First of all, I want to dedicate this retrospective to the late great Neil Peart. For those who don’t know, (which at this point I’d be surprised if you didn’t know already), he passed away on January 7th, 2020, due to a three and a half year-long battle with glioblastoma, which is a form of brain cancer. Simply stated, he was an incredible man, and in my opinion, THE best drummer of all time. Forget about speed, forget about technique, the guy had everything. He laid the groundwork for so many bands and drummers to follow, and on top of all that, he was a tremendous lyricist as well. He will forever be missed by not only myself but by so many tremendously loyal/diehard fans. The rock world truly lost a giant of the highest stature, and we are all forever in debt to his contributions.
Now that my tribute thesis is out of the way, what better way to elaborate on the genius of Neil Peart and more specifically the band Rush alongside Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson than to talk about Permanent Waves (1980) which turns 40 this year, released on January 14th, 1980 on Mercury Records.
After expanding to progressive rock heights on their previous record Hemispheres (1978), Rush had taken that particular venture as far as they were willing to take it. They were composing super long and complex arrangements not only from a structural standpoint but also in terms of skill. In other words, they had pushed themselves beyond their limits with Hemispheres and were ready to go into the next record with a completely different approach. The goal was to write songs that were more melodic while focusing on making them shorter and ‘to-the-point.’ However, Permanent Waves inevitably was still laced with progressive style songs rooted in a similar vein of albums that came before, which I’ll elaborate on later.
The album starts with “The Spirit Of Radio,” which is one of Rush’s all-time classic songs that launched them into having mainstream success and being played on the radio quite often, even to this day. Coincidentally, the song is about hearing your favorite song on the radio, so it’s very fitting, of course. While there’s definitely a level of accessibility, it still has that progressive element that Rush proved more than enough times they are the reigning masters of with a quite complex intro that is still a challenge to musicians everywhere trying to learn how to play the song.
However, some songs are a little more along the lines of straight-ahead melodic rock that the band was deliberately trying to write. The best representation of this is a song like “Entre Nous.” It’s a quintessential example of Neil Peart’s exquisite lyricism. I could certainly relate to this song on a personal level in regards to loved ones in my life, and Neil always had an uncanny way of putting it best when often we as listeners have a hard time describing it ourselves.
As I mentioned earlier, Rush was still riding off of their progressive style and stamina with songs like “Jacob’s Latter” and “Natural Science.” By this time, Rush could pull out songs like these with the wave of a magic wand, and it cemented them as the masters of the genre. These songs are arguably among their best, and Permanent Waves as a whole, I feel, is one of their most cohesive. Side note, one thing I love the most about “Natural Science,” in particular, is Neil’s fearlessness of expressing his own views about the world without it feeling like he’s preaching. He offers a viewpoint with an assumed reaction of “take it as you will” but with an underlying suggestion to give it some thought. Never once does he contradict himself or falter from his stance, which is commendable. He urges the listener to think about the big picture, and overall the greater good of mankind but from a complex perspective of many angles. Rush were certainly a band that made you think, and often I feel as well that we could stand to do a little more thinking!
Permanent Waves was honestly one of the last Rush albums from what many consider their “classic era” that I truly got into aside from listening to the singles like “Spirit Of Radio” and “Freewill.” That being said, once I finally dove into this record, it slowly became one of my most favorites from the band’s catalog. It often fights for first place in my personal ranking alongside A Farewell To Kings (1977) and Hemispheres (1978). That being said, this would be the first album I would recommend to anyone getting into Rush for the first time, as I feel it’s the best representation of the band as a whole musically. It truly has just about everything you could ever expect from a Rush record. On top of that, it’s just chock full of incredibly great songs that are an absolute joy to listen to, and I would argue very few would get tired of because I certainly have not.