A Rush Album Critique - Signals

Here, in what may become a series, in true IMHO fashion, Una critiques one of her all-time favorite albums, Signals, by Rush

I also hope that the very limited lyric samples I put in here fall under “Fair Use”, and are not a copyright infringement.

Artist: Rush
Album: Signals
Year: 1982
Songs: Subdivisions / The Analog Kid / Chemistry / Digital Man / The Weapon / New World Man / Losing It / Countdown

Setting where first heard: Early 1980’s, in a Midwest suburb made up of bedroom community subdivisions. Una is in Junior High School, and the songs from this album seem to speak directly to her in many ways.

Overall Feeling: This is a very dark album - the darkest one by Rush. It is another notably short album, with only 8 songs (one more that the previous album, Moving Pictures, however). Unlike Moving Pictures, the music is muted a bit throughout it - there is nothing really bright or trebly through most of the songs. It relies on heavy, ominous synthesizer through many of the songs - even ones like “The Weapon” which have a faster beat to them. With the exception of Countdown, the songs are all about human feelings and interactions.

The Songs:

Subdivisions (5:33): Personally speaking, the most powerful of all the songs on the album (although Losing It may really be the most powerful in a general sense). It is dark, moody, heavy, depressing. The lyrics spell out the story of being an outcast, in the underclass, uncool in the newly-emerging suburban America of the 1980’s. The song sings of a Junior High or High School World - ruled by an elite of the Beautiful People - jocks, cheerleaders, preps, rich kids. Subdivided into fiercely territorial cliques, normally revolving around several key personalities in a cult-like manner. And featuring, for their amusement, a group of terminally outcast “untouchables” - freaks, “spaz’s”, brains, fags, losers, misfits, fuckups, lezzies, dogs, and scum. You know - people like Una. Although many may try, I do not think one can truly appreciate this song unless you actually grew up in that region, in that era, there in a subdivision - in that lower caste of untouchables. The chorus of:

was my life, and the lives of so many others from that time. The song tells of conforming to trying and be cool, and warns that more of the same lies ahead. Your parents tried to conform to be cool - they moved you into the cookie-cutter subdivision. They have “lost the race to rats”, and are now “caught in ticking traps”. Which is a lot how I feel right now sometimes. While I would love to go line-by-line through this song more than any other, copyright restrictions will limit me to brief quotes of the lyrics only. Buy the album, if you don’t have it.

The Analog Kid (4:46): What does the term “Analog Kid” mean? Well, I do think I grasped it early on because having been a computer geek girl, I knew what analog meant - it meant many states, not just a two-state device, appearing imprecise, flexible, tweakable. Compare this to the “Digital Man”, which is rigid, inflexible, two-state - “Yes”, or “No”. The Analog Kid has “Maybe”, “Sorta”, and “I don’t know” in his vocabulary. The Analog Kid can love, as indicated by:

And he is also very uncertain about his present, his future. From the second chorus:

Thus, the Analog Kid is a song about the uncertainty of youth.

Chemistry (4:56): Chemistry, IMO, is a sort of silly love song sung in the parlance of chemical reaction. The lyrics look almost silly to read, but the song works decently. My least favorite song on the album, however. It’s basically a love song. I almost wonder if there is a reason it is placed between The Analog Kid and Digital Man in the track order, and I have thus tried to come up with all sorts of reasons to have it be a tie between the other two songs. But I can’t.

As I said…it seems to be an abstract love song.

Digital Man (6:20): Here comes the Digital Man - what the Analog Kid becomes if he screws up. The Digital Man appears to be a drone, stuck in a high-tech, sterile environment. He tries to understand what it might be like to be more fun, more free inside, to live some, but has been at this so long now that he is unable to:

“Radiation”, IMO, referring to what he sees on TV. He sees the romance, the love, the emotions, but has no way of figuring out how to arrive at those feelings. There is also a reference to how the Digital Man’s world is “subdivided and synthetic” - a clear reference back to Subdivisions. The Digital Man will die alone and unhappy.

The Weapon (Part 2 of Fear) (6:22): An interesting song, that is quite complex, and hard for me to analyze. It starts out seeming to say that the idea of not having fear is naive:

Note the reference to “chemistry” in here. The song then goes on to give ways in which fears may be used against one. It tells us that nothing in this life is “larger than life”, and thus we should not make fears to be worth more than life itself. Overall, the message seems to be that you will have fears, but you have to put them into perspective.

New World Man (3:41): This is another complex song, but a bit more upbeat. It seems to be about a person who is at a crossroads in their life, or more correctly I guess, a middle ground:

A person trying to get up to speed in this hectic World, and yet knowing that youth is going to be moving on ahead of him, even faster. This song did not have much meaning to me for a while, until perhaps I was over 30. And I noticed that I was just starting to move into the ranks of the “true adult” World, and likewise I started to feel my first real disconnect with youth.

It seems like the New World Man is at a middle ground then. He is good, learning still, but carries some of the last roughness and flaws of youth. Like I hope I still do.

Losing It (4:51): This is a very powerful song - the most powerful one on the album. It is very straightforward too - it is about (ironically) - loss. Loss of physical fitness, talent, intelligence, love. It is about slowing down, dying, fading away - and how it is all inexorable and terribly sad. The music is very moody, slow, and the heaviest song on the album. It features synthesized strings that give a dirge-like atmosphere to the whole piece. This is not a song to listen to drunk, in a basement, with all the lights out, and a gun on the table in front of you. Note this final set of lyrics:

A very real, and not very pleasing truth.

Countdown (5:49): This song is an anomaly on this album. It contains the same type of music - heavy, ominous, lots of synthesizer - but is much more upbeat, and about a topic deals really with pure science and machinery. Not people, not feelings, mainly - a Space Shuttle launch. I’ve searched and searched for some deeper meaning in this song, but it really seems to be only an extra - thrown in on the end of the album. A good song, that builds to a nice climax, the music follows along with launch preparation, pre-launch, and launch and ascent into the sky. This song was a little sad to listen to after Challenger, but it still remains upbeat overall.

It has a good set of lyrics that give an image of a pre-launch shuttle that are worth mentioning, and I’ve always liked them:

Note the soft words at the very end of the song as it fades away “We enjoyed the music Bob, thanks” from the mission control radio…

Well, here is a completely unprofessional, uninformed, critique from a non-musician who loves music. Please - if anyone likes, post an album critique of your own. Preferrbly about a Rush album…but hey! If you like, do it about any other album!

I love Rush, and for the most part, I love ‘Signals’. But ‘New world man’ is an abomination!

Signals came out when I was a teenager, and it made a lot of my friends (who were long time Rush fans) mad. They were used to Rush as a rock band, and thought the heavy use of synthesyzers in Signals was an abomination to all things rock & roll.

I had just recently become aware of Rush. Permenant Waves was my first experience, and I went backwards into their releases from there. The farther back I went, the more I heard the heavier & harder rock sounds traditionally associated with Rock.

Then Moving Pictures was released. I listened to it with hungry ears. Still fairly new in my fanaticism, I accepted that album with no issues. However I did notice the band had begun to turn a corner with the introduction of some electronics into their sound. Not being too much of a “purist”, I had no trouble with that & thought it gave the album some interesting new facets.

So I guess I was prepeared for Signals. But most of my hard core Rush fan friends dropped off at that point, citing the heavy mix of electronicly produced sounds & calling it “pollution” as far as true rock bands go.

I disagreed with them, and I was willing to change my listening appetite as the band changed the menu of style they were serving us.

I’m glad I did. The sprinkling of “techno” albums beginning with Moving Pictures and ending with Power Windows was a nice change of pace- one that the band probably needed to keep their talents evolving. I’m also pleased to hear their style coming back to harder sounds of rock with Counterparts and Test For Echo.

Not one of my favorite albums, but it’s in the top 16 :smiley:

This thread is so wierd because, once upon a time I was quite the fan of Rush. I played bass in college, one of my good friends was in a Rush tribute band, Geddy Lee was my hero, “What You’re Doing” and “Working Man” were the first bass parts I learned, saw them live I don’t know how many times, etc. But I never bought a Rush album after Farewell to Kings, which I lent to someone and never bothered getting back. Guess I’ll click over to the “Classic albums” thread to see if Caress of Steel, Rush, and of course 2112 are there.

I’m just happy at least a few kind people responded. I rather thought Coldfire would, but alas…

This was not originally intended to be a post, it was something to contribute to a website at one time, that was never contributed. I also did a critique of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, and Yes’s Fragile. Given the extremely low view rate of this, I think I’ll just keep them to myself.

Not really an album critique, just some random thoughts…

Subdivisions used to be my theme song. I still love the the tune. Hell, my review of Signals is almost identical to Una’s. Digital Man is a musical favorite of mine; like Vital Signs, I like the reggee sounds in it.

I should probably listen to Test For Echo again, but so far I thought the album sounded flat. However, the songs from that album that were on Different Stages were really cool.

The B side of moving Pictures is really underrated, IMO. Camera Eye has some incredible guitar work, Witch Hunt has some excellent lyrics, and Vital Signs is just cool.

Hemespheres might be the best concept album of all time (I don’t care as much for 2112’s B side).
Still can’t believe he beat both Coldfire AND Falcon here…

Personally, I’m glad you posted it. I havn’t listined to signals in long time, although it is one of my favorite Rush albums. And subdivisions is one of my favorite songs. I used to play in a band that did that song, and I love playing it(I’m a keyboard player). I would think it would be about growing up in Canada, however, being that they are Canadian. Doesn’t matter, though it applies. I remember my mom, who is a music theory professor, was kind of down on rock music in general until I let her read the words to that song. It made her realize all rock lyrics were not the same.

They were into synth’s for a while when ‘Signals’ came out. the problem, as I saw it, was that Alex Lifeson took a backseat. It was really disappointing after the string of ‘Permanent Waves’, ‘Moving Pictures’ and ‘Exit…Stage Left’, which had made them rock & roll Gods, IMHO.

After ‘Signals’, I would find a track or 2 on a Rush album I liked, but I was never wild about a Rush album as a whole again.

Signals was the first Rush album I owned, and it’s still my favorite. Despite the synthesizer taking a more prominent place, it contains some of Alex’s best playing. In addition to the usual brilliant solos (esp. Digital Man and Analog Kid), the synthesizers seemed to me to free him up to play some more unusual styles.

I also saw Rush for the first time on the tour for this album. I’ve seen them a few times since, but the Signals show still stands as one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen. In spite of the heavy usage of studio techniques, the songs sounded just as good if not better live. They had a great light show, as usual, and nobody puts the rear stage video screen to better use than Rush. Count Floyd introducing The Weapon (a song so scary it’ll scare the pants right off of your legs), and best of all the shuttle launch footage during Countdown. Stage smoke came from behind the screen, mimicking the exhaust fumes that poured from the shuttle. As the song ended, the shuttle took off and the screen dissolved to a starfilled night. Then as a red star faded in, the band launched into the 2112 Overture.

Great review, Anthracite. Just one minor nitpick: Losing it features an electric violin, not just synthesized strings.

Woo! :slight_smile: Another of the Rush posse checking in. Signals is a special album for me because it was one I listened to for the first time with my best friend in college. (Who I no longer speak to, but that’s another story.)

Random thoughts…“Losing It” was MY theme song for ages. I loved listening to it over and over.

I also lved “Weapon” - it’s even better when you play the whole trilogy together, which I have on a few of my mix tapes.

Was never a fan of “Chemistry” either…this is probably why this was one of the first tapes I rebought on CD - so I can SKIP the damn thing!!! :slight_smile:

All in all, it’s probably in my top 10 Rush albums. Not top 5. (Which are 2112, Hold Your Fire, Power Windows, Roll the Bones, and Presto.)

(And good lord…I just started tapping out the rhythm part of "Subdivisions on my desk. LOL!)

Hemispheres is playing on my CD player as we speak!

Good review, Una, but I have to take exception of your critique of “Countdown”

Any song lyric, especially one written by Neil Peart (who is purported to be one of the best rock lyricists), that contains the line “excitement so thick you can cut it with a knife” does not constitute a “good set of lyrics,” IMO.

Other than that, it’s a great album, somewhere in my Rush top 5…

[list=1][li]Presto[/li][li]Permanent Waves[/li][li]Signals[/li][li]Grace Under Pressure[/li][li]Hemispheres[/list=1][/li]I’d like to see your critique of Fragile, as I’m one of the few admitted fans of Yes on the SDMB.

– The Analog Kid

Yeah, Taurus Pedals and such. It was all fine & well; a little spice added to their sound. Signals, on the other hand, was the whole spice rack falling into the stew pot.

I liked it, mind you- I’m just saying that I can see how they lost some of their audience with that release.

I agree about In The Camera Eye- one of my all time faves. And 2112 was the first bass line (or series of bass lines) I ever learned to play.

Damn, Una, isn’t liking Rush grounds for impeachment in the Unholy Lesbian Vampire Army of the Night? But I totally agree with you. “Subdivisions” is imprinted on my DNA.

Ya know, I was thinking about this earlier today, after I posted the above post, when I was chatting with some fellow Rushheads.

I was very tempted to say “Wow, I know a lesbian Rush fan!”

(One of my fellow Rushhead friends is one of the few black Rush fans I’ve encountered, too.)

I agree - this is a great album, but not their best. Gotta comment on some of the origial OP critique, though:

Not just A Shuttle launch, but the FIRST shuttle launch. RUSH was/are(?) big supporters of NASA, and this was their ‘thanks’

Subdivisions -

The song tells of conforming to trying and be cool, and warns that more of the same lies ahead. Your parents tried to conform to be cool - they moved you into the cookie-cutter subdivision. They have “lost the race to rats”, and are now “caught in ticking traps”**


I don’t think they’re talking about the parents:

I think that the song seems to say that even some of the rebel outcasts are going to return to the subdivisions someday, mmostly due to a faulty memory of how much of a hell it was for them: ‘…And start to dream of somewhere/to relax their restless flight/somewhere out of a memory/of lighted streets on quiet nights…’

My personal faves (in no particular order): 2112, Farewell to Kings, Moving Pictures, Signals.

RUSH was the first concert I ever went to - the ‘Exit, Stage Left’ tour. Also saw them about ten years later in Colorado (Roll the Bones Tour?)

I, too would lke to see the critique on ‘Fragile’. I am also a big YES fan.

Well, true, but the lyrics I thought were good were the ones I quoted.

*Originally posted by lawoot *

The song tells of conforming to trying and be cool, and warns that more of the same lies ahead. Your parents tried to conform to be cool - they moved you into the cookie-cutter subdivision. They have “lost the race to rats”, and are now “caught in ticking traps”**

Hmmm…I think you have a good point here, and probably a better analysis than mine on this part. I think I felt that somewhat, but obviously did not express it.

I’ve been busy. :wink:

Good review, Anthracite. The lyrics you quoted from “The Analog Kid” are among my favourite Peart material. You said it’s about the uncertainty of youth… yeah. I’d say it’s more general than that: it’s about the inherent restlesness in the human soul, the desire to experience, to learn, to feel emotions. And all that whilst not having a single clue to where it will lead.

My favourite Rush album is Moving Pictures, closely followed by Counterparts. Can I call dibs on these two reviews? I’ll try to do them tomorrow, or somewhat later… but this is a good idea, a great thread for Rush fans!

Fragile is a superb Rush album, and you’re more than welcome to post a review! I’m a Yes fan too, although my absolute fave is Relayer. Soundchaser! What a song.

Losing it is one of my favourite Rush songs. For me, it’s not as depressing as you made it sound. It’s more about accepting the fact that talents can and will be lost, eventually. That your pace of youth will diminnish. To me.

But then, I’m probably not getting the same “vibes” from English lyrics as most of you do. It’s still not my mother tongue, after all.

Good point as well.

By all means please do…I guess I was considering Permanent Waves as another one today. But today was an End-O-The_World day, so maybe in a while. I am interested in seeing what you have to say about “Tom Sawyer” - I honestly do not understand that song well.