Album Review: Rush - Permanent Waves 40th Anniversary
Reviewed by Paul Hutchings
‘Permanent Waves’ is the seventh studio album from the Canadian rock legends, released in January 1980. The album demonstrated a change in style and direction for the band after the hugely successful but traumatic 1978 ‘Hemispheres’, which was dominated by the six part epic ‘Cygnus X-I Book II: Hemispheres’ and the hugely popular and incredibly complex 12 part ‘La Villa Strangiato (An Exercise in Self-Indulgence)’.
‘Permanent Waves’ saw Rush moves towards more radio friendly arrangements whilst retaining their progressive development. The album opens with the sizzling ‘The Spirit of Radio’, an anthem that would remain in their live set until the very end. Lyrically ‘Spirit’ had been written by Neil Peart with Toronto Radio Station CFNY-FM in mind, the station using the title as its slogan. As well as displaying the first embryonic shoots of the reggae influences that would thread through their music in the following three albums, this is perhaps the ultimate Rush song. It’s uplifting feel, signature riff and soaring style characterises Rush in a perfect and glorious five minutes. It’s followed by the song about freedom to think and choose, ‘Freewill’, still frighteningly relevant 40 years on and one that appears simple on first listen but is incredibly complex. Multiple time changes, a searing rapid-fire solo that Alex Lifeson described as “really hard to play” but “frenetic and exciting” and the last time that Geddy Lee would strain every sinew in the studio to reach the impossible high shrieks on the final verse. ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ shares the link with ‘Hemispheres’ progressive epic style, the dark, brooding first half of the song again containing numerous changes to time signature with the title based on the natural phenomenon of the sun breaking through the clouds, the biblical ladder to heaven.
‘Permanent Waves’ signalled further inclusion and development of the use of synthesisers that were prevalent on the band’s work during 1980s. Big swathes of synths appeared on ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ and the almost pop sensibilities of ‘Entre Nous’. ‘Different Strings’ is one of few songs with non-Peart written lyrics; Geddy Lee drafting the words alongside Hugh Syme, who played piano on the album as well as designing the iconic yet controversial album cover. Whilst ‘Permanent Waves’ provided a much more modern sound it was the nine-minute epic ‘Natural Science’ that provided the jaw dropping moment on the record. The final song on the album, broken into three sections (‘I. Tide Pools’ ‘II. Hyperspace’ ‘III. Permanent Waves’) examined the concepts of natural science. The song begins gently before erupting into a frantic mid-section with Lee’s recognisable driving bass and lush synths, Lifeson’s smoking solo and chopping guitar work and Peart’s clinical drumming combining superbly. The remastered edition provides opportunity to once more examine and relish one of Rush’s masterpieces. Of course, every Rush fan has a different view about ‘Permanent Waves, but for me it is the ideal entry point to the band’s catalogue, bridging the band’s past and future in 36 minutes of magic.
Whilst the remastered album adds to the collection, the real jewels in this crown is the access to previously unreleased and newly restored bonus content mixed from the original analogue live multi-tracks by Terry Brown. Recorded on three nights of the ‘Permanent Waves’ World Tour 1980 at Manchester Apollo, Hammersmith Odeon and Kiel Auditorium in St. Louis, Missouri, the twelve tracks capture Rush at their most powerful. Four tracks from ‘Permanent Waves’ feature, and it is evident that the Rush crowd were already immersed in
the album; just listen to the Manchester roar that greets their first exposure to ‘Spirit’. It sends shivers down the spine. There’s a raucous version of ‘By Tor and the Snow Dog’, the explosive track from 1975’s ‘Fly By Night’. Recorded in front of a rabid London audience, this is amongst the best versions I’ve ever heard. The visceral and fluid guitar work is breath taking. Then there is the debut of ‘Natural Science’ in Manchester and the link between ‘A Farewell to Kings’ and ‘Hemispheres’ with the complete ‘Cygnus X-1’ suite (greeted with manic applause and great reverence by the Hammersmith crowd). These recordings demonstrate not only the continued development of a band who would continue to intrigue, delight and amaze fans for three more decades but also the confidence of musicians who were amazingly only six years post debut album.
In writing this review, it would be remiss not to mention Neil Peart. If you ever needed an example of why he was so highly regarded in the world of rock, then this is it. His lyrics and his drumming are both amazing. It may not be a formal tribute but it’s impossible to listen to this album and live recording without a brief glance to the heavens and a nod to ‘The Professor’.