There was a period in the 1980s when, in some circles, Rush had lost the plot. Writers such as Martin Popoff have been very critical of this era, with its keyboards and shorter songs. In 1989, Rush began to turn the ship around with Presto. It and 1991’s Roll the Bones really ushered in the next phase of Rush, combining new and old. Fans (and Alex Lifeson) were happy that keyboards were toned down, at least in comparison to Hold Your Fire (1986).
The theme of the album is “take a chance”. Roll the Bones starts with a punch called “Dreamline”. Geddy Lee’s pulse pushes this into overdrive. The chorus goes into hyperspace. It’s hard to think of too many other Rush songs that are so concisely hot. “Dreamline” has it all: hooks, licks, force and grace.
Neil Peart is king on “Bravado”*, a sudden change of direction. His drumming, always hard, is unusually sharp. Yet it’s a slow song that might be termed a “ballad”. Whatever — it’s Rush. It’s incredible. It’s powerful in an understated, triumphant fashion. If you know somebody who says they hate Rush, play this.
The title track and first single is a Rush classic, but that rap section sounds dated today. That was always the danger of such an experiment, but fortunately the song is too strong for it to matter much. That’s Geddy rapping incidentally, with his voice lowered and effects added.
Side one also has “Face Up”; fast but not particularly memorable. But it also has “Where’s My Thing?”, a smashing instrumental featuring Geddy and Alex’s flying fingers. It’s subtitled “Part IV, ‘Gangster of Boats’ Trilogy” as a joke on past pretentiously prog-rock titles they’ve employed. Rush have always had a sense of humour, and also fun. “Where’s My Thing” is a fun instrumental, kept short and ever so slightly funky.
The second side of Roll the Bones isn’t as consistent as the first. “Ghost of a Chance” and “You Bet Your Life” are immediate standouts. An appropriate spectre-like keyboard part enhances “Ghost of a Chance” and justifies the use of the instrument. The other three songs (“The Big Wheel, “Neurotica” and “Heresy”) are fine for Rush deep cuts, but may or may not appeal to your specific tastes.
This 200 gram vinyl remaster is exquisite! Keyboard parts previously unnoticed are now audible, as if brand new. The drums have the punch missing on the old CD, and the bass hits the guts. Great dynamics and depth. If you are in the market for remastered Rush, these 200 gram vinyl reissues are pricey but a nice treat.
*At 3:50 of the song, Peart performs a drum roll that I can only describe as pure ecstasy. Chills up the spine.