On their twelfth album, Rush makes a strong argument for the view that advanced technology is not necessarily the same thing as progress. Unfortunately, they do so largely by screwing up. Although Signals is chockablock with state-of-the-studio gadgetry, ranging from the requisite banks of synthesizers to the latest in digital recording and mixing, none of these electronic add-ons enhances the group’s music. If anything, Rush emerges from this jungle of wires and gizmos sounding duller than ever.
The band’s chief error seems to have been emphasizing synthesizers at the expense of Alex Lifeson’s guitar. Because Rush’s concept of synthesized sound is so narrow — consisting mainly of the vague whooshing sounds that are the aural equivalent of dry-ice fog — the band tends to sound like it is trapped in wads of lint. With no edge to work against, Geddy Lee’s congested vocals float through the songs like swamp gas. Ultimately, it’s up to drummer Neil Peart’s hyperkinetic thrashing to hold the performances together.
Ironically, Rush falls into this technological morass on an album that is otherwise their most poppish yet. By and large, the songs on Signals are tuneful and unencumbered by the sort of gratuitous flash that made previous albums seem like clearinghouses for worn-out art-rock licks. Even so, it’s mostly a wasted effort, and nearly all of Rush’s Signals come across as static.