Rush had decided as early as the recording of “Presto” to start de-emphasizing keyboards, but their move towards more guitar-based music was more gradual than people realize. “Presto” and “Roll The Bones” had strong riffs, but they still had the wiry, bright guitar sound that the Synth Era was best known for. When the band re-teamed with Peter Collins for “Counterparts”, they decided to pack in the keyboards almost completely, with the synthesized parts being very sparse and not entirely necessary for this record.

At the time, publications felt “Counterparts” was Rush’s attempt at grunge or alternative rock, but I feel it goes beyond that. This was Rush going lean and mean, with big riffs and big sounds. This wasn’t Rush going grunge; this was Rush with the fat cut off.

The album opens with Neil literally counting off and the band coming in as one with sharp drums, rolling bass, and tight riffs on “Animate”, the most enduring track from the record. Neil’s lyrics are a bit spartan on this record, focusing more on relationships than perhaps ever before, but they still feature his eloquence and Geddy still gives them strong melodies. After the epicness of the Prog Era, and the huge production of the Synth Era, it’s a fun change of pace to hear the band getting right to the point and rocking.

However big the riffs were on “Animate”, the riffs on “Stick It Out” are even bigger, featuring one of the band’s few forays into Drop-D tuning. Going with the leaner and meaner sound, “Stick It Out” is almost like a gauntlet thrown down by the strong-minded individuals the band often champions. It acknowledges what a straight up battle it can be to be yourself, and to stay strong and “don’t swallow the lies”.

“Cut To The Chase” has a slower build than the tracks so far, biding it’s time before exploding during the choruses. I admit Rush sounded a bit unsure of itself on the last two records, but “Cut To The Chase” sounds like a re-statement of purpose. “You might be right/It’s all a waste of time/I guess that’s the chance I’m prepared to take” they confess. With the lean production though, that’s what they’ve decided to do: cut to the chase. This song may be one of the weakest compared to other material on the album, but I admit it’s a personal favorite.

It may seem like a surprise, but “Nobody’s Hero” had a minor bit of controversy when it was first released as a single, talking as bluntly as it did about AIDS and homosexuality. As anybody who has seen “Philadelphia” though, and feels its extremely dated (even slightly mawkish) for its views and coverage of the subject, it’s hard to remember a time when the subject was so verboten in discussion. Still though, I applaud Rush for sticking by this song, and using their trademark sincerity for what was then (and still is really) such a touchy subject.

Rush had tried to bring the grind back to their music on “Presto” and “Roll The Bones”, but the bright production didn’t really aid their attempts. It was still too similar to the ska and reggae attempts of the Synth Eras, even if it had more power chords. The harsher production of “Counterparts” helps immensely though, and “Between Sun and Moon” manages to have a strong grind without returning to the mindless butt rock of the band’s early records.

“Alien Shore” wastes no time once you queue it up. After an extremely brief sample, the band comes bursting out the gate, with Alex showing off some of his most epic playing so far and Geddy showing off some of his fattest baselines. This song features some of the band’s best playing, and one of Alex’s best solos. The weak link for this one is the lyrics though, which get a bit too cheesy even for me (“For you and me/Sex is not a competition”). Fortunately that doesn’t stop me from enjoying it though.

Keyboards make a brief reprieve during the verses of “Speed Of Love” to add some atmosphere, but the rest of the song belongs to Geddy’s bass. Songs during this half of the record really up the romantic quotient, and this track in particular is one of the most passionate, singing about “two halves make two wholes”. Really strong playing on this track, and it remains a personal favorite.

“Double Agent” has some really dexterous playing, but the lyrics and vocal melodies really lose me on this track. The chorus is really strong, but the verses where Geddy’s voice gets deep and he waxes more poetic than lyrical really make me ball my fists. When Rush busts out the deep voice, it can either go one of two ways: it can either be fun and tongue-in-cheek like the rap section on “Roll The Bones”, or it can be really cheesy like “The Necromancer”. Sadly, this song leans towards the latter, and that probably makes it the weakest song not the record. It’s certainly the one I skip over the most.

Things pick back up with the band’s second post-“Moving Pictures” instrumental, “Leave That Thing Alone”. While “Where’s My Thing?” still remains an underrated favorite for me, I have to admit “Leave That Thing Alone” is probably the better track, and has had the longest staying power in live sets. It has some of the funk left over from “Presto” and “Roll The Bones”, but is boosted by the stronger riffs the band introduced on this record. It takes its cues from “YYZ”, giving each band member a chance to shine without getting self-indulgent.

“Cold Fire” was the last song released as a single, and was featured prominently in live sets for the tour supporting the record. It sadly hasn’t lasted long beyond that though, which is a shame because I think compositionally it’s up there with “Available Light” as one of Rush’s most unique tracks. Far from a sullen, bluesy track like “Light” was though, “Cold Fire” is more defined by its break-neck pace, and Neil’s frankness in lyrically in describing most relationship conflicts (against adopting his humanist view of life).

“Everyday Glory” builds a bit on the theme of the struggles of regular people that “Nobody’s Hero” did, talking more about family conflicts and overcoming strife though than the devastation of death. It also has a brighter, more hopeful tone, perhaps being a realization of what Rush had tried to do with “Presto” but didn’t quite reach. They reach it here though, and it makes for a glorious conclusion, with Alex’s solo particularly soaring.

Rush would have mixed feelings about “Counterparts”, but personally I feel it’s the strongest and most memorable record the band put out in this era (it’s certainly the one I play the most). Alex made a great return to his hard rock routes, but Neil didn’t skimp on his verbose lyrics and Geddy didn’t skimp on giving them strong vocal melodies. Next time, the band would re-team with Peter Collins for one last time, but the result would be mired with great personal tragedy…

BEST SONG: “Animate”
WEAKEST SONG: “Double Agent”

BEST LYRIC: The aforementioned line from “Cut To The Chase”
WEAKEST LYRIC: “On the edge of sleep, I was drifting for half the night/Anxious and restless, pressed down by the darkness”

MY RATING? Highly recommended