Superdeluxe reissue of Rush’s Signals showcases the appeal of the original album but offers little else

Music Reviews Rush

No one, not even Rush’s biggest fans, would ever argue that Rush and reggae go hand in hand. And even the most ardent defenders of late drummer Neil Peart have to admit that groove wasn’t exactly his middle name. Which makes it all the more remarkable that on Signals, the Canadian trio’s follow-up to its 1981 breakthrough Moving Pictures, Peart not only grooved like never before, but the band as a whole dared to delve into reggae and actually pulled it off with flourish. Signals, which turned 40 last year, captures Rush at their most supple and fluid—qualities that both aficionados and detractors alike had no reason whatsoever to expect from this band.

After starting out as a bluesy, meat-and-potatoes rock outfit in the late ‘60s, Rush abruptly changed direction in 1974 when they started to emulate progressive rock cornerstones like Yes and Genesis. This shift in sound was soon serendipitously followed by the arrival of Peart, who is universally hailed as one of the most rigorously technical drummers in rock history. The band would soon thereafter etch its own place atop progressive rock’s Mt. Rushmore on the back of genre-defining classics like 2112 and Hemispheres. Still, those who unfairly malign progressive rock as lacking in soulfulness need only point to Rush who, for all their myriad attributes, tended to hew toward the stiff side.

That stiffness wasn’t remedied even when the band transitioned rather seamlessly from concept albums and complete album-side suites to a more accessible, song-oriented approach beginning with 1980’s Permanent Waves and continuing with Moving Pictures. Sure, chestnuts off those albums like “The Spirit of Radio,” “Freewill,” “Tom Sawyer” and “Limelight” became timeless radio staples for good reason. Those songs only proved what fans already knew, which was that bassist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson had developed into seasoned songwriters. But, with the exception of the irresistible forward march of “Tom Sawyer,” Rush basically lacked in feel what they made up for with chops.

Signals, however, represents the one point in the band’s catalog where Peart was able to integrate intangibles into his mathematical style. There’s a long-standing axiom that rock music is supposed to come from the hips, so to speak, rather than the head—the antithesis of what Peart’s playing epitomized. Pick just about any Signals track, though, and you can hear the drums gliding across the music as if Peart had composed his parts while dancing to his bandmates’ ideas. In spots—such as the spacious, Calypso-flavored chorus of “Chemistry,” the heavily Police-inspired “New World Man,” the simultaneously somber and sweet “Losing It”—Peart sounds so light on his feet his previous work comes off as robotic by comparison.

And it’s not like Peart, or the band as a whole, sacrificed their technical acumen either. There’s plenty to wrap your head around in the hi-hat patterns and, say, the ultra-tricky placement of a suspended snare/crash hit on “Digital Man.” Meanwhile, Lee’s bass lines remain as complex, rubbery and active as ever. On tunes like “Chemistry” and “The Analog Kid,” Lee runs up and down the fretboard with an almost athletic gusto. And Lifeson still manages to assert his place in the mix alongside an increasingly dominant wall of synths, his leads at once fiery, angular, exotic, perplexing and—somehow—gorgeous and hummable. As always, Lifeson plays airy, chorus-saturated chords that permeate the music like fine mist overcast by massive storm clouds.

Last but not least, there are the songs themselves, which all work together to make for an evocative, dreamy and profoundly moving listening experience. When Lee sings Peart’s lyric about “a hot and windy August afternoon” on “The Analog Kid,” it’s hard to imagine a more suitable sound to imprint onto your own personal summer memories. With all that said, though, was a “superdeluxe” box set version even necessary? Sadly, not at all. This is, in fact, the first title in the Rush reissue campaign that does not come with a corresponding, period-appropriate live recording. What we get instead are four superfluous 7-inch singles and a Blu-ray disc that contains a Dolby Atmos mix, two official videos and seven new “visualizer” videos.

Admittedly, the Abbey Road remastering (from 2015) mostly favors tastefulness over gimmicky, artificial highlighting of details for its own sake. The same can’t be said of original album cover artist Hugh Syme’s new slate of visuals. Where there was a suggestive charm in the original cover’s depiction of a dalmatian sniffing at a bright red fire hydrant, Syme opts for a more blunt, literal presentation this time around. His new image of a dog lifting its leg is un-subtle and unnecessary—much like this reissue.

Should you buy the old CD used for three bucks? Sure. But does this box give us an occasion to revisit a Rush classic from a pivotal point in their history? You bet. For that alone, this set is worth acknowledging, if not necessarily celebrating or shelling-out for.

Saby Reyes-Kulkarni is a longtime contributor at Paste. He believes that a music journalist’s job is to guide readers to their own impressions of the music. You can find him on Twitter and Substack at feedbackdef.substack.com

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