You may be wondering why I chose this particular Rush song when there are so many others that are more popular or with more interesting bass parts, but don't be fooled, even though Cold Fire is the second last song from the Counterparts album (which is not as well known as Moving Pictures for example) this song has all the qualities that I love about Rush: great song writing, amazing musical performances by all members, thoughtful lyrics, beautiful singing, all of it in a package that still breaks the mold of what a typical radio rock song should be like. I guess this is why we consider Rush to be a Progressive Rock band.
From 1993, Counterparts is my favourite modern-era Rush album (from the 90s to now) because it is a very rocking album. The keyboards that dominated their 80s sound are pretty much all gone on this one, there are some phenomenal bass songs, in fact, this is the album where Geddy went back to using his old '72 Fender jazz bass that he used on Moving Pictures; and also this album has a lot of darker sounding songs, it has a bit of a heavy emotional mood to me.
If you've never heard Cold Fire before I recommend you listen to it once before reading my notes on it, and see how many of the little things I will mention you heard on your own.
The first thing I noticed when I heard this song is how Geddy strums that riff at the beginning of the song. I have seen him do it live and he basically uses one or two fingers on his right hand to strum the strings of his bass, much like a flamenco guitarist would. The way I did it at first try was making a lot of noise, because I kept hitting the open A and sometimes E strings. So I realized I had to rest my thumb on the A string and touch the E string with the side of my thumb so I could mute both strings.
Next I had to figure out the structure of the song. I wonder if you noticed that the song is not based on the typical groups of 4-bar groupings that dominates western music. Instead this song has sections of 10, 22, 14, and 18 bars.
Here's a list of the sections of the song and the number of bars in each.
Intro: 10 bars
Verse One: 22 bars
Chorus One: 6 bars
Break One: 4 bars
Verse Two: 20 bars
Pre-chorus One: 16 bars
Chorus Two: 14 bars
Guitar Solo: 12 bars
Break Two: 4 bars
Pre-chorus Two: 16 bars
Chorus Three: 18 bars
Geddy is so creative in his playing that he is always changing how he plays each section. He starts by playing very sparsely, leaving a lot of room between notes, and gradually increases the intensity of his bass line by adding more notes and different rhythmic figures. He uses just about every trick in the bass-playing book: lots of slides, muted or "ghost" notes, hammer ons and pull offs, strumming, and oh did I mention a lot of sliding?. The only thing Geddy doesn't do, and i've never seen him do it, is slap the bass (ironic if you've watched "I Love You, Man").
It wasn't until I actually sat down to learn the song note-for-note, that i realized Geddy doesn't repeat a single bass fill. Yes, some of them are similar, but he never plays two of them the same way. Sometimes he plays a scalar line that connected two chords, as in the pre-chorus (at 3:27 in the video), and other times he just plays one note and changes the rhythms to make it interesting (3:59). Also notice that Neil Peart often joins him with the drums at the tail end of the fill, making it sound so tight and composed (2:03 and 3:39).
Speaking of the drums, Neil is also in top shape here, not so much in terms of his technical ability, but his creativity and writing skills are on full display. Since he writes the lyrics to every song, Neil is very aware of the vocal lines and the words, and he writes his drums parts in a way that complements them. This song is about a conversation between a man a woman, talking about relationships. Listen to the verses and notice that, in both of them, when the man speaks Neil changes his drum beat and goes from playing the high-hat to a tambourine, and then goes right back to the high-hat when the woman responds. Neil is essentially creating a specific "voice" for his male character; a way of distinguishing between the two people in his story.
He also changes to the tambourine from bar 5-12 of the guitar solo, playing the high-hat on the first and last 4 bars of the solo. Typically most drummers would make the change on bar 9 and just split a section right in the middle, but then again Pear is not your typical drummer. Neither is he your typical lyricist. Who else would use the word "phosphorescent" in the pre-chorus of a song, and still make it so easy to sing?
Other highlights of the song for me are: Alex Lifeson's choice of guitar sounds, from that very edgy and harsh tone of the beginning, to the echoey and spacey sound in the verses that makes it reminiscent of the 1950s; the guitar part in the chorus of this song reminds me of his part in the chorus of "Subdivisions" or maybe the main line of Blue Oyster Club's "Don't Fear the Reaper"; another little detail of this song that i love is the keyboards that come in half way through the pre-chorus, its very faint, but its there and it adds that little touch that completes the section and builds into the chorus.
Well, I did warn you this might be a long one, but I have a hard time stopping once I start talking about all the little things that make me love Rush. I can never get enough of them and how much attention to detail they pay to every bar of every song. I will have to do another Rush post eventually, maybe something from Caress of Steel?
Until next time!