Rush - Vapor Trails
Vapor Trails was, in many ways, the hardest album Rush ever set about creating. Hard enough for drummer Neil Peart, who had spent much of the period between Test For Echo and Vapor Trails mourning the loss of his wife and daughter. Almost all of the lyrical content on this album was generated from an extensive journey Neil took shortly after those tragedies, in a search for something, anything to stir reaction in him, something to remind him he was alive beneath the numbing pain. Adding to that difficulty was the actual absence of the entire band doing anything with one another over that stretch. They've been quoted as saying Vapor Trails was the most difficult of their records to both write and record. To fans, it has a sound all it's own, unique amongst the lengthy discography of Rush for a number of reasons. Whether these come off as good or bad is all dependent, as we all know, on the individual.
The most obvious departure for the band was the total absence of most guitar effects and all synthesizers, stripping the entire songwriting and crafting process down to the barest a 3-piece can manage. On paper this sounds like a return to something resembling the 70's version of Rush; what we get, however, is a portion of that attitude tempered by pop sensibilities and an evolved sense of shorter, more compact songwriting. These things had become staples of the band's sound far before Vapor Trails, but there is a conflicting interest, at times, between the aggressive, damaged (soon to be remastered) production and certain moments where tonality and melody are the obvious focus. "One Little Victory" is very straight-ahead and powerful by nature, benefiting from this style of production. One can hear an edge to Neil's percussion that seems to conjure up much of the negativity he was experiencing and just lashes out against it. "Sweet Miracle" falls flat, but some of the more hectic moments on "Nocturne" make it stand out. "Freeze" and "Secret Touch" are my choice cuts from Vapor Trails, both straddling the line between all-out aggression and soothing melodies. "Ghost Rider" is a touching tribute to Neil's journey, where his words resonate far more with one of Geddy's most emotional vocal performances of his life.
While much of the album bogs down from the sheer weight of the production, there are some highly enjoyable moments throughout Vapor Trails. It will always be an album on the fence of common opinion amongst Rush fans; for some too large a departure, for others a necessary and refreshing change of pace. I've always leaned towards the latter opinion. While the remastering leaves me hopeful for a more polished and nuanced collection of well-written tracks, the final product here means far more. It represents a band who had, after being at a crossroad for years, chosen a path in the dark, crossed their fingers and hoped for the best. Without that decision, at that time, Rush may no longer exist at all.
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