There's a great deal of debate going on over at alt.music.rush about the band's new album, Vapor Trails. Rabid fanboys and fangirls debate every nuance, every hi-hat, every snarling guitar chord. Me, I like the CD. I think the sound is very different for the band (although my wife, upon hearing pre-release tracks, said that they still sounded distinctly and unmistakably like Rush), and I agree that there may be some production problems, but the band's hard-core musicianship is certainly present, as are some of the strongest lyrics that drummer/lyricist Neil Peart has produced in a long time.
The lyrics are intensely personal for the band, which has been marked in the past by flights of sci-fi fancy and philosophical noodling. This time, Peart is grounded by the tragedies that struck his family several years ago, and the listener can hear him working through them, finding himself on the other side and learning to be alive, sometimes bittersweetly, again. The music reflects this evolution, as well, with complexly-layered guitars arranged in an occasionally grim-sounding progression. Gone, for the most part, are the odd time signatures and synthesizers that were the band's signature back in the prog-rock days. Lest you think the band has gotten slow, be reassured that they still play the hell out of their instruments. Indeed, to the suggestion that Vapor Trails is isomorphic with contemporary hard rock, one usenet poster adroitly responed that "those nu-metal fuckers wish they had one-tenth" of Rush's chops.
Find a good interview with guitarist Alex Lifeson at hmv.com, and check out the album bio, written by Peart. Both the interview and bio are interesting insights into how the band works. The tour starts soon, and will the first good reason to go to Phoenix all year.