I'm listening to the new Rush album, Snakes and Arrows. Virtually every song on this excellent disc is in reference to the sweeping wave of religious fervor that has overtaken our modern world. Rush have consistently been of an intellectual bent for the 35 years of their history and this album is a pinnacle of insightful commentary on a very current topic.
On Vapor Trails we heard a little snippet of this train of thought in "Peacable Kingdom," but on SNA the band has chosen to take the entire span of their current release to discuss the topic of religion in modern life, and how it affects our world today. It's a cry for secularism in a world awash in religious hysteria.
"Far Cry" is a song for anyone who grew up in the 1950's, '60's or '70's and experienced the optimism for the future that those eras of American history exuded. We believed we would be inheriting a world of peace and prosperity, a world where we would confidently know our place and forge ahead to a better society. "Far Cry" laments that it has not turned out so, but adjures us to "get back on" the wheel when it rolls over us. The riff of this song absolutely rocks, and the chorus is highly compelling.
"Armor and Sword" discusses how beliefs that are meant to protect someone from the "snakes and arrows" of life often turn into weapons against others.
"Workin' Them Angels" discusses a perspective I often have -- that I have been extremely fortunate in life. Attributing the protagonists' fortune to "workin' them angels" while winking at the notion that the "angels" had anything to do with it.
"The Larger Bowl," one of the most oddly-titled songs I've ever encountered, discusses the dramatic separation of fortunes and fates between the rich and poor in our world, describing it as "badly arranged" which is a turn of phrase Rush has referred to before. Wikipedia describe this song as a reference back to "Circumstances" from 1978's Hemispheres. The song overall goes back and forth on the gap between rich and poor, and how there is such pain caused by this gap.
"Spindrift" is one of the most intense Rush songs in years. I keep thinking this song could have fit in easily on the playlist of Caress of Steel. But the topic of the song is 30 years more mature than anything the youngsters who came up with COS could have written. The "waves" and "spindrift" are the froth and hysteria of religion. The song asks "what am I supposed to say . . . when you talk that way?" To me this sounds like a blunt challenge to the religious shlockmiesters and hucksters like Pat Robertson who sell nothing but their vitriol and hatred in the name of their Jesus. Who cares what a fool believes? the song asks. I agree.
"The Way the Wind Blows" picks up the storm from "Spindrift" and explicitly compares the armies of the "Middle East" to the "Middle West." Now it's come to this / It's like we're back in the Dark Ages / From the Middle East to the Middle West . . . This song has what I like to call a "sticky" chorus. It's hard to get out of my head.
"Faithless" is Neal Peart's modern reprise of "Freewill." The very first line of the song asserts that "I've got my own moral compass to steer by" and goes on to confidently state that "you can call me faithless / but I still cling to hope." It's the answer of every atheist to the ridiculous assertions that we have no morality or hope in the world. It's a call to reason in a storm of insanity.
"Bravest Face" takes on our propensity to make good songs and stories but ignore the ugly things that happen in the real world that often inspire them.
"Good News First" is a lyrical segue from the same theme and talks about how the best news is often just a preface to the bad news.
"We Hold On" is like many Rush album closers stylistically separated from the rest of the album. Oftentimes the last song on a Rush album really sounds like it belongs on the next one. This song sounds like Rush is riffing on Tool. Thematically it's a summation of the entire album.
There are three instrumentals I haven't discussed because I don't have lyrics to mention. However, it's notable that there are more instrumentals on this CD than Rush fans usually get in a decade. They are called, in order, "The Main Monkey Business," "Hope," and "Malignant Narcissism." They are as good as any Rush instrumentals since the 1970's.
I have to reiterate here that I'm loving the hell out of this album and that I think it's extremely topical in a way that a lot of Rush albums aren't. I'm proud a' the boys. They've outdone themselves this year, and I'm enjoying the feeling of being "in the know" on a cultural phenom like Rush. They're an old band these days but they're still one of the best bands around, and slogging it out with style and grace like very few old bands can manage.