Roll the Bones
|Roll the Bones|
|Studio album by|
|Released||September 5, 1991|
Atlantic (outside Canada)
|Singles from Roll the Bones|
Roll the Bones is the fourteenth studio album by Canadian rock band Rush, released on September 5, 1991 on Anthem Records. After touring their previous album Presto, the band took a break before they started work on a follow-up in early 1991.
Roll the Bones was a return to commercial success for the band, reaching No. 3 in the US, No. 10 in the UK, and No. 11 in Canada. Between 1991 and 1992, six songs from the album were released as singles. The album won a Juno Award for Best Album Design at the 1992 awards. In August 2001, the album was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America for selling one million copies in the US. It was remastered in 2004, and again in 2013 as part of The Studio Albums 1989–2007 box set.
Background and writing
In June 1990, Rush finished touring their previous album, Presto (1989). They purposely kept the tour short, which Lee said was due to the group feeling overcautious about touring the album. However, it became an enjoyable and positive experience for them, and by the time it finished "we were so charged up we wanted to keep on playing". This renewed energy in the band carried through to the writing and recording sessions for Roll the Bones. They then took a break, but decided to cut it short in order to start work on new material for a follow-up record.
As with Presto, Rush started work by retreating to Chalet Studios, a remote studio in Claremont, Ontario. They stayed for two-and-a-half months, with Lee and Lifeson working on the music while Peart wrote lyrics. The three would reconvene in the evening where Peart would hear what the other two had come up with during the day. Lee had developed an interest in birdwatching, and ensured some broken birdfeeders by the studio window were repaired and filled with feed, which he enjoyed to observe while writing. The album's liner notes include a thanks to birds.
The demos were recorded using an 8-track Tascam 388 recorder and an integrated mixer hooked up to a sequencer running C-Lab Notator software. Lee set up simple drum patterns on the computer for Lifeson and himself to work from. It took between nine and ten weeks to write and rehearse for the album, and eight weeks to record it.
The album displays a change in the group's sound which had started on Presto, with a reduction in keyboards and a return to guitar-driven songs. Lee said the change was "a backlash against the more computer-style of writing" which had dominated their sound through the 1980s, and instead used synthesisers and sequencers as an "orchestration device" rather than a key component in the songwriting. The writing sessions for Presto had involved just bass, guitar, and vocals which contributed to the style shift, and the group continued with this approach for Roll the Bones. Another aspect that carried over from Presto was Lee's intention to come up with strong vocal melodies at the beginning and base the rest of the tune around it. Lifeson had wanted to try playing funk rhythms and attempted it Presto and wished to explore it further on Roll the Bones. The majority of the arrangements worked out at the writing stage remained unchanged which allowed the group to use the demos as a guide for recording, done by transferring the completed demos to 24-track and re-recording the parts.
The album contains a running lyrical theme concerning the element of chance in different aspects of life, which Peart had devised while experimenting with lyrics. The first lyric that he wrote for the album is used on "Face Up", specifically: "Turn it up – or turn that wild card down". He recalled sitting on his cottage floor "with a pile of papers around me" of notes from the previous two years, mostly consisting of phrases written on tour or during "that dreamlike moment before sleep". He started to experiment with the phrases "turn it up" and "turn it down" which led to the idea of turning a card down and a wild card, and applied them to events that a person may face.
Roll the Bones was recorded at Le Studio in Morin-Heights, Quebec and McClear Place in Toronto, between February and May 1991. The band resumed working with co-producer Rupert Hine and engineer Stephen Tayler, both of whom had worked on Presto. The vocals were recorded in England. Rush wanted to continue to work with Hine due to his accomplished songwriting, the feedback he gave their songs, and his ability for the group to achieve a looser sound than previous albums. Lee said that various production tricks they had learned from working with Peter Collins in the 1980s were used on Presto and Roll the Bones.
The bass and drum parts were put down in four days, and the guitars in eight. Lee was amazed at how Peart had learned his parts for an entire song prior to recording it, and that "Nine times out of ten it took only one pass for him to nail it". The band had originally planned to release the album in January 1992, but they finished it two months early. They thanked the news channel CNN in the liner notes as they had the channel on while writing, and Lee recalled it was sometimes difficult to stop watching it while numerous events were taking place.
Lee uses two different Wal basses on the album. He liked its mid-range and "rich" bottom end sound, and the fact that he did not have to add much equalisation. He first learned of the instrument when the band were recording in England, and knew that bassist Percy Jones used one on Brand X albums, of which he was a big fan. Lee played one at the suggestion of Peter Collins during the recording of Power Windows (1985). Lee's bass was mixed closer to Peart's bass drum range which freed up space in the music for guitar parts. Peart also changed his sound and did not make a conscious decision to avoid electronics altogether, but found that most of the songs did not benefit from him playing on an electronic kit and instead mostly used acoustic drums. Peart realised that he had the tendency for his drum parts to be "too organized, too architectural" on an album, so for Roll the Bones he deliberately had spots on songs that were unrehearsed and recorded them on the day of recording with the intention of capturing more spontaneous playing.
Peart wrote that the group found each stage of the recording process particularly enjoyable and satisfying, which sparked a "new conviction, a sense of rebirth" within the group. Lee described the writing sessions for the album as "very positive" and "optimistic".
The cover was designed by longtime Rush associate Hugh Syme. The liner notes contain the cryptic phrase "Now it's dark". Peart later revealed that the phrase occurs in the 1986 mystery film Blue Velvet. The credits includes a running joke that began on Power Windows when the group noticed some songs beginning with the letter "M" and among "other reasons", they continued the gag on Roll the Bones with: "Brought to you by the letter B".
The opening verse of "Dreamline" has references to astronomy, which Peart was inspired by after cycling several hundred miles from Cincinnati to Columbus, Ohio between two gigs on the Presto tour. Upon arrival he watched the popular science series Nova on the Public Broadcasting Service and a program on satellite imaging which captured his imagination.
"Bravado" deals with how one should not give up after failing, as opposed to ending life by suicide which Peart addressed in "The Pass" on Presto. The song was particularly emotional for Lee and rated it as one of the band's best ever songs partly due to its different texture than the rest of the album. The band was optimistic about its musical form, but faced the problem of overworking its arrangement because all the parts sounded good to them. In the end, they learned that by stripping the song back resulted in a stronger track.
"Roll the Bones" was named after a science fiction story by Fritz Lieber that Peart had read some fifteen years prior titled Gonna Roll the Bones. Though the story had no influence on the music or its message, Peart took a liking to the particular phrase and had kept it in his notebook. The phrase is also a slang term for rolling dice.
When the band were recording "Roll the Bones", Lee said they decided to "have some fun" with it and included a rap section. Peart recalled some skepticism from his bandmates at first and they tried different ways to present it, including a female voice, but "the transition was too harsh". They instead opted for Lee's voice with low-frequency effects applied to it.
"Where's My Thing?" is the band's first instrumental since "YYZ" from Moving Pictures (1981). It has a humorous subtitle of "Part IV, 'Gangster of Boats' Trilogy", referring to an inside joke where Lee and Lifeson threatened to name a Rush album Gangster of Boats if Peart has difficulty in coming up with one, plus the fact that it's the fourth part of a trilogy. Peart wrote that the group had wanted to record an instrumental for a while at this point and that the group had "a lot of fun" recording it. They had wanted to do one for Presto, but every time Lee and Lifeson had a piece of music a lyric that Peart had written fit well together. This time around, Peart let the two write an instrumental track and deliberately avoided to feed them lyrics until they had put one together. Rather than making the track a showcase for the group's playing ability, Lee and Lifeson wanted to give it a verse and chorus section to make it sound like a "genuine song".
"Heresy" is a more straightforward rock song with a rhythm that Lee described as a "heart beat pulse" that reflected some of Peart's lyrical ideas for it. Peart was inspired by the events surrounding the fall of Communism in eastern Europe in the early 1990s and people regaining their freedoms.
"Ghost of a Chance" features Lifeson playing a PRS guitar. He rated his solo on the track as one of his best. Lyrically the song is based on the compromises that one makes in a relationship to make it work. Peart was particularly proud of his words for it as he had written a love song that avoided cliches in more typical, sentimental love song lyrics.
Lee said that despite the fun involved in writing "You Bet Your Life" it was the most difficult to record, partly due to getting a balance in the chorus between the vocals and the vocal melody. It was also hard to mix, and Lee "never felt confident that we actually nailed".
Roll the Bones was released on September 5, 1991. It marked a return to commercial success for the band, reaching No. 3 in the US, their highest charting album since Moving Pictures (1981). No. 10 in the UK, and No. 11 in Canada. "Dreamline" reached No. 1 on the US Billboard Album Rock Tracks. In 1992, "Where's My Thing?" became Rush's second song to be nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance, losing to "Cliffs of Dover" by Eric Johnson who opened for Rush on the 1991 leg of the Roll the Bones Tour.
Rush supported the album with the Roll the Bones Tour between October 1991 and July 1992, covering Canada, the US, and the UK. As they had a productive and positive experience making the album, they were keen to go on the road and tour the album and toured longer than they had done for Presto.
|The Rolling Stone Album Guide|||
|The Daily Vault||B+|
|3.||"Roll the Bones"||5:30|
|5.||"Where's My Thing? (Part IV, "Gangster of Boats" Trilogy)"||3:49|
|6.||"The Big Wheel"||5:13|
|8.||"Ghost of a Chance"||5:18|
|10.||"You Bet Your Life"||5:01|
- Alex Lifeson – electric and acoustic guitars, backing vocals
- Neil Peart – drums, cymbals
- Geddy Lee – bass guitar, vocals, synthesizers
- Joe Berndt – digital effects
- Rupert Hine – additional keyboards, background vocals
- Rush – producers
- Rupert Hine – producer
- Stephen W. Tayler – engineer
- Simon Pressey – assistant engineer at Le Studio
- Paul Seeley – assistant engineer at McClear Place
- Ben Darlow – mixing assistant
- Everett Ravestein – pre-production assistant at Lerxst Sound
- Bob Ludwig – mastering at Masterdisk NYC
- Liam Birt at Anthem Records - executive production
- Hugh Syme – art direction, design
- Andrew MacNaughtan – portraits
- John Scarpati – photography
- Joe Berndt – digitals
- Adam Ayan – remastering
|Canada Top Albums/CDs (RPM)||11|
|Dutch Albums (Album Top 100)||38|
|German Albums (Offizielle Top 100)||35|
|Swedish Albums (Sverigetopplistan)||31|
|UK Albums (OCC)||10|
|US Billboard 200||3|
|Canada (Music Canada)||Platinum||100,000^|
|United States (RIAA)||Platinum||1,000,000^|
*sales figures based on certification alone
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Rush Backstage Club Newsletter
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