Permanent Wows

Momentary break from politics: I was just listening to Rush’s album Permanent Waves in the car, and realizing that record presents Neil Peart at the absolute pinnacle of his lyrical game.


Peart had his definite ups and downs with regards to lyrical prowess. Though a massive improvement over the “hey now baby” lyricism of his bandmates, he could get pompous, obtuse, goofy, and – as in, say, “New World Man” (the band’s worst song, I feel… and that includes the stuff off their first album and Hold Your Fire), downright cringeworthy. It could fairly be said that Peart stumbled so often because he reached so far. Neil never took the easy way out (well, almost never…), and neither did the band as a whole, which is one reason I love them so much despite their occasional missteps and a decidedly acquired-taste style.
This album, though – it’s fucking gold.

I mean, beyond the always-brilliant instrumentation, Permanent Waves features some gorgeous turns of phrase. everything good about Peart’s lyricism is on full display on this record, and the closest thing to a lyrical misstep – “All the busy little creatures/ Living out their destines” – is still light-years above most rock songs, and redeems itself with the following line: “Living in their pools/ they soon forget about the sea… and the hair-raising instrumental transition that follows that line.

Look, I know that Rush is a perennial whipping-boy for rockister-than-thous. And I never fucking cared. Even at their worst, the band has been in a class by itself since their second album, Peart’s debut Fly By Night, and did a pretty decent riff on Zeppelin before then. Every Rush album has its own personality, and you can mark the band’s ambitions by what they decided to try (successfully or otherwise) on the album in question. Many bands have been influenced by them, but no one’s ever managed to sound much like them because the post-Rutsey Rush is the sublime chemistry of three driven, visionary, goofy and occasionally pretentious guys who know damn well that no one else can do what they can do when they set their minds to it. No one else sounds like Rush because no one else could possibly BE Rush. You can cover their songs, but you can’t create the sound they made.
Permanent Waves marked a course-correction after the brilliant but bloated Hemispheres and the finicky A Farewell to Kings (my second-least-favorite Rush album, after Hold Your Fire, and one that’s guilty of almost everything Rush-haters despise about the band). The guys realized they’d pretty much tapped out the epic-length metaphorical SF faerie-tale thing, and they went for a record that manages to blend metaphysical ruminations about thunderstorms and macro /microcosms with some trenchant (and prescient) commentary about the declining state of popular radio, plus an absolutely gorgeous love-song to ever-flawed humanity. Through it all, Peart’s lyrics never miss a trick. Speaking as a writer, I think this record features some of the best popular music lyrics I’ve ever heard, anywhere. It’s easy to drop some “Ooo babies” and get the singer to sell that sentiment. It’s quite another to craft words like these.

Give Permanent Waves a listen, even if you’ve heard it before. I’ve been listening to this album since 1980 (my fourth rock concert was seeing Rush on tour for this album), and even know I’m hearing new things to love about it.

Rush Gram

About Satyr

Award-winning fantasy author, game-designer, and all 'round creative malcontent. Creator of a whole bunch of stuff, most notably the series Mage: The Ascension, Deliria: Faerie Tales for a New Millennium, and Powerchords: Music, Magic & Urban Fantasy. Lives in Seattle. Hates shoes. Loves cats. Dances a lot.
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