THE HIDDEN FACES OF - ALEX LIFESON'S VICTOR (PART 1)‘Victor’ is way long in the tooth to be reviewed. How many diehard RUSH fans have this album? To answer my own question: Not as many as I, certainly, would like to see. I know it’s the Geddy Lee solo album, “My Favorite Headache” that got most all the attention; seeing as it came out smack dab in the middle of the hiatus RUSH took –  for necessary reasons – that left four years between an official RUSH release – (1998’s “Different Stages” live album to this new century’s rebirth of RUSH with the official ‘we’re back’ written in the grooves of 17th RUSH studio LP – 2002’s VT.


So the Geddy Lee solo LP came out in the year 2000 while ‘Victor’, surprisingly to many not carrying the monicker Alex Lifeson – that coming about from a personal decision by the RUSH guitarist to make ‘Victor’ an entity of it’s own – is a 1996 release. It is, for comparative reasons, interesting to note that 1996 also saw the release of “Test For Echo” which may have been, had Neil Peart not found his way back to the band, the last RUSH studio album ever.

The members of the Canadian trio have always appeared as straightforward, honest men – thus Alex made a huge statement, knowingly, by warning the denizens of prospective buyers that would most all come from the RUSH fanbase, that this album would have emblazoned on it’s cover the ‘Victor’ logo. And those who know the madcap, weird humour of this sometimes Mad Scientist Guitar Guy would put out a record that is ‘out there’ (for lack of a better term). Who else but the axeslinging Alex Lifeson gets to mumble any jibberish he wants into his microphone on stage or be allowed to tell or joke… He also does back-up vocals that are miked so low in the mix that it looks pantomime. And he knows, Geddy & Neil knows, & so do the fans as well as ol’ Lerxst that he can’t sing that good. But the guy exudes confidence & calm and good humour just by opening his mouth.

So Alex Lifeson, the record company – (I guess; in on it also) knew NOT TO recommend it to any group of people but diehard RUSH completists. And please know the distinction between being a fan of this band and one who buys anything and everything associated with the trio. (Sorry folks, I’m sure you do). And ‘Victor’ is indeed a dark project as far as the lyrical concepts go and many could say that the same could be said for Mr. Lifeson’s music on this solo album. So the virtuostic man, known to many as ‘Lerxst’ – good-naturedly is put forth as ‘Victor’ and he didn’t have fans grabbing the album with a kneejerk reaction because it isn’t emblazoned with ‘Alex Lifeson’ on the front cover. A good decision had been undertaken as ‘Victor’ would indeed be woefully misleading for RUSH fans.

A prime example of this being a ‘dark project’ is the ‘Victor’ track – ‘At the End’. The song is about a man who decides to take his own life now that he’s lost his wife. Eerily, this song would be heard by purchasers of ‘Victor’ not too long before the death of Jackie, Neil’s wife horribly a follow-up to the death of Neil Peart’s daughter Selena. Neil’s wife Jackie died from cancer (which Neil insists M.D.-like that the real diagnosis was a broken heart – and he is a Master Drummer so maybe he’s right?) which would happen not too far away from the time ‘Victor’ was released to the public. On RUSH’s 2nd LP (1975’s “Fly By Night”) – the first with Neil Peart on drums and lyrics –  there is the song ‘In The End’. The meaning of the song boiled down to a possible spouse’s ability to make him smile ‘in the end’. This is borne out by the humorous drawing, by Neil, which he was in the habit of doing these little illustrations on his pages of hand-written lyrics that he would submit to the band to flesh out and make music to – back in that presumably more innocent pre-computer era, having two tombstones with “RIP” inscripted on them. (It is interesting how in this Internet age that we can all become freely aware of little tiny tidbits about our heroes just by clicking around great RUSH fan sites like, Power Windows, Rush Is A Band & of course the official RUSH Website: Strangely, “In The End” doesn’t bring death to mind music-wise as it has an uplifting theme borne out by the song-lyrics Mr. Peart wrote for it & a sit-up-and-take-notice Lifeson riff; at once triumphant and victory laden. Yet, here on ‘Victor”s “At The End” Alex Lifeson cues on this memory of that darn tombstone drawing with a spoken-word approach painting a vivid portrait of a man who can’t get a grip on himself in the aftermath of the loss of his beloved partner. Here’s exactly what Alex speaks in ‘At The End”: “He opens the books – looks at the scenes from yesterday / How they laughed and loved and lived before they grew old and grey / Now he sits alone in his room, and the clock ticks away”. Quite morose. But leave it to the elegance and emotion of Lifeson’s blues playing to lift the song up, especially when one hears the guitar solo’s culmination. Admittedly a bad day which left ‘big Al’ ticked off and the imbibing of a whole lot of alcohol between himself and Bill Bell (guitarist on the ‘Victor’ track “Strip and Go Naked” also) had a heck of lot to do with this song coming about the way it did, also.

And then there’s a CA LP reference, concerning the lyrics of ‘At The End with “…and the clock ticks away”. “The Garden”, the last track on ‘Clockwork Angels’ is what is brought to bear. And that song, my friends, is a sad kind of tearjerker. (It is also interesting to note that Geddy Lee’s song on “My Favorite Headache”, called ‘The Angel’s Share’, with the title alone is the harbinger of firstly the 2007 ‘Snakes & Arrows’ opus’ “Working Them Angels” and then of course 2012’s album/book title and title track – ‘Clockwork Angels’. So I guess it’s safe to say that each member of Rush soak up the other’s solo books (Peart) and songs. There is a fine body of work that the three members individually have been involved in from time to time, sprinkled over the decades of RUSH’s activity in the media prime.

But, back to “At The End”, to elaborate some more: Listening to it the next day, unperturbed by the melancholy nature of ‘At The End’ and the shared inebriation of the two musicians, it is mutually agreed upon as being passable as a track for ‘Victor’; thus making the cut. Alex shared this epiphany about the song with the magazine -‘Guitar For The Practicing Musician’ in the February 1996 issue: “The next day I came back downstairs to listen to it (“At The End”) and I’m thinking, ‘Well we had a lot to drink last night, so maybe this one didn’t turn out so well. But I listened to it and went, Wow, this is great!”

As a listener, I find this song to be indicative of the decidedly pessimistic theme of the ‘Victor’ album as a whole. It is dramatically disturbing when Alex delivers the punch line of the song, that goes like this: “One last wish / To see her face / One last breath / He’s calling out to death / One last look up at the sun / As he picks up the gun / As he steadies the gun / As he finally aims the gun.”

‘The bell tolls for thee’, obviously, as the tune begins literally with one strike of a bell before a dancey drum strut shifts around groovingly and a keyboard wobbles it’s sound out as Alex begins the suicide rant. The jangly Lifeson guitar works it’s way in also – more reminiscient of his playing on the 1989 ‘Presto’ and 1991 ‘Roll The Bones’ RUSH studio albums than on the comparitively heavier RUSH 1993 album ‘Counterparts’ LP that preceded this ‘Victor’ LP project. But note that the RUSH ‘Counterparts’LP does contain a spoken word section in one of it’s songs as a man lays in bed, unable to sleep, with all the pressures of work on his mind. The parallel to ‘At The End’ would be in the fact that the act of sexual release between male and female relieves a lot of built up anger and frustration: I point this out as Alex Lifeson has touched on the issue of the release that sex provides; sorry but I don’t remember exactly where I read it though it’s in there on the Power Windows website somewhere in the ‘transcript archives’ that transcribe a great many of the interviews with the three members of RUSH that have been done over the years, (as well as a lot of other rather cool stuff written out like RUSH tour books authored by Neil – for instance).

So with just one song off ‘Victor’ being described to you, you may, if you are not familiar with this disc know that this is a project like nothing else in the RUSH canon. It has been created by Alex Lifeson, who has done much other music on his own since; albeit in a kind of low profile way. Then again, RUSH as big as they are, are not headline-hungry and therefore have a low profile because they are known for being soft-spoken and low-key. Though as of the RUSH career-spanning documentary ‘Beyond The Lighted Stage’on the big screen in 2010 and subsequently release as a DVD afterwards it has raised that low profile to a medium-pitched roar, of sorts a few years later.

And what of the other tracks on ‘Victor’?? Well, it’s a lot of fun. Again, as I’ve mentioned don’t be expecting RUSH and you will dually rewarded. The playfulness of the RUSH 1991 ‘Roll The Bones’ album would be the closest thing to analogize ‘Victor’with all things RUSH. It is in Alex Lifeson’s playing, which makes sense chronologically as that was the second to last RUSH album before ‘Victor’. Though, curiously, ‘Victor’ doesn’t align with the songs that were in the ‘live’ setlist for the RTB tour; not “Dreamline” or even “Ghost Of A Chance”. Rather specifically, tracks like ‘The Big Wheel’, ‘You Bet Your Life’, ‘Face Up’, and possibly ‘Neurotica’ are what I’m hearing at play on ‘Victor’. Come to think of it, here it is: Take RTB’s sole instrumental track “Where’s My Thing” and RUSH’S 1993 ‘Counterparts’ sole instrumental track “Leave That Thing Alone” and you will have the only closest approximation to ‘Victor’ I can give you RUSH-wise. (It is interesting, maybe, to note that by the time RUSH recorded the “Test For Echo” album in 1996, “Limbo” – that album’s sole instrumental would come out and reflect the most ‘Victor’-like song RUSH have ever approximated.

Honestly, my first encounter with ‘Victor’ was hearing a few tracks upon which I thought it had the sound of the backing track music of infomercials like the kind to get those ‘abs'(re:abdomen muscles) buffed up by the purchase of some ‘home gym’ equipment. (Those things usually don’t work, do they”?!?).

I quickly recalled how upon hearing a new RUSH album, I didn’t hardly ever feel instant elation. Whether it was “Far Cry”, “The Big Money” or the 2010 “Caravan/BU2B” single. Actually, RUSH would always hit with a new direction; a new hard hitting musical highway to track down on. And damn the torpedoes, as they say, for mass adulation to occur all at once. So, what I am saying is that, I knew ‘Victor”s initial assault on my ears and my ensuing opinion was not to be trusted! I figured just like with RUSH, I would need repeated listens and the entire ‘Victor’ album to listen to. Maybe it would take me years. And yes it has. Many years; over a decade!

Let me relate this to you in terms of the incremental development that took me from naysaying to love with 2012’s ‘Clockwork Angels’ LP. Not unlike ‘Victor’. I was very disappointed with the RUSH song “Caravan”, to elaborate on this crazy kind of conundrum that occurs with Rush & basically what I have been saying, as the ‘Caravan’ half of the 2010 ‘Caravan/BU2B’ single didn’t make much sense to my ears with the jagged rhythmic structures and against-the-grain Lifeson chord progression. Neither did I like the stop-and-go nature of the bass guitar and drums. Yet I realized this was the heaviest I had heard RUSH be on record in quite some time, not counting the 2004’Feedback’ LP – with some loud covers from the 1960’s. The last real sledgehammer was 1993’s “Counterparts”. And that aspect of the first songs for the CA opus gave me solace and the hope that it would all fall into place for me with RUSH like it always has before. So now, two years later in (summer) 2012 the ‘C.A.’ album comes out with a re-mix done for “Caravan/BU2B” and it is sweet ear-candy for me! The re-mix is not as noisey and Geddy’s bass is not top-heavy and overpowering. And, mind you, the nagging ‘industrial’ feel is gone thank you very much Mr. engineer. Who knows?; wizards or great musos, RUSH deliver the goods and sometimes it’s just gotta take time. And so it has with Alex Lifeson’s ‘Victor’ album. And, to re-iterate yet again, it has taken a long, long time. And I repeat this feat as I find it interesting; most other albums that don’t kick in after that long of a span of time are just not happening ever!

Sometimes ‘Victor’, Geddy’s ‘My Favorite Headache’ & Neil’s ‘Burning For Buddy'(1 & 2) can take me back to 1978 when I caught a whiff of all four solo KISS records and how different each member’s record was. Neil Peart, on the subject of solo albums – years before each member of RUSH would complete the task – cautioned that we’re lucky there’s only three of them. Pratt’s intellect makes him a sly one. And a man with foresight to know that each member would indulge themselves as they wished. So with KISS it was comparable to RUSH as the band from New York City are comprised of characters as distinct as the three ‘hosers’ from Canada we know and love as RUSH: With the KISS solo albums I could only vouch for my copy of Ace Frehley’s record I bought with the instrumental ‘Fractured Mirror’ that closed the album with a veritable instrumental power chord orgy. I could care less of drummer Peter Criss’s imagined cabaret act, Gene Simmon’s juvenile drivel nor Paul Stanley’s middle-of-the-rock-road exercises in boredom. What is remarkable is that Kiss and Rush toured together back in the mid-1970s, and both bands worked hard to make their respective band successes a reality. And by 1976 both KISS and RUSH had truly arrived at the golden entrance to the door of rock stardom. 35 years later and both band entities are firing on all rockstar cylinders! Though RUSH are powered by Steampunk’s ‘coldfire’, one could say! So, finally, what is remarkable is that 2013 sees the two at the top of the bill of a huge European festival. KISS being the more easily deducible of the two gets the top spot, though many a RUSH fan know that this will result in RUSH amping up their instrumental virtuosity to blow KISS away!

By really expounding on the ‘Victor’ album and going off purposefully on tangents to have fun with this all-too-often ignored record and going into lurid detail as to it’s relevance and place in the grand scheme of all things RUSH; I will commence more commentary about ‘Victor’ Track #5 -‘At The End’. ‘At The End’ and Track #9 – ‘The Big Dance’ I have paid special attention to as Lifeson, Sr. and Lifeson, Jr. share these two cut’s songwriting credits. The Lifeson father & son collaboration is interesting as it seems that it is really where all heck can & does break loose. It seems that Adrian is a man after his father in diddling the dials. Yet he seems to want to place his father Alex with the gain up & the distortion blaring like we are at an Alternative Heavy Rock Rave, if such a thing existed. Perhaps it does as of Victor!?! Lifeson Jr. is listed in the credits as the Programmer and like his mad scientist father, he likes to dial-dwiddle all & sundry in the mix to absurd heights with mixed aural results.

– Rich Castle