Geddy is still using the Wal bass, but here it sounds so much better than on the previous few albums. Alex is still using Paul Reed Smith guitars to great effect. It seems that Engineer Kevin Shirley was able to really bring out the strengths of those instruments.
Overall the album has a warm, luxurious sound. The drums are full and thundering, unlike the previous couple of albums. Alex is playing in the mid- and lower-range which really pushes Geddy down into the lower registers where his bass really shines. The improvement over the last couple of albums is immediately obvious.
The boys are BACK!
This new sound really comes across in the opening track, "Animate". They really rock out for the first time in a long time--probably not since 'Hemispheres'. In certain places Geddy takes the beat and enables Neil to focus on some incredible fills. This song reminds me of some of the most powerful parts of '2112'.
"Stick It Out" has a really cool opening with a simple, biting riff and loads of feedback. Like "Animate", this is a solid rocker with some of Geddy's best singing on the album. I am fondly reminded of "Cygnus X-1". It is also very "Zepplin-esque". Alex burns up the solo!
The album continues with one great song after another! "Cut to the Chase" rocks out with beautiful doubling of bass and guitar in the opening riff. Again I am fondly reminded of "Cygnus X-1".
Then comes "Nobody's Hero". Erk! This song just doesn't belong beside "Cut to the Chase". It is too simple and melodic. It kills the momentum of the album. It really should have been grouped with "Alien Shore" and "The Speed of Love". "Hero" is a nice little song, but a bit over dramatic and over produced compared to the first three tracks. Frankly, the use of the orchestra makes me think of those overwrought European hair-bands from the late 80's.
I love the guitar and drum doubling of "Between Sun and Moon". The guitar sound is really great. The drums are so loud--but perfect. Maybe this one should have come before "Hero". "Between" works great as a rhythm and melody song--but played in a hard rock/metal style.
"Alien Shore" features a cool groove and a great riff. I love the touches of feedback. It is a nice, dark tune--a real feast of layers. It is a spacious song with a lot of things going on in the spaces.
"The Speed of Love" is a lovely, melodic song that brings the pace down a bit, but still applies the same principles of volume, edge, depth, and power that are featured on the hard rockers at the beginning of the album. On this song, Alex shows off just how inventive he can be. None of the choices he makes are the obvious ones, but they are all perfect.
We return again to "Cygnus X-1" with "Double Agent". The arrangement, riffs the darkness, and the power all invoke that old song. "Agent" features an awesome opening with just bass and voice. The overdriven guitars that come next give an insistent edge to the song. I'm not sure why this great song did not stay in the setlist after the 'Counterparts' tour.
I absolutely love the instrumental "Leave That Thing Alone". It is truly incredible how much they accomplish--how much they manage to get in. I just love the riff, the groove, the swing, the sing-song guitar lines, and the ebb and flow of emotion. Each instrument sounds just fantastic. Being free of vocals gives so much more space for the music.
Just when you think it can't get any better, it does! "Cold Fire" takes off on such a wild ride then switches gears to become melodic and complex. The riff contrasts with the melody to show the shifting emotions of the dialog contained in the lyrics. This song has a Dire Straits feel to it, but harder and faster.
Like "Hero", "Everyday Glory" is a bit out of place. It should also have been put with "Speed of Love". I think that while this is a great song in its own right, it is not the ideal closing track. It sounds incredible. It is really gorgeous on its own. Like "Hero", it is melody driven, but here it works because it avoids being overly sentimental. Alex's playing reminds me of The Edge from U2.