What happens when "Rush" decides to have some fun with grunge ???
On October 19, 1993 "Rush" released their 15th studio album "Counterparts".
It's one of the band's most successful albums in the US, which immediately after its release jumped to second place on the Billboard charts. Why only second place? Because that very day "Vs.", the second album of "Pearl Jam", came out and stole the first place from "Rush".
Now you're probably wondering how one of Rush's most successful albums in the US relates to "grunge"?
So let's release it right here. "Rush" really had fun on this album with grunge and alternative. Anyone who does not believe, please jump straight to the end of the review and click play on "Animate", wait for the 0:57 second, and tell us if you do not hear a guitar-bass-drum riff that could easily be a part of the album "Ten" of "Pearl Jam". And if that still does not work out for you, then listen to the lead riff in the song "Stick It Out" or the powerful chord transitions in the opening of the song "Cold Fire".
So how come "Rush", the queen of prog metal of the 70s and the princess of the synthesizers from the 80s, comes to play grunge and alternative in the 90s?
1993 was a year in which the grunge revolution was in full swing. The music industry was simply dominated by bands from Seattle or the like, and "Rush" understood that the music market has changed beyond recognition since releasing their previous album, two years earlier. They understand that to stay relevant they must do it again. They must reinvent themselves and change their musical style once more and adapt to the music era.
The band members come together and make a conscious decision to change their sound, but still remain spontaneous while writing. They later confirmed that during the writing process they were influenced by "Primus" who warmed them up on the tour of the album "Roll The Bones" as well as by "Pearl Jam". Alex Lifeson also noted in an interview after the album's release, that there was an agreement among the band members that the guitar would have a more dominant role than the keyboards, something that has not happened since the album "Moving Pictures".
At the same time, behind the scenes, musical disagreements arose between Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee. Alex Lifeson asked Geddy Lee not to use the keyboards at all, but Lee brought them with him to the studio, which clouded the atmosphere. Lee explained that he intended to use the keyboards as an addition, a complementary "decoration" to the music, as was done on the previous album, but Alex Lifeson thought Gaddy Lee was backing away from the agreement and wants the keyboards to be a major and essential part. As you can tell from listening to the album, the result is more in line with Geddy Lee's version, as the guitar roles in the album almost completely overshadow the keyboards, which serve as an accompaniment in the background and nothing more.
Ultimately in this album, there is a perfect balance between the conscious decision to write music that will suit the period, and the consent and desire of the band members to be spontaneous. This perfect balance is what will make the album one of the band's most successful in the US.
The rhythm count of Neil Peart which was captured on the recording, opens up "Animate", the first in a grunge-alternative sequence that opens the album. Geddy Lee thought Neil Peart's count had a human touch that well conveyed the atmosphere in the studio so it stayed. Interesting to note that Peart plays on this album on an American Ludwig Maple Classic set, which greatly influences the special sound. Immediately after the count, Neil Peart enters with a basic R&B rhythm of 4/4. Immediately after Alex Lifeson joins with the arpeggio chords and Geddy Lee with the dominant and sweeping bass line, while in the background you can hear the keyboards used only as an accompaniment, just as Geddy Lee intended. Geddy Lee plays deliberately with a "faltering" bass amp. This old amplifier was found to be in the studio and was repaired with the help of the recording technician, especially to get an immature and rough sound. At 3:19 we go down a bit towards the entrance to the transition section which includes a beautiful solo by Alex Lifeson and also the word "Counterparts" which represents the name of the album.
We harden the sound with the grunge, rough and heavy riff leading the song "Stick It Out" which was also the first single released from the album and reached number one on Billboard. The clip for the song gained a lot of screen time on MTV and undoubtedly contributed a lot to the relative success of the album. This song evolved from a guitar riff that Alex Lifeson played to Geddy Lee and Geddy really liked it. The band stuck to the forceful riff that makes up most of the song, but added several elements to it that made it more interesting.
The third track "Cut to the Chase" opens with Alex Lifeson's "airy" guitar and we already feel the transition from grunge to alternative, especially with the powerful chords in the chorus. Alex Lifeson's solo is one of the most special and beautiful on the album. Amazing to think it was taken from a demo Alex Lifeson made on an analog tape. Alex thought this version was the best. If you will try carefully you will be able to hear a piano that accompanies parts of the song.
The album downshifts gear with the fourth track "Nobody's Hero" one of the most beautiful and moving songs on the album that Neil Peart wrote inspired by the death of his friend from AIDS. The song is mostly based on the acoustic guitar of Alex Lifeson and the bass of Geddy Lee and includes an accompaniment by a string choir led by the legendary Michael Kamen.
The lyrics to the fifth song "Between Sun & Moon" are the result of another collaboration between Neil Peart and Pye Dubois, who co-wrote with Neil Peart the lyrics to the songs "Tom Sawyer" and "Force Ten" in the previous decade. The musical side of the song evolved from a jam between Geddy Lee and Alex. Alex Lifeson played Geddy the riff and Geddy thought that this does not sound like Alex Lifeson's playing but rather "the Rolling Stones". Indeed, the two agreed that Keith Richards and Pete Townshend were the inspiration for writing the song.
The song "Double Agent" was described by Geddy Lee as "a perfect exercise in self-indulgence." This is the last song the band wrote for the album and Gedy noted that they just wanted to go wild and play whatever they wanted. Geddy Lee also noted that this is the most "nerdy" song they have come out with (probably because of the speech segment in the middle) but he also said he is very pleased with the result. Quite amazingly, the sound of the guitar riff in this song is a kind of window that allows a glimpse into the future, as it is very reminiscent of the sound that the band will have on their albums from the 2000s.
The song "Cold Fire" is one of the most beautiful songs on the album. Its power is its dynamic. It opens with a fast guitar riff and from there to a melodic and calm section and back all over again. The band members noted that they had the hardest time finishing this song and that it was rewritten several times, until producer Peter Collins helped them reach the final and satisfactory result. Lee was so pleased with the result that he rated the song as the best on the album in terms of composition. This song reached number two on the US mainstream charts.
It is interesting to note that this album includes an instrumental track called "Leave That Thing Alone" which at least in terms of the name is a sequel to the instrumental track "Where's My Thing?" From the previous album.
After the release of the album, the band embarks on a limited tour in Canada and the US only.
This album proves that Rush is a band that manages time and time again to adapt itself to the music era and style and thus remained always relevant, just like a chameleon that changes colors according to the place and time it operates and in doing so not only survives but gets better over the years.