Tracking Surround: Rush Page 3

Snakes & Arrows

By now, you're wondering, but what about the bass? Glad you asked. Don't worry, you'll find plenty o' Geddy in the subwoofer - especially during the instrumentals, where he's more playful. The first one, "The Main Monkey Business," is testament to that, one of the album's most full-on mixes. Keyboards lean toward the rear, along with acoustic guitars, although Lee's "oohs" actually fill all channels here. Peart's cymbals do some left-right front dancing before completing a 360-degree turn à la the Flaming Lips circa Yoshimi, helping to build to the song's final assault.

Room ambience plays a role in the intro to "The Way the Wind Blows." Peart's understated, militaristic rat-a-tats (shades of "Manhattan Project" from Power Windows) gently counter his initial front-loaded beats in the rear before the blues-trio jam segment starts. (Who'da thunk? Thank you, Feedback!) Lifeson's gnarly solo ping-pongs in the surrounds, and his ax noodles back there as Lee's vocals stay upfront.

Tone break time! "Hope" - Lifeson's one-shot, all-acoustic, ambience-inducing instrumental - fits the bill. Crisp and clear with the right amount of delay, lush guitar-string resonance, and strumming with character. Nicely done.

The second half of any record these days gets less attention than the first - the four tracks from the Snakes 13 that Rush is not currently playing on tour are all from the back half - but good moments abound here. "Faithless" features subtle string arrangements from longtime collaborator Ben Mink (he turned in the poignant electric violin solo on the Signals track "Losing It" and co-produced Geddy's fine lone solo album, 2000's My Favorite Headache). The strings lead into and then step back to support Geddy's full-channel vocals on each chorus. Meanwhile, on "Bravest Face," Neil's bass drum takes over things in the right front. Alex's off-kilter acoustic jangle in the verses takes residence in the left front, accented by Neil's discreet, centered, ambience-defining cymbal taps. Working with an all-new kit for this album, Neil is, as always, the anchor in a trio of virtuosos.

The churning cauldron that opens "Good News First" puts you right in the thick of things. Lee's gnarled, swirling vocal wails sound like they're trapped in a funnel cloud. And Peart's relentless pounding on the verses hits you right in the gut. I was able to follow the thrust visually as the meniscus in my water bottle on the table in front of me rippled in perfect time. Also be sure to listen for the understated mellotron in the left front and left rear.

The third instrumental, "Malignant Narcissism," rages full-on - another good sub workout. The main fretless bassline is kept centered upfront while Peart gets an all-swim workout in all channels (on a scaled-down four-piece kit, no less), and the bottom-end pair dodge and parry expertly in their call-and-response solo duels (a patented but never-dull Rush instrumental staple). Not to be outdone, Lifeson roars in the rear at appropriate intervals.

Lastly, things wrap up in "We Hold On." Lifeson's final solo of the album kicks in kinetically, right rear to left rear, then takes a diagonal cross from back to front and then all around before evolving into a sustained riff in the rear when Lee picks up the next verse. And Peart's final cymbal crash, which closes the album, resonates fresh from front to rear.

Whew. After such an involving audio workout, it was time to check out the extras. (Incidentally, the sole video element during playback was the constant, vulture-culture snake/arrow symbol, the only variance coming with the change in song titles.)