Released October 19, 1993
54 min, 24 sec
The 1990s were a time of experimentation for Rush. Lyrically, that is – Rush has always been a band that will say “fuck it” at any given moment and completely shift their sound around to whatever they want. One needs to look no further for an example of that than comparing 1989’s Presto to 1991’s Roll the Bones. You know what that is? That’s the sound of the 80s dying in a wave of Alex Lifeson guitar riffs.
Indeed, the shift back to the band’s power trio rock format with Roll the Bones laid the groundwork for Counterparts, which anchored the band even further in alternative rock, moreso than they’d ever been before. No longer were Rush a progressive rock band, or an electronica-tinged act; no, they were back in the world of straight-up rock’n’roll, here to set the record straight.
Lyrically, however, Rush took a weird turn. Counterparts is full of strange lyrical concepts for a band as old, relatively, as Rush was. Many of the songs are about love, of the emotional kind, and of the physical – “Alien Shore” in particular is pretty uncomfortable to listen to. Maybe that’s just me being immature, but I don’t really want to hear Geddy Lee tell me that sex is not a competition for him and his lady.
Most of the other songs are the usual Peart lyrics, writing of abstract concepts and vague metaphors, enhanced and exemplified by Lee’s vocals and the fantastic musicianship the trio always demonstrates. One song in particular, however, stands out.
“Nobody’s Hero” is a strange way of tackling a social issue that had gained significant steam in the 1990s – that of the struggle for equal rights for LGBTQ+ individuals in North America, particularly the U.S. and Canada. Lee sings of attending a party he was invited to by his gay friend, and being struck by the sheer normalness of the party, where he is attending as a “straight minority.” It’s a very, very weird song, looking at a social issue in a moderately progressive manner through the eyes of someone that could, kindly, be called a bit of an old fogey. Then, the man Lee sings of dies of AIDS, and the song takes a different turn, labeling him an unwanted pariah by society, “nobody’s hero,” despite the man’s normalcy in Lee’s eyes.
The song’s second half takes a completely different turn, singing of a girl murdered in Peart’s hometown. The inspiration for this half of the song is rumored to be Kristen French, a teenager tortured and murdered by a serial rapist. It’s another weird tone, stating that she is also “nobody’s hero” in the eyes of society on account of her “averageness.”
I don’t know. It’s a strange song that doesn’t really hit the mark with either verse. But that’s the story of Counterparts overall – it’s an album that takes Rush to a new place in their music, but also has a feeling of wheel-spinning. Rush had been a band for nearly twenty years at this point – eighteen in their current configuration – and it was starting to show. Having come down from their commercial high in the mid-1980s, Rush was a band that appeared to be settling into the role of a legacy act, albeit one that continued to make and promote new music on a regular basis. 1996’s Test for Echo (which we’ll get to, eventually) is more of the alternative rock the band brought on Counterparts, and the band seemed destined to go in that direction for the rest of their career.
In 1998, however, tragedy struck, and the course of Rush’s history was changed forever.