Rewind: Andy Burns on Rush’s Snakes and Arrows

A few years ago (2007 to be precise), I was working with my friend and mentor Jeff Woods on a radio special for the premiere of the 18th studio album from Canada’s premiere power trio, Rush. For this, Jeff had the chance to spend some time with Snakes and Arrows leading up to his interviews with the band and after a few listens suggested to me that the album was Rush’s best since 1980’s classic Moving Pictures.

“Oh come on,” I said. How could it be possible that an album from a band 30 years old could compare with one if their seminal works? While Rush had certainly been consistent with their subsequent releases, and the album’s first single “Far Cry” wasn’t a far cry from their 70’s prog masterpiece “Xanadu”, making those sorts of comparisons can sometimes be suspect. And it also gives the band a lot to try and live up to, right? However, three years later I have to hand it to my old friend. He was spot on about his assessment.

How do you decide what make an album a classic in your heart or head? In thinking about Rush and Snakes and Arrows I realize that for me it’s all about how often you go back to an album over the years. As a fan of the band through my teenage years, I was always picking up their new albums. And while Roll The Bones, Counterparts, Test For Echo and Vapor Trails have their moments, there’s no question that I haven’t spent nearly as much time with those releases as I have with Snakes And Arrows.

What is it about Snakes And Arrows then? Like any great album it’s all about the songs, and this particular release has songs that stand up to repeat listenings. The previously mentioned “Far Cry” is as good an album opener one could ask for, and is also one of the best singles Rush has ever released. It really shook up the fan base too. I remember within weeks of it’s release watching aspiring drummers showing off their chops by playing along with the tune. It also has one of the best lines drummer/lyricist Neal Peart has ever written, in my humble opinion:

One day I feel I’m ahead of the wheel
And the next it’s rolling over me.

But Snakes And Arrows is far from a one song album. Throughout tracks like “The Larger Bowl”, “The Way The Wind Blows” and “Faithless”, Peart writes about his ambivalence with regard to religion and spirituality in a timeless manner that keeps the songs from becoming dated. They’re complimented by some of the most organic music that bassist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson have come up with since, well, Moving Pictures.

Other highlights of Snakes and Arrows are the three instrumentals that are scattered throughout – the 6 minute plus “The Main Monkey Business”, Lifeson’s solo guitar piece “Hope” and the Team America: World Police inspired “Malignant Narcissim”, which finds Peart playing on a scaled down kit while Lee lays down some funk on his Jaco Pastorious bass. While all three are keepers, I think the later may be the best Rush instrumental since “YYZ”. It was a definite concert highlight when the band hit the road in support of the album.

With the release of the new documentary on the band, “Beyond The Lighted Stage” this week, the pop culture appreciation for Rush hits yet another high and the band’s summer tour “Time Machine” is hugely anticipated by fans eager to hear Moving Pictures performed in it’s entirety, it’s worth remembering that Rush is a band whose best years aren’t actually behind them. For proof look no further than Snakes And Arrows, a classic album that just gets better every time you put it on.

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