The ‘Rush’ is on

by Michael Popke

On Tuesday, Rush issued a two-song digital CD single featuring “Caravan” and “BUTB,” both from an upcoming album expected to be released in Spring 2011. While the results are decidedly mixed among fans — “It’s the freshest, most unique sounding Rush anyone could ever dream of,” gushed one iTunes listener, while an Amazon.com downloader griped, “No melody, no catchy chorus. … Sad day in Rushland!!!” — this nevertheless is cause for celebration.

Subtle Middle-Eastern swirls color “Caravan” before vocalist Geddy Lee chimes in, his voice a little thicker but no less recognizable. A dream-like chorus slows down the pace a bit, but Alex Lifeson’s relentless guitar solo takes on a life of its own. The single’s so-called b-side, “BUTB” (an acronym for “Brought Up To Believe”), opens with some of the heaviest and most crunchy riffing Rush has done in awhile — did I hear a little Dream Theater in that intro? The lyrics, however, have already come under fire, with some fans accusing Neil Peart of showcasing his disdain toward a higher power. Personally, the song doesn’t speak to me that way, and lines such as “Believe in what we’re told/Until our final breath/While our loving Watchmaker/Loves us all to death” are left wide open to interpretation.

Both songs roil with intensity and dashes of chaos while still sounding distinctly “Rush,” suggesting that age is only a number for these rockers who are each pushing 60. “Caravan” and “BUTB” may be heavier than expected with down-tuned edges, but they prove these guys are willing to change with the times without compromising their musical principles. If this digital single — released at least a good nine or ten months ahead of the band’s next full-length album — fulfills its promise, it will no doubt introduce Rush’s music to a new audience. The digital generation might have heard “Tom Sawyer” or “Closer to the Heart” on the radio, but here’s a download they actually can call their own.

Rush is one of North America’s few veteran progressive-metal bands that still consistently tours arenas and amphitheaters while releasing new, and dare I say exciting, music. (Expect to hear “Caravan” or “BUTB,” if not both, on the band’s “Time Machine Tour,” which kicks off later this month in Albuquerque, N.M., and will feature Moving Pictures played front to back.) It’s almost as if “Caravan” could be the theme song for Rush’s latest phase: As Lee sings: “The caravan thunders onward/To the distant dream of the city/The caravan carries me onward/On my way at last/I can’t stop thinking big/On a road lit only by fire/Going where I want, instead of where I should.”

Long may that caravan continue…

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