Friday, December 10, 2021

Rush 22: Vapor Trails

After telling the other members of Rush he was retired, Neil Peart set off on a solo motorcycle trip throughout North and South America. The trip did him good, as he got a book out of the experience, fell in love and remarried, and basically felt refreshed enough to get back behind the kit and try to make music with Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee again. They took their sweet time, more concerned with impressing each other than any other agenda, though Alex did insist on zero keyboards, to which the others acquiesced. Eventually, Vapor Trails emerged.
Appropriately, “One Little Victory” begins with a furious tattoo of drums, before a metallic Lifeson riff and only the slightest pauses in the manifesto. “Ceiling Unlimited” offers another top-speed riff with deep-thought lyrics; clearly these guys are glad to be back. The title “Ghost Rider” will be familiar to fans from Neil’s book about his bike trip; even without that background, the song urges positivity and perseverance. “Peaceable Kingdom” is another relentless riff, and one that reminds us of Pearl Jam a decade earlier. After all that pounding, “The Stars Look Down” is a bit much, except when the band quiets down a bit and weaves some backwards guitar into the mix. “How It Is” begins with a deceptively delicate arpeggiated guitar but increases in volume on schedule, whereas “Vapor Trail” is a better version of the same recipe.
“Secret Touch” presents another subdued intro that will become something of a chorus, which sounds like we’ve heard it elsewhere on the album already. It took several listens to realize it’s Geddy’s bass driving that little riff. Continuing the meteorological theme, “Earthshine” starts with a riff right outta Kiss, but with more finesse amidst the power, and time changes that band would never attempt. While it’s too heavy to be considered, “Sweet Miracle” is almost sensitive in its sentiment, though we wouldn’t be surprised if a certain plot element from Young Frankenstein wasn’t involved. “Nocturne” is something of a grunge throwback, with the simplest bass part Geddy’s ever written, the basic rhythm, and lyrics about dreams. “Freeze” (listed as Part IV of the “Fear” trilogy!) is one of the more developed songs, working through several sections that provide variety. Finally, “Out Of The Cradle” completes the band’s determination to endure, taking Walt Whitman’s idea of “endlessly rocking” at a literal sense he couldn’t imagine.
As is a common gripe around these parts, Vapor Trails is too long and could have been stronger had they concentrated on fewer songs, but most fans were happy with the general aggressiveness, and that the band was back (and touring). Still, much commentary was dedicated to the overall sound of the album, which was loud, certainly, but also harsh to the point of discomfort—in other words, not the band’s usual quality control, to which they fully copped. Some time later, two of the songs were remixed for inclusion on a compilation, and they went ahead to not only get veteran producer David Bottrill (familiar from Peter Gabriel credits) to remix the entire album, but re-release it in 2013, when it was also included in the box set The Studio Albums 1989-2007 at the expense of the original. (They also brightened the cover, and softened the font inside, too.) In the process, certain mix differences emerged, including a guitar part on “Ceiling Unlimited” and other nuances elsewhere. It’s still too long.

Back then, of course, they promoted the album with the standard mega-tour. Rather than waiting for the usual four-album cycle—and possibly because they wouldn’t have wanted to chance waiting that long—Rush decided to release the audio of the Rio de Janiero stop on the tour supporting Vapor Trails, in front of 40,000 people, separately from the DVD. Rush In Rio presented the complete, nearly three-hour show in order on three CDs, with two extra tracks from elsewhere in the tour tacked on the end. There are a few fun moments—the Simpsons sample at the end of “The Big Money”, the animal sounds scattered throughout “The Trees”, an unplugged “Resist” without drums—but the enthusiasm of the crowd notwithstanding, it’s not as essential as their earlier live sets, which is why we restrict it to this mention. The DVD is preferred, if only because one can see the working washing machines set up on Geddy’s side of the stage. (He’d switched to in-ear monitors, and they needed something to visually balance the mountain of amps that still filled Alex’s side.)

Rush Vapor Trails (2002)—3
Rush In Rio (2003)—3
Vapor Trails Remixed (2013)—3

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