Mr Geddy Lee (though not really) (mrgeddylee) wrote,
Mr Geddy Lee (though not really)
mrgeddylee

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Natural Science

I'm back! I've been putting this post off because frankly, I doubt my ability to do justice to the song. Still, I ought to try.


I love the lapping water and seagulls in the background of the opening. I'm less fond of the reverb on the vocal line, but hey, it was 1979 and these things happened. Then at 1:56 the real power of the song makes itself felt. As I tried to break it down, I was surprised to realize that musically, the band plays more traditional rock roles than usual. Alex has the wheel firmly in hand, Geddy plays something a little more deliberate, and Neil drums with some serious urgency. If you took out the drum part this section might seem slow, but Neil's rapid-fire ticking makes it feel fast. Is that a metaphor for the way that the pace of change in modern life sneaks up on us? It is if I say so. Which I don't.

At 2:18 we get a little synth bit that calls all hands to rocking stations. The band plays super tight, almost in unison in time if not in melody. Geddy also detonates some serious chops here, but does so in an almost subtle fashion. Around 3 minutes he begins to step out a bit, and then suddenly at 3:15 it evolves into one of those "damn!" moments. It's not that I can't imagine playing it (which was the case for, say, "Freewill"), it's that it's so smooth I could almost overlook it if I wasn't listening for it. There are alternating bits of lyrics punctuated by serious rock until about 5:08.

At that time they change gears and trot out some reggae influence. If you didn't already know, that would make it clear that this was Permanent Waves. Ged throws in some more very smooth play under his singing, as if to remind us that being a real master means making it look easy. I hadn't consciously noticed all the synth sounds in the background at the six minute mark. I'm not sure but I think there may be a frog in there somewhere.

At 6:33 Alex starts his guitar solo, and damn, that's a beautiful tone. I like the way he starts it slow, builds it, goes nuts, and finishes it off in the space of about 20 seconds. It shows off his chops without disrupting the song, since the band already established the pattern of long interludes between lyrical passages.

That pattern ends around 7:20, and by 7:30 we're firmly into the climax of the song, with a new sense of drive in Neil's drumming. Geddy's vocals also get stereo delay, an effect I only appreciate when I'm wearing headphones.

I don't want to get into a detailed examination of Neil's lyrics. I do want to call attention to the way the end of "Natural Science" harkens back to "The Spirit of Radio." Ayn Rand once wrote that the true facts of her life were just a postscript to her fiction, and the postscript would read "and I mean it." I happen to think she fell well short of that ideal, but anyway... in "Spirit" Neil talks about the importance of honesty in making music, not just turning a quick buck with an instrument. In "Natural Science" I think he widens that idea to include everything else as well. If we couple science with integrity, it will "serve us well". The honest man "will still survive annihilation", which implies that the dishonest man may well be devoured by his inability to understand or control the world he creates and inhabits. It's been 31 years and I think that idea holds up pretty well.
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  • 3 comments
Do I remember arightly that the reverb was done naturally on this song (e.g. outdoors echoing off a valley or something like that?)
I have no information on that matter. It would be awesome if true.

_earthshine_

January 2 2011, 17:13:41 UTC 6 years ago Edited:  January 2 2011, 17:14:38 UTC

Glad to see these resuming! Way to break down an incredibly complex and dynamic song on the first spin back.

"Natural Science" is a memorable tune for me in a few ways. Musically, i'll always dig its 7 groove section (in 'Hyperspace' iirc), use of the seashore sounds and packed-in excellence in instrumentalism. However, it also marks a few endpoints for me.

First, it's the endpoint of what i consider my favorite stretch of Rush -- from 2112 to Permanent Waves -- an ever-too-short 4-album period that featured a combination of purity, power and diversity that only Snakes & Arrows has even thought about tagging since (and lightly at that) ... although hope springs eternal. In line with this, "Natural Science" is also the last Rush song (unless my geekery fails me) to have its thematic sections granted titles of their own, akin to the brilliant "La Villa Strangiato", the imaginative "The Necromancer", and the all-out movements of side-long suites like "2112" and "Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres".

Despite the genuine greatness and critical acclaim of Moving Pictures -- not to mention all of the exploration and consequent awesomeness that has come since -- it does, in a way, represent a corner-turn for me that makes me feel as if i didn't quite get to hear everything that the imagination of 1970s Rush had to offer. I'm not sure how much of that was the internal guidance of the band and their muses and how much of it was commercial influence of the day, but i can respect the decision either way because i understand how these things go. Nonetheless, i do wonder if i'll ever get to hear another album like these (at least compositionally speaking) from the artists that, in my mind, epitomize the pinnacle of the era.