Various Artists
Subdivisions: A Tribute to Rush

When Magna Carta’s first Rush tribute, Working Man, came out in 1996, fans frothed at the premise of the day’s best progressive musicians taking cracks at the venerable Canadian pioneers. Excepting Devin Townsend’s unforgivable vocal trashing of the sacred “Natural Science,” every track was a radiant impression of the individual player: Cynic’s Sean Malone, Mr. Big’s Billy Sheehan, Fates Warning’s Joey Vera, Obituary/Disincarnate’s James Murphy, and Dream Theater’s Mike Portnoy among many others.

On Subdivisions, however, the songs are more interpretive, though not nearly as far-fetched as Dwell Records’ 1999 Rush tribute Red Star. Magna Carta was savvy enough not to repeat songs from Working Man here, and the musicians assembled are just as prestigious. Instead of a completely revolving line-up of players, Vai/Satriani collaborator Stuart Hamm is the common bassist, Vinnie Moore plays all rhythm guitar tracks, and award-winning drummer Mike Mangini supplies the beats, while the keyboard duties are divided up between Bay area celeb Robert Berry, Magellan’s Trent Gardner, and Pulse Ultra’s Jeff Feldman.

Album opener “Distant Early Warning” is a by-the-numbers take with very little guitar wankery during the solos, and Zebra vocalist Randy Jackson does an ample job here. He’s not up to the task in “Subdivisions,” however, for he doesn’t intonate and resonate Geddy Lee’s gritty performance. He also leaves out the murmured “subdivisions” line before each chorus, which is odd-sounding in its absence. The guitar solos are lifted to add more keyboards, which is totally a prog thing to do, though they ruin the original’s terse finale by extending the keyboards for an overly drawn-out 1:45. In “Lakeside Park,” Skid Row’s Sebastian Bach nails Geddy’s vox, though the guitar solos are replaced with keyboards, which lessens the effect of the song’s original rawness; though they thoroughly do justice to this early ballad, they let the coda hang precipitously, ruining the three-note conciseness of the original. Beginning with some Roll The Bones-era instrumentation before plowing into “Limelight,” Winger’s Kip Winger simply dazzles with his vocals, especially in hitting those high notes, though he does prefer the usual pronunciation of the word “the” in the verse, “The universal dream/for those who wish to seem,” opposite to Geddy’s “thee” fondness. Mangini’s drums are amazing, though there is an audible click track in the back of the mix; Sepultura guitarist Andreas Kisser’s solo is lazier than Lifeson’s, and again they mess up the big finale, but it doesn’t detract too much from the original.

After some gratuitous keyboard fuss, the intricate chords of the album’s premier track, “Different Strings,” begin, and Robert Berry’s vocals shine resplendently with fantastic double-tracked harmonies. He also handles the guitar solo quite proficiently, as this is one of the few songs where the tangential solos actually enhance the track rather than detract from it. The warhorse “Tom Sawyer” is missing power though the playing is solid, while the exceptional “Bastille Day” has an abnormal intro like a RPWL fill, taking away from the rawness of the original. Guitar noodling by Testament’s Alex Skolnick in inappropriate places truly reduces the overall force – though when they stick to the blueprint, it’s done very well, thanks to the vocals of Warrant’s Jani Lane. He does another spot-on job with “2112 Overture” and “The Temples Of Syrinx,” this time with guitar virtuoso Vinnie Moore in tow. Even with its King Crimson-like midsection, the unlikely “A Farewell To Kings” is absolutely phenomenal, but whoever’s idea it was to cover “Didacts & Narpets,” the brief drum solo from A Caress Of Steel’s side two suite, “The Fountain Of Lamneth,” should be knighted. This marks the first time it’s been covered on a commercial release – maybe ever! – and they do a first-rate job, except that Geddy’s cathartic closer “Listen!” is instead mumbled. With the whole package pre-mixed by classic Rush knob-twiddler Terry Brown and retro Dalmatian-and-hydrant artwork by longtime band graphics guru Hugh Syme, Subdivisions is, simply and sweetly, made by Rush fans, for Rush fans, who continue to be some of the most dedicated fans in all of rock.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Chris Ayers
March 15th, 2005

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