Generally it is a concept of how Rush work and evolve their sound over a course of records. While it is clear that Rush have changed their sound over the years it is not always clear how this happens. I personally see the movement occurring over four albums that move in an arch. The arch generally proceeds in an order that builds upon itself. The first album of the arch posits a sound that includes both the past and holds the seed of what will eventually become. The next album is experimental unsure of how it is to arrive at its destination. Personally I love the experimental records Rush have done, but these are often weak on sales. The third record represents the sound perfected, and is often the best seller of the arch. Finally that sound is usually repeated on the fourth album of the arch.
I am sure you are saying well wait, there are more Rush records than fall neatly into this idea of four record arcs. Well you are correct There are three studio records that I leave out for various reasons. They are Rush, Grace Under Pressure and Power Windows. I will explain my reasons as I walk through this arch concept.
The first of these arcs can be thought of as early Rush. This would start naturally with Rush but I don't like to include this as John Rutsey is the drummer at this point. While it is safe to say the first Rush record is a statement of Rush's sound to come, I feel the change to Neil on drums basically resets the sound. Fly By Night isn't so much of a sophomore effort as it is a new start. Because of this I think of Fly By Night as the first record in the early Rush block. In the record you hear the sound the band will be going to in songs like Bytor but you also hear some of the individual members past influences. With Caress of Steel you have the first of the very experimental records. It is also of note that there was a decrease in sales with this record. Next we hit the point that the early Rush sound is perfected, 2112! This is regarded as a classic record and the band become multi platinum artists with this record. This perfected sound remains more or less intact with the fourth part of the arch A Farewell to Kings.
Moving into the second arch which one could think of as the popular Rush block you see the sound changing. It would be easy to say Hemispheres belongs with A Farewell to Kings as it does include the conclusion of the Cygnus piece. But this record beings a tonal change that would characterize Rush in this Popular block. You start to hear real use of the Keyboard and the guitar sound brightens a bit. By the time you Get to Permanent Waves the tonal change is marked. The sound has brightened and we are seeing more songs which stand on their own. This would be the more experimental record in my theory one note it that sales were actually quite strong for the record. That would be compared to past performance but nothing in comparison to Moving Pictures. We all know this was a great record, instant classic and a multi platinum seller. You don't do tours that feature a band performing a shitty record in its entirety. Following it up was Signals which retains a similar sound though seems to also explore other ground.
Signals exploration is interesting to note. In many respects the record fits well in with my fourth repeated part of the arch. In may others it could serve as the first for a new arch. It's sort of both as I consider the next two records the aborted arch. Grace under Pressure and Power Windows while decent sellers really represent something that does not find full expression. Sonically they feel a bit like orphans of the time. They are almost so in line with early 80's sound that they don't gain the timeless Rush-ness other records have. I think in some respect this was a result of the times. The austere computer driven future stopped feeling scary and with communism faltering thoughts of mutually assured destruction were lesson the mind.
Picking up on Hold Your Fire we have something that again posits the sound that Rush is going for. It also includes a bit of the abandoned arch sonically and structurally. The difference is an infusion of a more organic sound. Guitars get a touch jangley which we hear in full force on Presto. The songs are a little more intra personal in this block. Roll the bones is the perfection of the sound here, you will see it is also a record that wins back the Platinum status in the US market. Our repeat of the prefected sound album is the much maligned Counterparts. Please keep in mind that I am not saying these are prefect records I am just saying the seem to have achieved a sonic voice and presented it in the best possible form.
Our Final Arch I guess I would call the Jam block. Here we have Test for echoes representing the previous arch combined with a bit of driven harder jam music. This is probably best heard in well Driven. Our experimental record in this block is going to be Vapor trails. It takes the jam sound further and plays with it a bit. Snakes and Arrows seems to be the perfection of this version of Rush's voice. I have to admit I have not hear enough of Clockwork Angel to say it fits in the repeat of the perfected sound slot. It sounds similar to Snakes and Arrows but has some other stuff going as well.
Well there it is. Crazy and over thought out but finally committed to paper and boldly posted for ridicule.