Rush, the ‘Holy Trinity’ to their legions of fans worldwide have become the latest band to see an album get the 40th-anniversary update; Permanent Waves is being re-released with an additional CD of ‘live’ tracks and if you buy the ‘Super Duper Deluxe Edition’ a 12,000-word booklet as well as three black 180-gram vinyl albums.
When this album was first released in 1980 Rush were the brightest star in the rock firmament. Zeppelin were through, Sabbath were a spent force, Purple were in abeyance, Bon Scott had just died and the new wave of British heavy metal was still embryonic. Rush however on the back of albums like ‘2112’ and ‘Hemispheres’, plus the live album ‘All The World’s A Stage’, were on an upwards trajectory to the very top of the tree. Permanent Waves was the album that saw Rush evolving their sound and moving away from recording lengthy epic tracks, like ‘Hemispheres’ and ‘2112,’ and incorporating the usage of synths into their sound. This saw them move towards producing slightly shorter, albeit more radio-friendly songs. There never was any chance rock radio stations would play ‘Cygnus X-1’ but, on this album, tracks like ‘Spirit of Radio’ and ‘Freewill’ became immediate radio favourites. These songs had simple and catchy licks especially on ‘Freewill’ where some quite complex melody lines featured and some of Neil Peart’s more socially pertinent lyrics. ‘Spirit of Radio’ even including a touch of reggae towards the end.
Rush, despite their protestations, always had one foot in prog in the late ’70s, and on this album, they kept that foot firmly in the door with two epic tracks. Firstly ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ with its multiple time signatures, dark foreboding feel. Then the ten minute, three-part epic ‘Natural Science,’ with some stunning guitar playing from Alex Lifeson, particularly on the third part of the piece. The album-closing to thirty seconds of waves slowly lapping against the shore.
The other two tracks on the album always tend to be overlooked in the mix but they absolutely deserve not to be. ’Entre Nous’ shows remarkable sensitivity for a power rock trio. It was no less commercial than ‘Spirit of Radio’ and ‘Freewill’; it’s a song about how it’s the spaces between us which allows the other person to grow. While the slower-paced ‘Different Strings’ is as near as Rush ever came to recording a love song, with Geddy Lee opening ‘different hearts move to different strings,’ and the track fades out to Alex Lifeson’s gorgeously subtle guitar work.
The second disc contains a dozen ‘live’ tracks from gigs on the 1980 tour, recorded in Missouri, Manchester, and London (interest declared… this reviewer was at the London show). With only ‘Entre Nous’ and ‘Different Strings’ from Permanent Waves not available in a ‘live’ format. It goes without saying that the live tracks, all previously unreleased see a band at the very top of its game, with the slightly shorter tracks on the new album having all the same power onstage as proven classics like ‘By-Tor and the Snow Dog’ and ‘Xanadu.’
The playing of Messrs Lifeson, Lee, and Peart on this live album is simply outstanding, with Lee mastering complex bass runs while still being able to produce vocal deliveries. Sadly, with the untimely demise of Neil Peart in January 2020, the Holy Trinity is now permanently fractured. If you never saw them on stage, this will show you what you missed out on. Rush’s skill was to move away from lengthy epics and towards a more mainstream direction, yet still be able to hold the interest of their fanbase. With this album Rush proved they were indeed a force to be reckoned with, and while the debate will forever rage about whether this album or its follow-up, ‘Moving Pictures’, is their masterwork, this was the album which saw Rush scaling the heights of rock’s Mount Olympus and planting their flag.