On September 10, 1996, "Rush" released their 16th studio album "Test For Echo".
This is the band's last album to be released before the long hiatus imposed on it, due to the two tragedies that befell Neil Peart, his daughter's death in a car accident and his partner's death from cancer, ten months apart. This is also the band's last album with producer Peter Collins who was also the co-producer on the band's three other albums - "Power Windows" from 1985, "Hold Your Fire" from 1987, and "Counterparts" from 1993.
The story of the recording of "Test For Echo" begins in May 1994, when the band members finished their tour to promote the album "Counterparts" from 1993. Geddy, Alex, and Neil agreed on a methodical break before starting work on their next album. However, this break extended beyond expectation when Geddy Lee asked his friends to take a year off to hang out with his little daughter who was born at that time.
Alex and Neil agreed of course, and devoted their free time to personal projects, Alex Lifeson working on his solo album called "Victor", and Neil Peart on the tribute album to the legendary jazz drummer Buddy Rich - "Burning for Buddy". Neil also took advantage of the break and started specializing in jazz-style playing, taking lessons from renowned drummer Freddie Gruber. Not that we think Neil Peart needed any jazz reinforcement, he was amazing in this challenging genre even before. For evidence, watch the video from 1991, especially the solo starting at 3:50 at the following link:
By the way, the jazz lessons taken by Neil Peart made him change his whole perception of playing on the album "Test For Echo", when he played most of the songs on it with a different stick grip than usual, known mainly from jazz musicians and called "traditional grip". Maybe that's why the drum sound on this album is so heavy and different.
In October 1995, the band members gathered at their regular studio in Claremont, Ontario to begin rehearsing and writing material for the new album. The band members discovered that for the first time the methodical break they took had negative effects. During the long break, Alex Lifeson thought a lot about the future of the band and he was not sure about continuing with the band. He thought that after 20 years of intensity it was going to be his last album with "Rush" and he didn't even know if he wanted to go on a tour to promote it. He said that the first sessions of writing the material for the album were especially difficult for him, he thought a lot about the creative freedom he had as part of the solo project "Victor" whose recordings he had finished just a few months earlier. Alex Lifeson said he worked a lot on himself mostly because he felt a commitment to his friends. To help Alex, the band members hung signs in the studio, with slogans such as: "Individually We Are an Ass, Together We Are a Genius".
Geddy and Neil supported Alex Lifeson's and the hard work with him paid off. In the end, Alex said he managed to "drive out the demons" he had in his mind, and from that moment on, everything suddenly changed for the better. During one week he co-wrote five new songs with the band. And so it was, that what began perhaps in a negative atmosphere ended in a crazy idyll. The band members said that after solving the little crisis, everything flowed in an amazing way and such a good atmosphere that they finished writing all the material for the album 3 weeks before the date allotted to them in the studio.
The musical material continued in a line that began on "Presto" from 1989 and included moving away from the band's synthesizer era and focusing on guitar-based songs. The production and mix work that Peter Collins did here also continued the same line that was in the previous album "Counterparts", which was also produced by him, and which included, among other things, bringing the guitars forward in the mix.
The band members gave the demos to all the songs written for the album to producer Peter Collins and planned to start recording as early as November 1995, but a severe snowstorm in the northern US and Canada delayed everything. By the way, this blizzard inspired the album cover.
The members eventually entered the recording studio only in January 1996. The band chose Clif Norrell as a recording technician. He was a fan of the band and was even part of the cover band of "Rush". This was the first time the band had worked with American technicians.
And now a little about the content.
"Test for Eches" is not one of the band's best albums. To be honest, it is one of their least good and in every rating list of the band's albums (even of the band members themselves) it "wins" one of the last places, in some of them, he is even in the last one.
Moreover, the vast majority of the album's songs did not survive the band's tough setlists and it was even completely ignored on the last tour "R40". As you may recall, the setlist of "R40" included songs from all periods of the band. When the band returns in reverse chronologically in time playing songs from all their albums, from "Clockwork Angels" backward to the first album ("Rush"), but for some reason, the band chose to skip on this album.
Nevertheless and perhaps despite all this, there are some amazing moments in this album, about four of which we will tell you right away. And if this album is one of "Rush"'s least good albums and perhaps the weakest of them all, it just proves how big and meteoric this band is.
The first is the theme song "Test for Echo" which opens the album and also gives credit to Pye Dubois, the lyricist who worked with the band Max Webster and helped Neil Peart write the lyrics to the song "Tom Sawyer" and others. The song opens with Alex Lifeson's Gibson Les Paul guitar chords, and immediately erupts powerfully with power chords and trimmed riffs transitions joined by Geddy Lee's dominant bass line. This roller coaster continues to accompany us for almost the entire six minutes of the song. This is the first single released from the album and it reached number one on the US Billboard charts, giving the band its most successful single in a decade.
The second song, is "Driven" which is perhaps the best song on the album. The music for this song was written entirely on Geddy Lee's bass guitar, and accordingly, the song opens with an edgy distortion riff that features three different layers of Geddy Lee's bass playing recorded separately and merged into one channel, but later cut with the clean chords from Alex Lifeson's acoustic guitar and creates a beautiful contrast.
The third song "Half the World" is a philosophical song by Neil Peart that was also released as a single and even won a nice clip. Geddy Lee gives his best bass work on the album and Alex Lifeson adorns it with layers of electric and acoustic guitars and even with a 10-string mandala that he wonderfully played a little solo with. Undoubtedly, this is the album's catchiest song.
The fourth and final recommended track from this album is the ballad "Resist", the ninth track on the album. Alex Lifeson considers this song one of his favorites from the album and even in the entire "Rush" catalog. This song is one of the specials from "Rush", if only because it is the only song of the band that won an Unplugged performance as part of the 'R30" tour.
Of course, there are other good songs on this album, "Virtuality" that Neil Peart wrote about interpersonal relationships via the internet, "Time and Motion" written years before, but the band did not use them until now and reappeared while working on the album, "Color Of Right" Amazing and underappreciated in our opinion," Dog Years" which includes the line "One sniff at the hydrant" which refers to the "Signals" album cover that we reviewed yesterday and includes a picture of a dog smelling a hydrant, the charming ending "Carve Away the Stone" and even the instrumental track "Limbo" Which consisted of several musical ideas that the band had.