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.
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.
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!