[Signals] -- 40 years ago today, Rush released their ninth studio album, Signals. As a follow-up to the highly successful and well received Moving Pictures (1981), the new record was ... let's just say it was ... unexpected. Although Rush had been integrating synthesizers as early as 1974 (2112), and had progressively changed over the course of eight studio albums, the heavier use of electronic instrumentation was too much of a change for some longtime fans. And because Signals' new arrangements and influences came at the seeming sacrifice of Alex Lifeson's guitar work, some fans and critics were at odds with this record. Rolling Stone panned it as a boring technological morass. AllMusic retroactively praises it.
I grew up in the 1970s but I came of age during the 1980s. So, I was able to take Rush's changes in stride and even embrace them. For me, Signals represents a delicate balance between synth-driven aesthetics and hard rock grooves. Speaking of grooves, how many other prog-rock artists were playing with reggae ("Chemistry" and "Digital Man") or collaborating with an electric violinist in the early 1980s? Maybe some more obscure acts were willing to experiment like that, but I'd wager very few platinum-selling artists at Rush's level were taking those risks.
And it was a successful gambit. Signals peaked at #1, #3, and #10 on Canadian, UK, and US album charts respectively. Before the end of the year, the album would go platinum (i.e., it sold one million copies in the United States). Those sales were, no doubt, spurred by the chart success of "New World Man," Rush's first single to crack the US top 40 by peaking at #21. It remains the band's highest charting US single. The album's second single, "Subdivisions," peaked within the top ten of two US charts: the Billboard Bubbling Under Hot 100 and the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. This semi-autobiographical tale of social stratification has become something of a signature song for Rush. Wikipedia lists "Countdown" as Signal's third and final single, but elsewhere I see it listed as the B-side for "New World Man." Whatever its release status, "Countdown" was inspired by the band's opportunity to watch a shuttle launch as VIP guests of NASA. The song's other claim to fame is as a wakeup song for astronauts during STS-109, the last successful flight of the Shuttle Columbia.
My favorite tracks are "Chemistry" and "Last Exit" (the latter tune featuring the aforementioned electronic violin solo).
Flashback: Signals – Rush (9/9/1982)
That's all till next week. Dedicated 80s-philes can find more flashbacks in the Prophet or Madman archives or via Bookended's 80s Flashback tag. As always, your comments are welcome on today's, or any other, flashback post. And if you like what I'm doing here, please share the link with your friends. If, however, you don't like the flashback, feel free to share it with your enemies.
I'll see you in seven!