From Rush’s transitional Permanent Waves, “Jacob’s Ladder” is a psychedelic march, carrying up its spiral staircase Neil Peart’s cosmic Coleridge musings. It thunders across the eastern deserts evoked by its title, a biblical steampunk, all dust and whirlwind and prophetic dreams set against Rush’s tightening musical clockwork. The song’s three sections flow together, distinct but seamless, no verses or choruses, only a gradual rising heavenward. Early on Alex Lifeson blasts an economical, freakout solo across a moorish scale, heavy as an elephant swaying across a mountain pass, and from that point forward commands cycling chord changes and arpeggiated stutters, underpinned by a bolero rhythm favored by the band around this time. Geddy Lee’s bass and keyboard work hits a balance that Rush would capitalize on with Moving Pictures, while Peart’s drumming, as usual, defies adequate description (although “badass” will do), ever shifting, restless and precise. It is a descendant of their epic “Xanadu” and a forebear of “YYZ,” and while stoner-era Rush was cobwebbing at this point, “Jacob’s Ladder” made a case for the band’s continued long-form potency and its ability to take heavy music to places no one else, not anyone, was going.
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