Rush Series 2: The 1990s – Roll The Bones (1991)

The Preamble:

As promised on Friday, today I embark on a new series. Yes. It is RUSH.

Ever since ending my Rush (Partial) Series, which began with 1974’s Rush, and ended as the 1980s ended with Presto and A Show Of Hands (with a little ABC 1974 thrown in there, thanks to our venerable HMO), I’ve been slowly and quietly collecting the next decade of Rush’s storied career. Recently, the last piece fell into place and I am ready to embark on the next leg of this journey. Welcome to Rush Series 2: The 1990s.

The only differences between my first Rush (Partial) Series and this one, of course, are that 1) I was recipient of most of the albums from the illustrious Lebrain to whom I am eternally grateful for putting this stuff into my ears, and 2) I played all of the albums from 1974 and up (save for a couple I required from the Tubes of You)  while sitting in the car with my daughter, waiting for my son to get let out of school every afternoon. With the summer holidays here now, I’ve lost my excuse to use my mobile office, so now I am listening in the house. It’s not a hardship. But I got very accustomed to hearing albums in the car…

Of course, 1990 saw the release of the absolutely essential 2CD Chronicles compilation. I have already reviewed that glorious set right here.

So, up next is 1991’s Roll The Bones. May I say I am excited to get back into Rush Mode. I’ve done very well with self-restraint, holding off playing the records as they came in, holding back until I had everything here. It was not easy to delay gratification.

So why wait any longer? Let’s give ‘er!

The Review:

Dreamline absolutely rocks. It’s classic Rush, yet with a look forward too. I love that “Dun-Dun-Dun!” riff. Everything about this song is perfect. A no-brainer that this was a single.

Bravado is a massive-sounding, mid-tempo rock tune. Seriously, the production here is gorgeous. This is a very uplifting song, both musically and lyrically. Releasing this as a single was a bold move in the face of the grunge-dominated airwaves.

The title track is funky, for sure, but definitely still sounds like it would have been more popular in 1985. I like the philosophy in the lyrics, though. And I loved the sound of the guitar solo here, as well as the acoustic guitar anchor. The little spoken word parts right after that solo, though… um, no thanks, guys. And it was a single! Interesting.

Face Up is a great driving song, out on the highway at high speed. It rocks along quite handily. Even the breakdown prowls like a caged animal, aching to get back out there and run some more. And then it does! Awesome tune.

Where’s My Thing?, Pt. 4: Gangster Of Boats Trilogy (haha a trilogy in four parts, you have to know they’re Douglas Adams fans) starts out with a lot of funk, then morphs occasionally into a big Rush 80’s epic synth sweep. Wiki tells me that this was nominated for a Grammy (though it did not win).

The Big Wheel has a big rawk riff and moves along happily. It sounds so simple, really, but of course this is Rush and we all know that it isn’t. This one maybe goes on a little bit long, I mean over 5 minutes? They just repeated the chorus a couple of times too many, at the end. But that’s OK. It’s Rush? Who’s gonna tell them to stop? Me? Nope.

Heresy is a sprawling, gorgeous Rush rawk epic. Love love love this. All of it. This is a great track!

Ghost Of A Chance equally rocks and goes gentle. It’s heavy, it’s funky, it floats a bit. Lifeson’s guitar is the real star, here. Even on the second play through this album, this track stood out to me. Wiki tells me it was a single and I absolutely agree.

Neurotica didn’t grab me at first, even though I’d be hard-pressed to tell you why. On second time through it clicked with me, though, and now it’s as essential to this album as any of the other tracks.

You Bet Your Life rocks along well, and ends this record with aplomb. We’re all just dreamers, after all, and going for it is all we have.

In sum:

Even overcoming my excitement of being back in Rush Mode, I can say that this is an excellent album. EXCELLENT. It’s missing some elements we’d come to expect from Rush, like the longer, exploratory Lifeson guitar solos, or even good ol’ Peart goin’ nutso on the drums for a track or two. It’s all played (mostly) close to the chest. And that’s OK. It was the record they wanted to make, it fit the times. It’s a bridge between the 80s and 90s.

What sealed it for me though, beyond Rush’s excellent playing and the absolutely superb sound here, is the album’s mindset, overall. Life is all you have. You have to go for it. If there’s something you don’t like about your life, go fix it and to hell with anyone who’d tell you that you can’t do it. And even if it doesn’t work out, change things and go for it again. I can get behind that. Hell, that line of thinking is… punk. GASP!

Posted on 2014-07-14, in posts by aaron and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 42 Comments.

  1. Roll the Bones was my first Rush studio album I got. Every song on there is magic


  2. Love Dreamtime,Roll The Bones,Bravado,Wheres My Thing and The Big Wheel,the rest was well I’m can’t remember any of it as I bought this on cassette when it was released and never rebought it.
    I’m like Mike Counterparts was the album I was waiting for as when I first got into Rush in the early 80s they were headed which we all know into a different directon so Lifeson was kinda buried under some keyboards but come Lifesons solo timeon records at least they could zip back into the three piece mode which would make me happy. Haha…
    But yeah Counterparts……sorry gettin ahead


    • For all the keyboards from Signals to RTB Alex was still pulling off some amazing guitar parts. His solos from this era are really what ties it all together and make this material still Rush. Yeah they would come back fully strong with heavier riffs, and more direct and compact writing style going forward. I really think here is where the compositional side of the band really shine.

      Its all Rush no matter how you look at it. I was becoming a fan around the Power Windows time while still hearing their earlier stuff playing on Classic Rock radio.


      • Agreed, Alex has laid down some amazing guitar work. Like, we are Wayne and garth bowing to him “We’re not worthy, we’re not worthy…”

        You came into listening to them at an interesting point, your view will be different from the lifers, and mine, hearing most of it new now.

        Long live this blogging thing! Rush fans unite!


    • Another vote for tomorrow’s record! Now I’m starting to wonder if I’ll do it justice!

      I think it’s worth re-visiting RTB, Deke. Do you still have that cassette? If not, never fear! The Tubes Of You can scratch that itch for you…


  3. It’s an ok album. Not quite as good as Presto for me… I didn’t think this one was particularly synthesizery(!) but it’s a bit limp sounding to me. It didn’t help that I’d heard most the best songs from this on live albums before getting this so it was hard for me to enjoy these versions after hearing much better live versions.


  4. I’ve always enjoyed this album although it was a slight step down after Presto. I think I’m in the minority of Rush fans with that opinion but I felt that way since the day Roll The Bones was released and nothing has changed for me in the intervening years. That being said there’s plenty of great Rush music to be enjoyed, as you so eloquently described.

    I never thought about the overall mindset of the album so I’ll have to ponder your “punk” suggestion. Looking forward to more of this series.


    • Thanks for popping in, Rich! I’ve really enjoyed being able to go back and hear all of this stuff now, everything fans have had in their hands for years (hell, decades). It’s an honour, and even better when most of it is so great!

      I played RTB all the way through twice before writing this up, and it grew and grew on me. I get the feeling that with even more listens it will become even better. There is lots to like about it.

      As for the ‘punk’ thing, I sort of regretted it at first, after the coments came in proving me wrong, but then Mike pointed out the DIY thing, which punk certainly had. Yes, you take chances, as the album is (now more clearly to me) about, but you still have to get in there and do it. Noting gets handed to you, so maybe in that way it’s the DIY thing more so than just passively letting things happen to you.

      At any rate, my jury is still out on it. All of the commenters have given me more to think about, and I’ll have to spin RTB again. Oh darn! 😉


  5. Phillip Helbig

    John Cleese, as in John Cleese, the member of Monty Python?!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes sir!

      The CD single for Roll the Bones contains a Neil Peart interview explaining that. They decided they liked Geddy’s take on the rap. Otherwise they were planning on using THE John Clease!


      • Hm. I can’t see how that would have made things better, even though Cleese rules. I am all for them trying new things, it’s one of their best qualities. But that part, for me, wasn’t necessary. Ah well, good on ’em for getting in there and giving it a whirl.


      • You know, I’m not having difficulty imaging that tune without that part, and with a big Lifeson guitar solo in its place. Nope, no trouble at all.


        • Well since you put it that way…

          The rap came from Peart. He was playing around with the style and presented it to the guys, and he was surprised that they went for it. I’ll send you the interview from the CD single…I think you’ll find it overall interesting. I know I got the single from work, in the very early days.


      • Well, like I said, good on ’em for trying, but I’m quite glad the didn’t decide it was something of which they wanted more, going forward.

        And yes please, send away!


    • No, John Cheese of the Frost Report.


  6. FACT: John Clease was considered for the album, in the role of the rapper in the title track. Ultimately Geddy took a shot at the rap and when they lowered his voice they decided to use it.


  7. I agree with DaddyDino. This is not one of Rush’s better albums. I would say it’s about half-great. For every amazing song (the title track, Bravado) there is a filler track (Neurotica, Face Up).

    For me the best two songs here are Bravado, and Ghost of a Chance. But I rarely listen to this album anymore.


    • Maybe this review will send you back to listen to it again? 🙂 I know you’ve likely heard it a zillion times already, but for getting a first crack at its entirety now, in 2014, I had great fun and would say it is worth it.


      • The next album Counterparts is the one from this period that I LOVE. I played it twice last week actually.

        The 90s are an interesting time for Rush. Studio albums were sparse. But to make up for that were the other goodies : Burning For Buddy 1 & 2. The Masked Rider (awesome book). Lifeson’s Victor. The live album and hits comps. Even when Rush were inactive, there was plenty to explore.


      • I agree with Mike about the merits of “Counterparts.” Looking forward to discussing that one. I’m also glad Mike brought up the Burnin’ For Buddy releases and especially “Victor.” That is a fun album and I wish Lifeson had done more outside of Rush during their extended hiatuses.


      • Victor is ok. I think it lacks in songs where Ged’s album lacks in forward momentum. You can tell who is doing what in Rush after hearing them two. I don’t listen to either of them but I love Victor’s track, Shut Up Shuttin’ Up and the title track.


      • Yes, Counterparts is tomorrow. I had my own reasons for buying it first, as I will explain. I’m glad there’s some excitement about it!

        I have the Geddy solo album, but not Victor. [adds it to want list]

        I had totally forgotten the Burning For Buddy stuff, thanks! [adds them to want list]

        I have a read a couple of Peart’s books, including Ghost Rider, which was really wrenching.


  8. Phillip Helbig

    I’m not familiar with this album (have heard parts of it); this was during the phase when Rush lost me, mainly because of the too-much-synthesizers sound. (I like synthesizers, and have some albums with nothing else, and like them with Rush up until the mid-1980s. It’s not the synths per se, but the way they were used.)

    However, the last bit seems strange to me. Punk is the opposite: life is shit, there is no future, so beg for drugs, beer, cigarettes etc in the pedestrian zone while wearing kit designed by Malcolm McLaren who claimed he hated the BeeGees in the 1970s but, 30 years later, claims he really liked them all along. That anyone could fall for this nonsense is beyond me, especially claiming that Pink Floyd and the old farts in Genesis (27 years old at the time) were stifling musical creativity.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think where he’s getting the “punk” thing from is his interpretation of the album having a “DIY” attitude. But I didn’t get that from the album either. The album is about luck — Roll the Bones, You Bet Your Life, Ghost of a Chance, etc — and taking chances. That’s not punk, that’s life.


    • The synths here, I’d say, were less than on an album like Power Windows. But they became a part of the sound and seemed there to stay for a good long while. As I listened I didn’t think of them as too much, this time around.

      Some punks did say life was shit, but they did also say “we’re the future, your future!” for better or (probably) worse. 😉 I think I’m going to have to go back and listen again. I did definitely get that you have to take chances to get anywhere, after all we’re Rolling The Bones, here. But taking a chance is still attempting to change something, to do something instead of being passive.


      • I did about 30 seconds of research and discovered perhaps i did miss the point by a bit:

        From Wiki:

        On the Roll the Bones tourbook of 1991-92, Neil Peart described both the mindset of the lyrics written for not only the title track, but also the album:

        “No matter what kind of song you choose to play, you’re betting your life on it, for good or ill, and what you believe is what you are… No one can ever be sure, in this best of all possible random universes.

        That’s why the essence of these songs is: if there’s a chance, you might as well take it. So what if some parts of life are a crap shoot? Get out there and shoot the crap. A random universe doesn’t have to be futile; we can change the odds, load the dice, and roll again…. For anyone who hasn’t seen Groucho Marx’s game show You Bet Your Life, I mean that no one but Groucho knows the secret word, and one guess is as good as another… Anything can happen. That is called fate.”

        Hm. Now I definitely need to hear it again.


  9. Phillip Helbig

    test 2


  10. I am glad you like this one. For me it’s one of the lesser lights in the catalog. About half of it works, I’m afraid. The uptempo songs do not work for me, at all. There seems to be something fairly innocuous about them, dare I say anonymous. On the other hand, the slower more melodic tracks such as Bravado, Heresy, Neurotica and Ghost really do speak to me. Of course Dreamline is one of the great album openers of all time. So for me I rate this among the worst, above only the debut and Caress (what can I say, it’s really not a very good album, and I like it for that reason. I’m weird I know). But any Rush is better than no Rush at all and better than most of the music out there. So for that reason alone happy that it exists for a guy like you to discover and devour. This one was the reason I kinda stopped listening to Rush for a bit. Still I bought Counterparts on release day, but thats a story for the next review. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I get that. I suppose in the full line of the Rush albums it doesn’t stand next to some of the of the others, in quite the same way. But perhaps it’s of it’s time as much as it’s a next step, a progression past what came before. The tighter, shorter songs, the fewer solos and exploratory adventures. Rush seemed to always be trying on new things (for which we loved them completely). Maybe this album was a transition, had to happen before they got to what came next, and next and next…

      It was great fun to get to hear this, ‘devour’ it, as you say. Woohoo!


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