Signals was the much anticipated ninth album by Rush, as it followed up the blockbuster 1981 album Moving Pictures. This album would be the first where they would depart from the band’s classic sound and migrate towards more “modern” genres of new wave, reggae, ska, and synth-driven pop music. When the album was finally released in September 1982, it was a bit of a disappointment for many of the longtime fans who grew up with Rush’s classic sound and had really hoped the band would up the ante following the fantastic Moving Pictures with an even better album. They didn’t and it was not. That being said, Signals is still a very good album. It would also establish a pattern of disparate songwriting, such as one song that was the product of drummer Neil Peart jamming with some of the road crew, one with differing parts written by each of the three band members at completely separate locations, and one that included a sequenced bass and guitar part that producer Terry Brown so strongly objected to that he would never again produce a Rush album.
Rush had begun to experiment with synthesized technology as early as 1977’s A Farewell to Kings, when bassist and lead vocalist Geddy Lee played short synth parts. On subsequent albums the band slowly implemented more electronics, such as foot pedal triggers, to explore more complex arrangements while maintaining their core sound. On Signals, the band brought the synthesized sounds to the forefront, ushering in a new sound for the band which they would explore through the rest of the 1980s. Unlike those later albums, however, this album maintains a rock edge tinged in various sub-genres, which make it a unique and interesting listen. Guitarist Alex Lifeson is still very strong on this album as far as providing the predominent musical melodies.
Further, the lyrical content on this album was a far cry from the deep, philosophical epics of the band’s past. More contemporary and accessible topics were explored such as teen repression, peer pressure, old age, and modern professions.
Signals by Rush
|Released: September 9, 1982 (Mercury)
Produced by: Rush and Terry Brown
Recorded: Le Studio, Morin Heights, Quebec, April-July 1982
|Side One||Side Two|
The Analog Kid
New World Man
|Geddy Lee – Lead Vocals, Bass, Keyboards, Synth Pedals
Alex Lifeson – Guitars, Synth Pedals
Neal Peart – Drums, Percussion
The song “Countdown” was the earliest written for this album, just months after the release of Moving Pictures. The band were invited to a V.I.P. viewing of the launching of the very first space shuttle, Columbia, in Florida in April 1981. This event would be the inspiration for the song which describes the launch in detail along with audio clips of some of the radio talk recorded during the maiden flight. The song, which closes the album, was later used as a “wake-up” song for astronauts during future space shuttle missions. “The Weapon” is a solid song, musically, which includes some sequenced parts and acts as another part in Peart’s disparate trilogy called “Fear”.
The album’s opener, “Subdivisions” is the most enduring song on Signals. This is especially due to the fantastic drumming by Peart, who stands out here more than anywhere else. With the advent of MTV, the band would produce their first music video for this song, which carries a duo meaning, exploring adolescent social constructs as well as urban geographical layouts. Lee also shines, with solid and melodic vocals topping a performance on synthesizer that includes two solos done on a Minimoog and interspersed bass guitar parts.
The song where Rush sounds the most like its old self is “The Analog Kid”, especially during the hyperactive intro riff and verses. Lifeson provides an excellent solo which introduces a climatic outro to the song. Both “The Analog Kid” and “Digital Man” were later reborn as characters in the 2004 comic Common Grounds. “Digital Man” has a reggae-based backing, which was a sore spot for Brown who was reluctant to leave behind the band’s past sound, while the band members wanted to explore such new musical directions. This song contains some of the most interesting bass playing on the album.
“Chemistry” is probably the weakest song on album, but an interesting “experiment” nonetheless. Each member wrote a different part of the song, including lyrics, from remote locations prior to the album sessions. The song was then compiled in sequence. It would be the last time to date (30 years and counting) that Lee or Lifeson would contribute lyrics to a Rush song. “Losing It” is another experimental song, bringing in a guest violinist Ben Mink on violin. The song is soft and melodic with calm virtuosity and melancholy lyrics and a writer and a dancer past their prime. Lifeson’s dramatic lead greatly enhances to the overall tension of the song.
“New World Man” returns back to the reggae influence, fused nicely with solid, new wave rock beats. the song became a surprise hit single for the band, peaking at #21 on the Billboard charts, the band’s highest charting single and only top 40 ‘hit” in the US. The song was the last composed for the album song on the album, as their goal was to write a song between 3:40 and 3:50 in length to keep the “sides” of the album fairly even. The song was written and recorded on the same day.
The album itself reached #10 on the Billboard album charts and was certified Platinum within two months of its release. The band then embarked on the biggest tour to date, criscrossing North America, Britain, and West Germany to support Signals through 1983.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1982 albums.