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Music Review—Rush's "Permanent Waves" Turns 40

Rush—Permanent Waves 40th Anniversary 

2020 started out horribly for Rush fans with the untimely death of lyricist and drummer extraordinaire Neil Peart in January. That news put a damper on the 40th anniversary of the Canadian prog-rock trio’s commercial 1980 breakthrough, Permanent Waves, which received a deluxe edition in May comprising the original album and 11 live tracks from the accompanying worldwide tour on two CDs and two LPs as well as bric-a-brac for fans, all housed in an LP-sized boxed set. 
When it was released in 1980, Permanent Waves showed that the band could move into shorter, more accessible song forms without sacrificing the epic structures and instrumental chops that characterized records like 2112 and A Farewell to Kings
From the opening track “The Spirit of Radio”—which became one of the most popular Rush anthems—to the closing multi-part suite “Natural Science,” Permanent Waves splits the difference between musical complexity (“Jacob’s Ladder”) and lyrical simplicity (“Entre Nous,” “Different Strings”), with the straight-ahead rocker “Free Will” thrown in for good measure. 
Drummer Neil Peart’s lyrics could be too self-consciously literary with a touch of the pompous—“For the words of the prophets were written on the stadium walls/concert halls” remains too clever for its own good—and bassist Geddy Lee’s vocals, while not as screechy as on earlier albums (especially on Rush’s previous opus, 1978’s Hemispheres, where Lee struggled to sing songs composed in a higher key than he could handle), are still on the “acquired taste” side. 
But there’s no denying the instrumental chops of Peart, Lee and underrated guitarist Alex Lifeson whenever the trio locks in on particularly illuminating breaks throughout, particularly on the epics “Jacob’s Ladder” and “Natural Science.” And there’s always a tinge of regret at the end of “Different Strings,” an uncharacteristically subdued Rush track, as Lifeson’s biting guitar solo begins and the song immediately fades out instead of continuing for another minute or so.
This welcome commemorative set comprises the superb-sounding remastered album and 11 electric live tracks from the group’s 1980 tour on two CDs and two LPs: the concert cuts include most of the then-new record along with earlier gems like “Cygnus X-1”—both Books I and II, which the trio rarely played live—and “Xanadu.” 
The set also features items that will excite hard-core Rush fans, from a 40-page hardcover book filled with rare photos and new artwork by longtime Rush album cover designer Hugh Syme to Peart’s lyric sheets for “The Spirit of Radio,” “Entre Nous” and “Natural Science” as well as a replica of the band’s 1980 tour program. 
That last inclusion is notable since each Rush tour program always contained a thoughtful and enlightening Peart essay on the making of the group’s newest album. So including the program is, in essence, the ultimate RIP to a superb writer and rock artist.

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