While there is a definite break from the pop-leaning, synth-fused sound that had defined the Rush sound since the mid-1980s, their evolution back towards rock was not quite complete on Counterparts. Some have claimed that this was the back-to-basics album for the rock power trio, the truth is they had been migrating back on their previous two albums. But while the material leaned more towards the then-hip alternative rock sound, the album still contained its share of pop oriented and radio-friendly material, and it paid off commercially. The band’s fifteenth studio album, the album was Rush’s highest charting album in the US, peaking at number 2 on the Billboard 200.
The dark and emotional themes of Neil Peart‘s lyrics on Counterparts continue many of the trends of the band’s previous 1991 album Roll the Bones. Also resumed from the previous album was the inclusion of the instrumental, something that the band had abandoned through most of the 1980s. In this case, the instrumental “Leave That Thing Alone” was a thematic sequel to “Where’s My Thing?” and was nominated for a Grammy in the category of Best Rock Instrumental Performance in 1994.
While Peart took care of all the lyrics, bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson composed all the music, an arrangement employed by the band since the mid 1970s.
An opening drum beat by Peart introduces “Animate” and suggests the album is intended to be built on musical motifs with lyrical rhymes, rhymes, and more rhymes and just a touch of poetry. Still, a decent overall sound and a very entertaining middle part which includes the line which gave the album its title followed by a short, bluesy guitar lead by Lifeson. “Cut to the Chase” contains a moody picked guitar with bass accents by Lee eventually gives way to harder rocking section. As many have labeled Counterparts as Rush’s foray into “alternative” music this may be the best example to make that case, with the sound having a definite 1990s “groove”.
“Nobody’s Hero” contains a nice strummed acoustic and good guitars all around by Lifeson, with lyrics which remember lost friends much like the song “Afterimage” on Grace Under Pressure a decade earlier. “Stick It Out” takes a more raw, grungy sound and combines it with an almost-89s-hair-band-like anthem lyrically. The simple yet doomy riff over the verse gives way to a softer middle section, which just acts as a wall to bounce off the more appealing, heavier elements of the song, which charted at #1 on the Album Rock Tracks chart.
Peart really shows his drum chops on “Between Sun and Moon”, while yielding the lyrics to guest Pye Dubois. Combined, the song is melodic and entertaining throughout, and purely the most enjoyable song on the album. “Alien Shore” is driven by a funky rhythm on Lee’s bass and a great drum shuffle by Peart, but the vocal melody kind of mundane and repetitive, resulting in the song never quite hitting its potential, as one might have under the production techniques of Terry Brown, their producer from the early days.
The album’s latter tracks include the sonically pleasing “The Speed of Love” and the odd but original “Double Agent”, which forecasts the future Rush sound of the 2000s while continuing their occasional experimental pieces of the 1990s, such as the title song from the previous album Roll the Bones. “Cold Fire” is laid back with a steady beat, soaring vocals, and a good hook which made it very radio-friendly and earned it a #2 on the U.S. mainstream rock charts. The album concludes with “Everyday Glory”, which includes Lifeson’s bright guitars and Peart’s strong rhythms with a good bridge being the salvation of this song.
While it was the commercial peak of Rush’s long career, few would rank Counterparts in the top echelon of albums in Rush’s long career. This album’s success was due primarily to weak competition during the rather weak rock year of 1993.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1993 albums.