Resignated Joy: Rush and Vapor Trails (2013)

rush vapor trails remixedIf only. . . .

Listening to the re-released and remixed version of Vapor Trails (originally released May 14, 2002) over the last several days has been akin to a great hike in the Rockies with my brothers.  Clean air, deep conversation, and almost ceaseless movement through ever-changing vistas.

Indeed, I often think how much I’d love to have Neil Peart as an older brother.  He’s 15 years old than I am, and I doubt if any figure (and, be prepared to be shocked–I was a nerd kid; I read everything I could find) influenced my own view of life and the world more than did Peart, especially between my 13th birthday and my 21st.

During the most troubling parts of my childhood, the Canadian drummer always seemed to offer some of the best advice I received in those days.  And, without exaggeration, I can say that some of the lyrics on Moving Pictures, Signals, Grace Under Pressure, and Power Windows saved my life–quite literally and truly.

I owe Peart a lot.

I know I’m not alone.  There are, at the very least, a generation of us North Americans who were guided far more by Peart than by any of our teachers, our pastors and ministers, and, even, our extended relatives.  Certainly, between roughly 1981 and 1986, given a choice between spending time with headphones on listening to Rush or watching TV, I would’ve (and did) choose Rush every time.  The images Geddy, Alex, and Neil evoked had far more power–at least in my mind, heart, and soul–than that of any exec, writer, or actor associated with the small screen.

I’ve never lost my love of or appreciation of Rush.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve only grown with them.

In particular, I’m happy to note, I’ve celebrated with them.  Much of what I knew in the 1990s (those somewhat dreary, pre-marriage graduate school years) came from the internet forum (new in those days), the National Midnight Star and the long-involved discussions of Rush, the lyrics, and the music.  The three members of Rush continued to guide me–again, much like my older brothers, always a bit ahead of me in life, always willing to share wisdom with the pesky, somewhat annoying, little brother.

And, of course, as we all did, I mourned with them.  When word arrived of Neil’s double losses in the late 1990s–the death of his daughter and his wife–I was devastated for him.

At the time, Neil disappeared, and we all, more or less, assumed Rush was done.  Rumors abounded that Neil had gotten on his motorcycle and just taken off.  Several friends and I looked for him in the news–an odd announcement here or there might reveal a small detail or a hint.  Could he be in Texas, hiding out, looking for a small band to form, perhaps to heal?  Perhaps he’d driven to Argentina or Chile.

As it turns out, we were partially right.  Neil, as he soon revealed, had indeed been traveling throughout North America on his touring motorcycle, looking for solitude and solace.

After reemerging from a year on the road, he rejoined Geddy and Alex, and the band recorded one of its best albums, an album, as Neil has explained, of victory and redemption.

This would be reason enough to love Vapor Trails.  But, the album is also a stunning work of art.

Little did I know when Vapor Trails came out in 2002 that my wife and I would experience something similar, losing our third daughter, Cecilia Rose, named after a great aunt as well as the patron saint of music, in August 2007.  Neil would once again–though at a distance–serve as older brother, helping me understand our own terrible and confusing loss.  But, this is not the post to go into this.  Suffice it say, I understand what Neil experienced.

vt-remix-boxVapor Trails

Vapor Trails, as I saw it then, and still do, is three very important things.

First, it’s the most intense album Rush had written and produced since Grace Under Pressure (my favorite Rush album; an album that defined the rather broken, tense world of the 1980s for me).

Second, what’s not to love?  The album, even in its resignation and mixed tone, is nothing if not a celebration of life, a tribute of two brothers, supporting and loving the third, helping Neil grieve and helping him overcome.  Geddy and Alex throw themselves into this album, as does Neil.

Third, the album is the beginning of an entire re-emergence of Rush, a more rocking as well as more progressive Rush.  It’s nearly impossible for me to separate Vapor Trails from Snakes and Arrows and Snakes and Arrows from Clockwork Angels.  It’s as though Rush tapped into the very essence of the third wave of prog, having been early pioneers in the genre in the 1970s, and adding their own very Rushian spirit to the movement in the first and second decades of the twenty-first century.

Complaints–but not from me

A lot of long-time Rush fans complained about Vapor Trails when it came out, and many still do.  For the diehard Rush fan, Vapor Trails is accepted, but it rarely ranks high.  The key excuse for not liking the album has always been, first and foremost, that it was poorly mixed and mastered.

I would never have even considered this as an issue unless others had told me it was.  Perhaps I just don’t have the right ears, but I’d always assumed the album was meant to have a bit of a post-grunge, hollowish, sound.  I’d assumed this sound quality was a part of its charm.

If, however, the remixed and released version of Vapor Trails is what Rush originally had wanted, then, I finally understand some of the grumblings over the last 11 years.

The remixed 2013 version is a piece of sonic brilliance, an audiophile’s equivalent of an 8- pound bag of peanut M&Ms from Costco, even with the blue dye number 3.

Whatever my own aural limitations, I’m hearing things with the 2013 release that I’d never even imagined with the 2002 version.  Every instrument is punctuated and individually enhanced while yet remaining rather seamless in its integration with every other instrument.  This is one tight band.

Themes

Not surprisingly, the emotional tone of the lyrics is all over the place.  One Little Victory: exactly what it states, victory of life over death.  Ceiling Unlimited: hope.  Ghost Rider: resignation and penance.  Peaceable Kingdom: wishes.  The Stars Look Down and How It Is: fate and acceptance.  Vapor Trail: fleeting and ephemeral.  Secret Touch: stoic fortitude.  Earthshine and Sweet Miracle: wonder and grace.  Nocturne and Freeze Part IV: unworthiness.  Out of the Cradle: victory and pronouncement.

If anything, the 2013 version only highlights Neil’s very personal and confessional lyrics.  Indeed, if Grace Under Pressure examines the state of the world and laments, Vapor Trails examines the state of the soul and rejoices. . . mostly.

neil four corners

About bradbirzer

By day, I'm a father of seven and husband of one. By night, I'm an author and prog rocker. Interests: prog rock, cultural criticisms, Macs, history, hiking, and science fiction.

Posted on October 5, 2013, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 36 Comments.

  1. Nice review Brad. Wish it was enough to convince me that I’d like Rush as much as the fans do. I always feel like I’m missing out on something when I read this stuff.
    I had a brief flirtation with A farewell to Kings which ended when I couldn’t take anymore of Geddy Lee’s high pitched vocals. But I have Grace under Pressure.. and I haven’t played it for twenty odd years. The world weighed on my shoulders in the 80s too.
    I’m going to visit the attic later and dig it out… Got to start again somewhere.

    Like

    • Eric, I wonder what I’d think about Rush if I heard them for the first time at 46 instead of 13. Geddy’s voice has always been “normal” for me. I also think that Americans and Canadians have an unusual relationship with Rush–maybe in the same way that Brits have with Yes? Just thinking out loud here.

      Like

      • I don’t get the people that have voice issues with Geddy and then laud Zeppelin. Robert Plant’s voice is a Holy Mess compared to Geddy’s and just as high in many spots.

        Like

  2. Brad,
    I listened to the remixed version as I read your review. Like you, I never quite understood the vehement denunciations of the original’s sound when it was released – I was just happy that Rush had returned, and Neil was okay. That said, this new mix is amazing! The separation of the instruments is a revelation, particularly Geddy’s bass lines (for example, the fade at the end of “Secret Touch”). I saw them on the tour for this album, and they were outstanding – obviously having a great time playing together, and the new songs were highlights.

    Like

  3. Tad–agreed. So great you saw them on tour. I didn’t for that one–but should have.

    Like

  4. I LOVE Vapor Trails and never understood the whiners. I was just glad there was new Rush and that the lyrics and music was as good as ever, and better as a whole than any work they had done in a long time. I lost my mother in 1999, had my wife go through a life threatening illness in 2001 an the birth of our child shortly after. An of course, there were the events of 9/11. Vapor Trails touch me personally and helped me deal with all those life altering events. I sounds silly, but it’s true. I was extremely incensed by all the complaining. The Vapor Trails tour was a real treat as I finally had the financial wherewithal to see them a few different times and get up-close seats. To this day I still regularly listen to Vapor Trails.

    Like

  5. Fantastic review that pretty much echoes everything I have thought and experienced over the years with VT. Well written and well said. Very sorry to hear of your personal loss.

    Like

  6. Brad, clearly you are a kindred spirit to myself and a few fellow die-hard Rush fan friends of mine. I totally relate to your narrative about the band (particularly Neil) and the meaning of their music in your life. I am so sorry to hear about your daughter, I have a dear daughter myself, and I cannot imagine the unbearable pain. Like with Neil, I’m glad to see you’re OK. I look forward to reading your stuff in the future, and thanks for the article man.

    Like

  7. Michel Gastkemper

    Except listening to the new record (I don’t have it yet), I agree with every word–I feel the same. Thank you very much! (I am from Rotterdam, Holland.)

    Like

  8. Love this review, really great way to sum up Vapor Trails. I’ve always thought the same about Vapor Trails and would have loved it with or without the remix. But now that I have it, I wouldn’t be able to take it back. It’s just so good.

    Like

  9. “Indeed, if Grace Under Pressure examines the state of the world and laments, Vapor Trails examines the state of the soul and rejoices” … that is an excellent observation. Well put.

    Like

  10. What a great review!

    Like

  11. Brad,

    Great and personal review.

    Being a Rush fan is a personal choice. Those who aren’t, can shake their heads and wonder what all the fuss is about—but those of us, who have made the deep connection to the music and the words, know the pure gold that dwells within them.

    Rush has been the soundtrack from most of my adult life. I listen to other things, but my “go to” soul music is Rush.

    It’s a chicken and the eggs kind of thing perhaps, but I wonder sometimes if I’m so happy and content is because of listening to Rush, or I just am, and Rush provides the score.

    Like

  12. Hey Eric. Your comments to this review were perfectly expressed. Sometimes a person just can’t identify with what another feels, especially in music. Nonetheless, your respect for the band as a non-fan bleeds through. Definitely give G/P another shot!

    Like

  13. Great Article, through and through! It is amazing how similar our connections with Neil and with Rush are! My parents divorced when I was 3, and my older brother and I was raised soley by our mother. Although our father re-entered our lives when I was around 8 years old, I had already unknowingly been gravitating toward father figures from whom I could gleen guidance from. George Lucas and Steven Speilberg were my 1st surrogate fathers. My introduction to rock and roll officially happened when I was introduced to Rush, via Moving Pictures. The music was astounding, but I immediately gravitated to Neils Lyrics. I think I was actually more a Neil fan than a Rush fan, so much in fact, that when I back tracked to assimilate Rush’s older music, I refused to accept the 1st Album for the longest time, because Neil was not on it. Hugh Syme bringing image to Neils vision fits like Hand in glove.
    I too experienced heinous & tragic loss, when my father took his own life, in late 2010. I had always learned so much from Neil, but to be in a similar situation with losing someone close to you, I really feel in my heart, that Neil’s example to pick himself up, and dust himself off, and to rise up and become greater even than he imagined, is just so Obi Wan Kenobi!!! It’s fucking Awesome!!! :) Turn around and walk the razors edge! Clockwork Angels is his and their Masterpiece! “Got my sites on the stars, won’t get that far, but I’ll try anyway!” – and just look at the result from such a mindset!!! Thank you Neil, So Much! You probably are unware that your words and your example of how to live life, has indeed saved many lives! Than you Sir! Rock On, Endlessly! :)

    Like

  14. Vapor Trails suffered from a lack of dynamics due to a kind of heavy-handed compression (i.e., a sort-of leveling of the aural plane so everything can get jacked up) at mastering, which I think was fashionable a decade ago and was a hangover of grunge and rock radio competing for ears. Who can forget the sonic thrill of hearing Nirvana’s Smell’s Like Teen Spirit for the first time, as Dave Grohl’s drums introduce Cobain’s guitar roar? Nevermind was a good example of applying compression right, retaining the dynamics while upping the volume and blowing away everything else. Unfortunately, as the 90s wore on and rock radio started seriously compressing what went out over their waves, by the time the sound squirted out of a radio it was as limp as it was loud. Heard Stairway to Heaven recently on the radio? It’s shocking how bad it sounds at its climax. Packing more into the bandwave was what it was all about, and right about the time Rush made Vapor Trails I think a lot of rock bands/artists started seriously backing away from so much compression because of the backlash from the serious listeners, which included themselves (this is all me conjecturing, but I think it’s true — one of the exceptions I can think of is Mastodon’s Leviathan, which is a great album compressed to tattered shreds, although something makes me think this was intentional, as it may have been with Rush back in ’02). Anyway, yeah, the remix. I’d like to hear it, but I kind of agree with you, Brad. I’d say that it’s tricky to play with artistic history. I recall when the Stooges Raw Power was remixed, removing that weird in-a-tin-can production Bowie put on it, and it just sounded wrong. Same would go for Metallica’s …And Justice for All if it received that kind of treatment: I’d totally get why they did it, but a lot of what makes that album, now, is exactly the claustrophobic, bass-less production that critics thought would sink it 25 years ago.

    Like

  15. Great article, I absolutely agree with your review. Didn’t think it needing remixing, but love the remix, and still the original mix has a place in my heart too. Important to note that when Rush fans were also grieving (and not comparable to the loss of child or spouse), some fans got together and started RushCon as a well to celebrate their work and as a way to get together as there were no shows to go to. 13 years later we are endlessly rocking….

    Like

  16. The 2002 Vapor Trails distorted like crazy in spots when pushed hard. To this day, it’s the only Rush recording I can’t listen to for that reason alone. I will definitely be checking out this new remaster. Every since I discovered Rush as a kid, they have and will always hold a very special and dear place in my heart. I will forever be one of their biggest and most grateful fans!

    Like

  17. I loved Vapor Trails before, despite the compression and harshness. I love it even more now, much more depth and complexity unfolding, like finding great beauty in an old friend.
    I’ve also been a diehard Rush fan for more than half my life (old NMSer too) and found Neil’s lyrics saving me time and again. Would they were not needed, but so glad we have them. My condolences for your loss, Brad.

    Like

  18. I never heard the original album/mix, but am listening to the remix now and it sounds fabulous: lots of separation, depth, and dynamics. And Geddy sounds great. I think his voice has aged incredibly well; I like it even better now than twenty years ago.

    Like

  19. Just the fact that after the long layoff Vapor Trails dives right in with A killer Neil Peart fill is enough to make this a great album.

    Like

  20. Great review, Brad. I totally agree on two points: first, that Neil Peart (and Rush) had a stronger influence on who I am today than any didact or narpet ever did. (As that tearful young woman says in the “Boys in Brazil” documentary: “It’s not just music. They teach… they teach us.”) Second, that Vapor Trails has ALWAYS been a great album. I loved it from the start, and love the remix even more. I disagree, though, that the album is similar to the two which followed it; I see Vapor Trails as being something completely unique in the Rush catalog, with a feel and color all its own. The guys really took a lot of chances here – in the guitar layering, the vocal layering, the total absence of keyboards, the dearth of guitar solos – and the result was not only another hard-rocking Rush album, but also something “artsy,” and yes, EMOTIONAL, too. Although I’d rank Vapor Trails below Permanent Waves, Moving Pictures, Signals, Hold Your Fire, Counterparts, Clockwork Angels, and perhaps a few other Rush albums, I posit that nothing else in their catalog is as ARTISTIC as Vapor Trails.

    (Another area of disagreement: I’m no great fan of Grace Under Pressure. But hey, fans differ on which Rush albums are the gems and which are the clunkier ones.)

    Like

  21. Come on! Remix´em all!

    Rush, FBN, COS, 2112, F2K, Hms, PW, MP, Sigs, GUP, PW, HYF, Pre, RtB, CP, T4E

    Do one per year! see you again in 2030!

    Like

  22. Great review! Deep and profound. I also never had a problem with the mix in VT. The lack of low end in Presto and RTB bothers me a lot more than the distortion in the old VT mix.

    Like

  23. Great review! I wanted to love Vapor Trails when it came out, I really did. The songs were inventive and inspirational… I just could not stand how bad it sounded. If it was a mistake, I thought at the time they would eventually correct it (and they would suffer naught due to the situation surrounding the recording itself). If it was intentional, then I was ready to disagree with the boys for the first and only time. Now that we have this sterling remix, we are all fortunate to have these songs in I our lives again.

    Like

  24. I am also 46 and can remember 1987 like it was yesterday. I remember listening to Time Stand Still thinking this song will mean more to me as I grow older. Rush is, by far, the greatest band in the history of Mankind. No band did it better, longer, or with as much passion as Neil, Geddy, and Alex.

    Like

  25. This was a great read. At age 25, I haven’t had nearly the life experience you and several of the commenters here have had (I’m so sorry to hear about your daughter).
    I’ve only known Rush for 10 years – at age 15-16 I became obsessed with reading about the history of Rush. Their music (and Neil’s lyrics) taught me about the sociopolitical context of the decades they played through. After all of that, and then learning of the tragedies Neil experienced, Vapor Trails somehow spoke to me. With the new remix, and ten years of listening and growth in my own life, the songs hit way harder. I, too, thought the mix and “loudness” of the original was intentional by the band, but I love the clarity of the songs now. This was a terrific review.

    Also, peanut M&Ms are amazing.

    Like

  1. Pingback: You Have Spoken: Comments on Vapor Trails | Progarchy: Pointing toward Proghalla

  2. Pingback: 2013 – The Pax Progorama | Progarchy: Pointing toward Proghalla

  3. Pingback: Rush’s Finest Album? (Hold Your Fire until you’ve read my analysis!) | Progarchy: Pointing toward Proghalla

  4. Pingback: Discovering Rush – ‘The 40 year old virgin’ | Progarchy: Pointing toward Proghalla

  5. Pingback: All of 2014: Rush @ 40 | Progarchy: Pointing toward Proghalla

  6. Pingback: My Top 10 Rush Albums–Ranked | Progarchy: Pointing toward Proghalla

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,355 other followers

%d bloggers like this: