem to do the complaining about those kinds of things.

MARK SALESKI: Really want to blast this in the car. Can’t wait for that.

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Here’s a look back at our previous thoughts on Rush. Click through the titles for complete reviews …

RUSH – TIME MACHINE 2011: LIVE IN CLEVELAND (2011): Rush used this opportunity to, as they really have been doing each tour lately, rifle through catalog and pull out some dusty old gems (“Time Stand Still,” reggae “Working Man,” “Marathon,” “Subdivisions,” “Stick It Out” and “Leave That Thing Alone”) and even one bonafide “never been played before” fan favorite (“Presto”) but, most importantly, a run-through of their entire classic Moving Pictures album for its 30th anniversary. Some of those tunes have been played a lot (“Tom Sawyer,” “Limelight,” I’m looking at you) but others have disappeared for far, far too long. Welcome back to the stage “The Camera Eye” and “Witch Hunt.” Maybe you’ll stick around for a couple tours?

NEIL PEART – ANATOMY OF A DRUM SOLO (2005): On this two-disc set, we are treated to a complete deconstruction of the solo, recorded during the Rush 30th anniversary tour. Now, maybe this stuff is for drum wonks only, but I found it fascinating. Not just for the crazy amount of technique the man possesses. No, what makes this different is the sheer musicality woven through the solo. Neil is well-versed in the history of music and drops little bits of it into his work. There is plenty of bonus material to go around here, including some extended improvisations, full in-concert Rush tunes presented from the drums-only camera, the “O Baterista” solo from Rush In Rio, and a previously unreleased solo from the Counterparts tour.

SOMETHING ELSE! FEATURED ARTIST: RUSH: When most think of Rush, it’s their instrumental virtuosity (especially drummer Neil Peart) that comes to mind first. Or the love or hatred of Geddy Lee’s vocals. Other times it’s Peart’s second role as lyricist for the band that garners attention, and it’s another love or hate area of focus: Ayn Rand, sci-fi, songs about balding, fights between dogs and, well, whatever a Bytor is, these are all common targets for those who want to throw stones. We’re here to present an argument for the defense.

RUSH – ROLL THE BONES (1991; 2011 reissue): Listeners will hear immediately that the sound is indeed lighter and quieter, and the soundstage is thinner than either previous version. But it’s all to better show off the album’s immaculate recording, which does get a bit muffled in the Atlantic pressings. This is where you can revel in the tone of Geddy’s maturing voice, or the textures of Alex Lifeson’s guitar, or the layers of keyboard washes that are now magically so much more discernible from one another. With regard to those keyboard washes, what’s funny is that once you hear them here, you can’t help but notice them in the other versions, too. It just took this delicate audiophile edition to separate them out.

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  • Eric

    After repeated listening, I can only assume the problematic “Bastile Day moment” is a single drum riff that literally lasts two seconds. It took far, far longer to read the multiple quotes complaining about the riff than it did to actually listen to the riff itself.

    The idea that Rush did this to make older fans (or anyone) “listen to the song” is a bit silly, really. First off, the song clocks in at almost seven & a half minutes. No one is going to form their opinion of it based on a two second riff.

    More to the point, any longtime fan of Rush should be fully aware that that’s just not what they do. They didn’t do it back when they desperately needed album sales – why on earth would they do it now? If it’s an intentional homage, then it’s there because THEY wanted to do it. Sure, maybe they thought others might appreciate it, too, but that would have been an afterthought. This band has always done the things that made THEM happy, period.

  • Tom Johnson

    Obviously it’s only in the beginning of the song, one time, for only a few seconds, thus exactly why I question its presence. Doesn’t that make it an even more questionable addition to the song? It’s pointless other than being a “hey look at me” moment to get old listeners to pay attention. It makes no sense in the bigger scheme of the song.

  • phu

    Composers have always referenced themselves, even as early as Monteverdi. It’s nothing new. Peter Buck of R.E.M. recycled chord changes all the time. You hear the same progressions crop up in Jazz and Blues again and again. Beethoven’s famous “Eroica” variations are built on chord changes from an inferior work by another composer. Good composers borrow material from other composers. Great composers steal material and make it their own. And Rush? They reference themselves.

  • phu

    And besides, it’s not a note by note ripoff of “Bastille Day”, but rather more like an update. That is a technique use by composers called “Cyclicism”. I read a rather interesting dissertation by Dr. William Chapman-Nyaho called “Cyclicism in the War Sonatas of Prokofiev” (I think that’s what it was called) in which he describes it in detail. Yes, he was my piano professor in college. No, I don’t remember much of the book itself, except for the fact that it was interesting. I’d probably remember a lot more if I took a close look at those sonatas again.

  • phu

    TOM JOHNSON: I just don’t care for older bands doing such obvious things: It looks like they’re trying very hard to get their “old” fans to pay attention.

    And your point, Mr. Johnson? Other than you don’t like it, that is?

  • Tom Johnson

    You can call it what you want and you can reference whoever you’d like, but the end result is that it’s not fresh and it’s not very creative. It’s simply a rehash of old ideas. If Rush were the kind of band that did this all throughout their career (like, say, Dream Theater) then I’d never have even pointed it out since that’s just part of their style. But in nearly 40 years they haven’t done this and now they are. Why? If it built into something more, if it was used again and again, as it is, of course, in Bastille Day, it makes sense. As a one-off riff, it’s pointless self-referencing. What’s a reference? A reference is something that directs attention elsewhere and gives, in this case, the song, greater meaning in context. This does not. It’s a pointless tag hanging off of the front of the song. Without it, the song is exactly the same song.

  • phu

    Tom, one of the major themes of steampunk is to reference old ideas. Just in case you didn’t pick up on that. And guess what flavor this album is? That’s right–steampunk! 🙂

    I trust you get it now.

  • Mark Saleski

    does tom have to have a point? i mean, other than he doesn’t like it? you can attach all manner of definition to this bit of music but that doesn’t invalidate his opinion. gees, the internet is a funny place.

    but ok…now that i’ve said that, i have to say that i actually really like the quick look back. this is something that Springsteen has done every now and then, especially on the Darkness On The Edge Of Town album, which has a few musical quotes from Born To Run.

    really looking forward to this new album.

  • mort weiss

    **** THE BASTILLE DAY 2 SECONDS -RUSH ROCKED BACK IN THEIR DAY –they where heads and shoulders above 90% of what was going on at the time -40 years doesn’t invaladate some thing if it speaks to you-do any of you people remember and have you ever really listend to GENLE GIANT? talk about creativity–from G.G TO STEAM PUNK (progress ?) dude. WHATS UP WITH MONTEVERDI and rapid eye movment?? i mean really—MORT WEISS —-OUT!

  • Tom Johnson

    Really stretching the definition of steampunk there, phu. I think you’re well aware of what it is, but maybe you’re not if you think this somehow qualifies – it’s applying the style of steam-era technology to modern things, and vice versa. It has nothing to do with taking a bit of an old song and pointlessly tossing it into the beginning of a new song.

    Again, I will point out that if it worked into the song elsewhere it would make more sense – because then it would have developed into a theme of some kind. As it is, it’s just a needless, iconic nod back to a song we’re all well aware of.

    Think of it this way: replace the Bastille Day nod with a belch and ask yourself if you still feel the same way about it. Does it sound totally like a totally random addition?

    See, the difference between Rush and your great composers is that when they reference themselves, they make it purposeful and meaningful, not random and senseless like this. You aren’t thinking critically. You love Rush, and I do too, but you’re reacting like a fanboy – Rush can do no wrong. They don’t need you to defend them, they can take it, I guarantee it.

  • ophu

    “Again, I will point out that if it worked into the song elsewhere it would make more sense – because then it would have developed into a theme of some kind. As it is, it’s just a needless, iconic nod back to a song we’re all well aware of.

    Think of it this way: replace the Bastille Day nod with a belch and ask yourself if you still feel the same way about it. Does it sound totally like a totally random addition?”

    It can’t be the theme for this song, Tom. It’s already a theme for another song. Actually, it’s a motif. But on the other hand, I think it’s something of a joke by Rush, pointing at their advanced age. They’re saying “Hey, we’re so old we’re practically steampunk. We can reference ourselves.” Don’t take it seriously. There are many jokes in their material.

  • ophu

    Also, they don’t need to develop it because it was developed nearly forty years ago. It’s just a reference, Tom. An inside joke. They’re making a joke for the fans, Tom. At least I get it. Maybe someday you will too.

  • Tom Johnson

    They’re Canadian. They’re capable of much funnier jokes than this.