Test for Echo – 1996
Rumor has it things were tense between the band mates after finishing their 4-month Counterparts tour, so they took a little longer coming back in for studio album number 16, Test for Echo. Lifeson would release a solo album during the break, while Lee took some time out to be with his new daughter and Peart… wait for it… took drum lessons! Oh, and he did organize a Buddy Rich tribute concert, too.
Test for Echo made it to #5 on the Billboard 200, but did not make gold status. Something tells me Lee knew this one was going to be a tough go. In the 2012 book, Rush: An Oral History, Uncensored, he said:
“Test for Echo was a strange record in a sense. It doesn’t really have a defined direction. I kind of felt like we were a bit burnt creatively. It was a creative low time for us.”Geddy Lee
This album would see Peart alter his drumming grip from matched to traditional based on his lessons with veteran jazz drum instructor Freddie Grueber, which he credits for giving him “an enhanced sense of timing.” It wasn’t the only change.
Instead of matching music to Peart’s lyrics, Lee and Lifeson wrote the music and matched the lyrics to it. They’d record it and then go on to something else so the creativity didn’t get bogged down in joining pieces together to make a whole song. After all the parts were layed down, they went back and refined their roles in each piece of music. Sounds like putting the cart before the horse, but hey, this is Rush we’re talking about. They know what they’re doing, right?
Rush on TV!
Our Toronto trio had a TV commercial made for Test for Echo from Camelot Music (Remember that store in the mall? Remember malls? lol), and if you listen close, science fiction film fans may recognize the sound effects. If you do, comment on what movie it’s from!
Lifeson would say upon release that Test for Echo was “one of Rush’s best albums”, though many industry reviews would disagree. Test for Echo is consistently rated as one of their least favorites, with Ultimate Classic Rock.com calling it “forgettable” and “sleep-walked through”. Let’s get into the tracks and see who’s right about it…
Test for Echo, title track 1: Test for Echo
Keeping with tradition, the album’s opener and name sake is a hard-rocking track about the inability of people to look away from a train wreck and humanity’s addiction to bad news. Apparently they were on to something as Test for Echo climbed to #1 on the U.S. Mainstream Rock charts. Lifeson shreds a custom Les Paul on this track while Lee belts out our 6 o’clock news woes. Peart is going nuts on the drums in the background, and a good rockin’ time was had by all who listened!
Test for Echo, track 2: Driven
Driven is the highlight of the album. This track was written entirely just on Lee’s bass, and if you listen, the drums sound pretty plain here by most Rush standards. That was on purpose. Peart scaled back his usual percussion mastery to give a heavier, guitar-driven character and feel to the song. When played live, this is where Lee would get the limelight on bass solos.
Test for Echo, track 3: Half the World
There were some creative differences on this one between Lee and Lifeson. Alex would wield a 10-string Mandola here at 2:29, and rumor says Lee didn’t like it at first but it grew on him. I personally think it sounds great and gives a different musical depth, almost Celtic vibe, to the end of the song that we don’t normally get from Rush.
Test for Echo, track 4: The Color of Right
The Color of Right lays out a straightforward Rush rock and roll song. No flashy frills, basic nerdy lyrics, Lee’s distinctive vocals backed by Lifeson wailing on guitar and Peart pounding on drums. Together they create a driving rhythm that’s easy to get into and enjoy.
Test for Echo, track 5: Time and Motion
It almost sounds like Rush got together with Yanni for the synth parts of this track. Time and Motion is about the weakest offering on this album. The droning off-key riff creates a little drama, but by and large this one isn’t going to be a hit in any universe. Extra credit for Lifeson’s slick mid-way solo, but this one is messy.
Test for Echo, track 6: Totem
I really want to like Totem, but it’s Frank Zappa-level weird. I can appreciate the references to all the world religions and gods, but I can’t help but giggle like I’m watching an episode of South Park when I hear the lyric, “dance around my totem pole.” hehehe…
The song is a big middle finger to religious conformity and the delivery is backed by a catchy tune, but this one is silly and not even on my iPod to skip. Enjoy if you must, but there’s better tracks.
Test for Echo, track 7: Dog Years
I’m a dog lover, but not of this song. Did they sit down one day and say, “Ooo, I know! We haven’t written a song about dogs yet. Let’s do one!” I can appreciate the fun behind the puns, but even my dogs look sideways in confusion at the speaker when this track comes up.
Test for Echo, track 8: Virtuality
Virtuality. Great music. Terrible, senseless lyrics. Neil, what were you doing here? I don’t want to give him too much grief, as this is the first time I really scratched my head
Test for Echo, track 9: Resist
Resist. Brilliant lyrics. Awkward, senseless music. If they would have been thinking, these lyrics should have been matched to the music from Virtuality. Instead, we get two songs that are half of what they could have been.
Regardless of what you think of the song as a whole, you can’t beat this part:
You can fight / Without ever winning / But never ever win / Without a fight
Truer words never spoken. I just wish they were spoken in a different track than this one. Lifeson has said this track is one of his favorite tracks Rush ever recorded. Obviously, Alex, you and I need to have a talk about Rush. Have you heard Cygnus X-1? 2112? Anything off Moving Pictures?
Test for Echo, track 10: Limbo
This album’s dark horse hit. At first, I wasn’t sure what to make of this monster mashup of sounds, but once I listened through a few times, it grew on me like a 2nd evil head. Those ghostly background vocals over the speedy, yet creepy guitar work is representative of what it might be like stuck between worlds, also known as, wait for it… Limbo! The track is a literal patchwork of unused riffs for other songs and it ties back nicely to the prog-rock Rush of old, with a Dream Theater twist!
Test for Echo, track 11: Carve Away the Stone
Keeping with another tradition of hopeful Rush send-offs, Carve Away the Stone encourages you to quit carrying the weight of the world around needlessly. The tale of Sisyphus is hinted at here, rolling the stone up hill constantly only to have it come back down once you near the top. To me, the message is to quit carrying grudges, and Lifeson’s guitar solo makes it worth it. Also, this is the first song since the opener where I feel like Neil Peart is not just some drummer in the background. I actually hear him coming through on this track. I wish he’d come through on more of them.
On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the best)…
I give Test for Echo a 5 out of 10. Nineties-era Rush gets a bad rap, and Test for Echo is often listed as Rush’s worst album (but remember, there is no bad Rush!). While I will admit it is not their best work, it still rocks. If any other band would have made this record, it would be on their greatest hits list. I think Rush was maligned over Test for Echo because it was not a sound fans expected from them. To be fair, it’s not a sound I expect from them, and I think they are better than this album. It felt disconnected.
Lyrically, I did not get into this record as much. With the communication theme popping up again in Neil’s writing, this was the weaker of his other communication-themed offerings (from Permanent Waves and Signals). Musically, I think this is a great set. The ramped-up metal sound looks good on Rush. Sadly, we’d have to wait six years for their next studio offering, but they do keep with this genre, so to speak, of music through their final album. Even though I rated it low, Test for Echo is still a solid Rush album as long as you listen to it with your dog!
Next time on The Rush Review…
Tragedy would strike one of the band members after Test for Echo, causing a six-year gap leading into 2002’s Vapor Trails. We’ll discuss more about that terrible incident, and do a deep dive on the next two albums, Vapor Trails and Snakes and Arrows next time.
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