on 29 December 2011
Test For Echo is one of those overlooked recordings, much like Presto and Caress of Steel, an underated Rush album with a strange reputation as being a little under par and patchy in places. It is certainly the first Rush album I bought that left me feeling slightly disappointed upon its initial release and maybe a little underwhelmed too. However, over the years, something else strange occured and I found myself falling in love with this odd but interesting 'art-rock' album.
Opening track Test For Echo is a classy composition, (one of their best in my opinion, with a classic Alex Lifeson solo) with an intriguing guitar melody, it is quietly eerie and subtle, backed with some beautiful bass work and tasteful synthesizer. Indeed this is really key to enjoying the album; melody and subtlety. It is Rush of course, the music is intricate and technical but not in such an obvious way perhaps as say, the astonishing heights of Hemispheres. The lush and layered instrumental Limbo is a good example of this, upon first listen it sounds almost straightforward, like some everyday, run of the mill rocker but dig beneath the surace and there are a lot of shifting complexities at work, it really is an excellent piece of music. Water droplets, synthesizers, funk bass and tight patterns of angular guitar make this one the most unusual Rush instrumentals.
The track Totem has a mystical, almost ethereal feel to it and has some seriously superior guitar work going on, so many ideas that make it a very interesting song in terms of colour and textures. There are some very cool harmonics placed within this track and a fantastic little bridge section, just before the main solo bursts into life, this is why Alex Lifeson is one of my favourite guitarists, he has just the right blend of technical playing infused with a rare emotional intelligence.
The album artwork is worth mentioning, I especially like the picture in the booklet, of the wolf amidst the rocks, howling at the moon, (engaged within its own test for echo) under a darkening sky, it is very evocative. The map illustration on the inside cover is very cool as is the artwork of the dogs and sledge driver that accompanies Driven. The entire booklet is a joy to look at, one of their best in fact, Hugh Syme is responsible and he came up with what I see as one of the best Rush album covers to date. I have the Japanese edition on my livingroom wall, which is a little different with the snow landscape being presented as a nighttime scene.
Time and Motion is classic Rush, muscular, technical and features some superb playing from every single member. I love the bass run (at 4.00) and Alex's wild, chaotic sounding solo. Test For Echo is an album that positively brims with highly original and exciting guitar work. There are some great bursts of synthesizer (used very sparingly on this album) during the song that work really well and add another layer of colour and mood to the sound. There are also some interesting time changes which I believe alternate between 12/8 and 10/8 for those of you that are interested in such things. The lyrics on this track are just excellent, especially during that little dark, eerie, and haunting (again, almost mystical) sounding middle section.
'The mighy ocean -
Dances with the moon
The silent forest -
Echoes with the loon.'
Driven is another highlight, heavy and full of great bass work from Geddy Lee and, as always, some first class percussion from Neil Peart, the cymbal work and detail is excellent, especialy on the hi-hats, ride and splash cymbals. The live version on Different Stages is the superior version, (for me at least and definately worth checking out) with the bass solo section extended and several percussive improvements from Neil, the double choke on the hi-hat springs to mind and is not on the original studio version, listen out for it, it is a seriously cool piece of playing. Live, this track really comes to life, it simply sounds huge.
Dog Years, with its bounding (almost punk) rock energy offers a glimpse at a more light hearted version of Rush, at least lyrically but it still manages to display Peart's seriously heavy rock drumming skills and it is embellished with some great technical detail. Virtuality has some rather awkward lyrics but there is a wonderfully heavy riff and fantastic percussion both electronic and acoustic, with an array of cowbells and pressed down snare drum fills that more than hold the interest.
Resist is another Rush gem, a beautifully crafted folk-rock composition, delicate in places but powerful in others, Lifeson's soaring celtic guitar line is a thing of beauty, it almost seems to float, it sounds and feels emotional, with an airy quality and always makes me think of a green hillside, leading to a snow covered mountain that conceals treacherous black rock, a light blue sky sits high above and the sun is a pale coin, remote and vague, though sometimes glinting.
Test For Echo is certainly worthy of exploring again, if perhaps you did not appreciate it first time round. Of course, as with all music, it all comes down to taste in the end and the proof is in the listening. However, to these ears at least, there is a lot to enjoy if you are willing to give it some time and some serious critical listening. I would recommend trying to obtain the original 1996 edition of the album and not the remaster, as it is (in my opinion) the superior version, the quality of the booklet is better, as is the sound quality.
What is considered a rather average album by some, upon listening and studying, one may find that underneath the surface of the music, some hidden detail may reveal itself and you might just see that beyond the initially standard sounding songs is something that is actually approaching and entering the realm of a very special album.