Permanent Waves


Mercury Records, 1980

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


If the first six studio albums from Canadian rock trio Rush were a journey to discover which direction they wanted to take their music in, 1980's Permanent Waves was the declaration that they journey - at least for the moment - was over.Featuring a more commercial sound than many of their previous efforts (certainly more commercial than A Farewell To Kings or Hemispheres), Geddy Lee and crew moved away from the concept album idea and focused their energies on writing tight songs that - God forbid - might get airplay.

It worked; Permanent Waves has left its permanent mark thanks to "The Spirit Of Radio" and "Free Will," two songs which have been so latched onto by rock radio that it's almost tiring to hear them these days. But while Permanent Waves was most definitely a step forward for Rush, it was still a tentative step.

It wasn't that Rush had abandoned longer "epic" songs; "Natural Science" clocks in at over nine minutes. And it wasn't that Rush had been having problems writing long songs that were interesting. But the two longest songs on this disc, "Natural Science" and "Jacob's Ladder," both are noteworthy because they remain interesting from the first note to the final fade-out. It sometimes seems hard to believe that so much time has passed once you've finished each song, because the writing and performances are both so watertight that a minute seems more like a second - proof positive that Rush had mastered this style of songwriting.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Long-time readers might expect me to bash "The Spirit Of Radio" and "Free Will" at this point, just because they've been overplayed on radio. Sorry, won't happen - but that doesn't mean I think a song like "Free Will" is perfect. "The Spirit Of Radio" is indeed a marvelous track, which still can excite me today like it did when I first heard this album as a teenager. But "Free Will" has its flaws, most notably a rather sloppy guitar solo from Alex Lifeson, who puts speed over style in a rare mistake in his style. Likewise, there really isn't a solid rhythm line in the verses - at least not until you get to the bridge, when things pick up a bit.

Interestingly enough, it is the overall sound of Permanent Waves that is the disc's biggest downfall - and I admit, since I'm working from an older copy, that things may have been improved when the disc was re-mastered and re-released. The overall production work on this one (courtesy of the band and Terry Brown) is surprisingly high in the treble, providing not enough bass to create a solid overall sound. The end result is just a little tinny - not enough to wreck the album, but enough to affect the overall experience in a negative way.

Of the two songs not yet mentioned, possibly the hidden gem is "Entre Nous," a powerful song that plays with time signatures and musical styles like they were pick-up sticks, all the while never losing the heart of the song. "Different Strings" is a nice enough effort, but it doesn't have solid enough songwriting behind it to make it a ballad that works, especially coming from a band such as Rush (who had done softer-edged songs before).

Permanent Waves marked a new chapter in Rush's career, and while they would go on to even better things, this disc is that first move into a new direction. As they took more steps, they became more confident with their moves; if only this disc had some more of that confidence, it would be the classic many Rush fans see it to be.

Rating: B-

User Rating: A-



© 2002 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Mercury Records, and is used for informational purposes only.