It is worth stating at the outset that Alex Lifeson’s new band Envy Of None (8 April 2022; Kscope) is nothing like the legendary Toronto outfit, Rush, for whom Lifeson famously used to play guitar.
The Canadian three-piece last played live in 2015, and when drummer Neil Peart died in 2020, they officially ended. Lifeson continued to write, however, and shortly paired with lifelong friend Andy Curran of Canadian hard rock band Coney Hatch, leading to the founding of Envy of None. Critically they were joined by American singer, Maiah Wynne, who had collaborated with Lifeson on her song Fearless Girl, and who adds her sensuous and atmospheric voice to the largely electronic-based and experimental direction the new formation has decided to take. Completing the line-up is Alf Annibalini on keyboards.
Wynne is in control from the opening track on the catchy electronic Never Said I Love You. This upbeat number sets the tone for what is to come with its lush and moody sonics. Look Inside is the first of what might recall Nine Inch Nails and their industrial sound, as does Enemy; but Wynne’s ethereal touch takes the whole project down a different path.
Synthesisers take precedence over Lifeson’s guitar on Liar, which is ominous and dark because of Wynne’s delivery; while Kabul Blues evokes Pink Floyd in their psychedelic hay day. Wynne’s mesmerizing voice is to the fore again on the delicious pairing of Old Strings and Dumb, while Spy House refreshingly gives the album a twist with its staccato riffs and a Lifeson solo on his Gibson Signature Les Paul Axcess electric (if the accompanying photo on the Ultimate Classic Rock webpage is anything to go by). “That was the first song I wrote at the end of the Rush tour,” he said. “It has a solo because it was [still] a natural thing for me to go into…[however] I feel like I’ve fully explored the whole area of soloing.”
The album closes with another surprising twist as Lifeson pays tribute to Peart in the acoustic-driven instrumental Western Sunset. The track reportedly was inspired by the moment that Lifeson emotionally said ‘goodbye’ to his friend at the end of his cancer battle.
Envy Of None’s sound may have been signalled when Lifeson began exploring new effects with his signature Lerxst Omega guitar amplifier, but the involvement of singer Maiah Wynne has taken his experimentation to a whole other level. If you expect Rush you are likely to be disappointed, but if you approach this album with an open mind, then expect to be enchanted.