Geddy Lee: My Favourite Headache Album Of The Week Club review

Rush were on hiatus, so Geddy Lee hooked up with k.d.lang collaborator Ben Mink to make his debut album. The result? My Favourite Headache

Geddy Lee: My Favourite Headache artwork
(Image: © Atlantic Records)

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Geddy Lee: My Favourite Headache

Geddy Lee: My Favourite Headache artwork

(Image credit: Atlantic Records)

My Favourite Headache
The Present Tense
Window to the World
Working at Perfekt
Runaway Train
The Angels' Share
Moving to Bohemia
Home on the Strange
Grace to Grace

In the early 90s, Rush were the biggest cult band in the world. The rise of grunge and then nu-metal had no impact on them. With such a huge and loyal following, the band could still sell out arenas, and their 90s albums – Roll The Bones, Counterparts and Test For Echo – all went gold or platinum in the US and Canada.

In the late 90s, however, drummer Neil Peart was shattered by the death of his daughter Selena in a car crash and the loss of his wife Jacqueline to cancer.

Rush were on hold, and no one – least of all the band members – knew when they might return.

"That was a real interesting period," said Geddy Lee. "I had planned to do some jamming with my dear friend Ben Mink [longtime k.d. lang collaborator]. We always planned that some time we’d get together and see what happened.

“We were planning to do that, and suddenly tragedy struck Neil’s life. Everything got really weird and it was just a horrible period.

“I decided, after a few months, this idea of working with Ben might be a real tonic for me – I didn’t know whether there would be another Rush album. People get through tragedies in different ways. I was going crazy and needed something to focus on."

My Favourite Headache was released in November 2000. Two months later, Lee, Peart  and guitarist Alex Lifeson met up and decided to go back to work as Rush. 

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Other albums released in November 2000

  • Origin - Evanescence
  • The Mark, Tom, and Travis Show: The Enema Strikes Back - blink-182
  • The Seventh Song - Steve Vai
  • War to End All Wars - Yngwie Malmsteen
  • Conspiracy of One - The Offspring
  • Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death) - Marilyn Manson
  • Midian - Cradle of Filth
  • Bottles to the Ground - NOFX
  • Things Falling Apart - Nine Inch Nails
  • The Fake Sound of Progress - Lostprophets

What they said...

"The album-opening title track is unquestionably the best cut here – a cacophonic Primus-ish hard rock section switches with a laid-back, symphonic piece – while such rockers as The Present Tense, Working At Perfekt, Home Of The Strange, and the ballad Slipping could've easily fit on such '90s Rush albums as Counterparts and Test For Echo. My Favourite Headache will help hold over longtime fans of the Canadian prog trio. (AllMusic)

"Other than The Angel's Share, My Favourite Headache is a strong album from some great musicians. On order to see it for what it is though, you just have to take a step back and say 'This is not Rush. This is a member of Rush doing an album with other musicians.' With that firmly in your head, I encourage you to listen and enjoy. (Sputnik Music)

"Musically, this record is what you would expect from the guy who's been the voice of Rush for almost 30 years. Without the stylish noodling of Lifeson or the technical drum flares and winking word play of Neil Peart, it sounds like a Rush record with less arty lyrics and more of a hard rock edge. The title track swells, surges and bounces with Primus-like grooves while the album closer, Grace to Grace, pumps and drives like a fine red Barchetta. (Exclaim!)

What you said...

Michael Kay: From the first note of the first song, Geddy Lee lets you know he hasn't let his fingers idle as his bass comes rumbling in on the title track, quickly joined by guitar squall and thumping drums.

Perhaps it's no surprise that Geddy Lee knows how to put together a great power trio. Matt Cameron, the engine behind Soundgarden and now Pearl Jam, is easily one of the best drummers of the '90s. The real revelation for me, though, is Ben Mink, who plays guitar and apparently everything but the proverbial kitchen sink. When I read up on him, I was stunned to discover he is primarily known for his work with k..d. lang, the queen of torch and twang. His guitar tone keeps me interested in the slower songs like Slipping or Window To The World, while his string arrangements and violin/viola complement Working At Perfekt and Angel's Share nicely.

Geddy Lee continues to amaze, as both a musician and songwriter. He now adds lyricist to his lengthy CV. He rolls off many sublime and superb turns of phrase that belie the fact that that wasn't his main job in his main band. Favourites include "Just between the ice ages anyway" on the title track, "Success to failure, just a matter of degrees" on Working At Perfekt and "Who's the fool where apathy rules? You've got to want it" from Runaway Train.

Geddy's singing voice continues to have the engaging warmth he developed on the 80's albums, but is still plenty to strong enough to belt out anthems like Moving To Bohemia and Runaway Train and nuanced enough to make you appreciate it on ballads like Slipping and Still.

I'm guessing this is what Rush would sound like as "dad rock" and I'm OK with that. It's the work of music veterans who earned their maturity. I'm not going to suggest this is better than what Rush was doing at the time since I haven't listened to a full album by them more than once since I amicably split after 1987's Hold Your Fire. I can say it's rekindled my interest in Rush more than anything in the past three decades.

John Davidson: When I first bought this album 20 years ago I wasn’t impressed. The atonal cacophony of the opening track didn’t do anything for me and the remaining tracks all sounded like the kind of competent but uninspired album filler that had become a staple of Rush’s album output during the 90s.

Twenty years on I still don’t really rate the opening track (though it has its moments), but I fear I may have been too quick to write off the rest.

I also took the opportunity to listen to Test For Echo and Vapor Trails to give this album some context and, while Test For Echo is unlikely to be anyone’s favourite Rush album, boy does My Favourite Headache make me miss Alex Lifeson’s guitar sound. On the up side I discovered that Test For Echo is a better album than I remembered, which is a nice bonus.

The plusses: for the most part (as you’d expect) the album has a good groove going on and the bass playing is immaculate. The drumming (largely from Soundgarden/Pearl Jam’s Matt Cameron) is equally accomplished. The lyrics are thoughtful and again generally good – exploring themes that Rush often turn to. Geddy’s vocals are great too – he has dropped an octave since the 70s and his singing voice is melodious and warm, with good phrasing.

The minuses: I’m not loving Ben Mink’s guitar sound and phrasing. It’s not bad, and maybe I just want it to be Alex Lifeson, but it grates from time to time. Less so than 20 years ago but still enough. Also, most of the songs are mid-tempo, nod-a-longs so there’s not much to get the pulse racing.

For an album that could have seen Geddy shuck off any constraints imposed by being in a trio, it feels remarkably pedestrian. Instead My Favourite Headache acts more like a well polished demo for some of the melodies on Vapor Trails, Snakes & Arrows and Clockwork Angels and maybe gives us a glimmer of insight into the creative process for the band.

The basic melodies and song templates are there but without the combined talents of Peart and Lifeson they just don’t take flight and the result is a lack of any really hooky, memorable songs (none of them are as interesting as the best tracks off Test For Echo or Vapor Trails). Instead they are all the kind of songs that might become the deep album cuts that you grow to like once you’ve worn out the hits, but when there are no hits on an album you never get there.

Despite my misgivings I did find this a valuable reappraisal and indeed found an album that has more to offer than I thought.

Best tracks : The Present Tense, Working at Perfekt, Runaway Train.

If it wasn’t Rush related I’d probably give this a 6, but I’m a fan so 7/10.

Alex Hayes: I'm almost ashamed to admit it but, despite being a huge Rush fan, I'd never heard this album prior to this week. It's extremely rare to get hold of for a start. A brand new CD copy of this can currently be found listed on Amazon for an eye watering 175 nicker which is way, way higher than I would ever spend on music from any artist, let alone a Geddy Lee solo project. That's not the only reason why I've never been tempted to check this out previously though. I digress. Firstly, is it any good?

I must say, this album really was quite a pleasant surprise. A constant issue that I've had with the final handful of Rush studio albums, pretty much from Test For Echo onward, is that they suffer from the same kind of overly compressed and cluttered production levels that have ruined the audio clarity of many a modern rock album.

Too much of this music has been bedevilled with an overly loud and distorted mix, stopping the music from being able to 'breathe' if you will. Being released in 2000, I felt sure this album would suffer the same fate as numerous other victims of the 'loudness war'. It doesn't. Not noticeably anyway. Neither does it meander on for well over an hour and outstay it's welcome, another persistent fault with albums from the CD age. Overall, this is a thoughtfully balanced and executed set of songs.

The album is just missing two things for me, which sadly tempered my interest in ever picking up a copy, and that's Messrs Lifeson and Peart. Respect to Geddy Lee for taking the plunge into solo territory at a period when Rush's future as a band was very uncertain but the 'holy trinity' really did work best as a group unit for me. I'm glad that this album got nominated this week though and Geddy Lee remains a rock legend in my eyes.

Carl Black: This is what happens when you have extreme talent. Everything you touch turns to gold. This gentleman can do no wrong. It sounds like latter day Rush, just not so good guitar or drums, and that's no slur on the musicians here. But they broke the mould when they made Rush. And here is the problem. As good as this is. As soon as it's finished , I'm putting on Force Ten, Time Stand Still, Dreamline, Or better still that bit in the documentary when Geddy is backstage warming up and he's singing limelight on his own. Still enjoyed this album.

Chris Downie: One school of thought is that solo albums by legendary artists should come with a warning sticker by default, instructing us to approach with caution, such is their unpredictability. They are indeed a mixed bag and can see an artist eclipse (commercially, at least) the bands in which they made their name (Ozzy, Phil Collins) or see them live in its shadow (Robert Plant, Steve Perry). In between, we have the solo works of Bruce Dickinson and Rob Halford, which garnered significant critical acclaim and moderate success, culminating in a return to the familiar surroundings of their original band.

With My Favourite Headache history shows that Geddy Lee's as-yet only solo effort is firmly in the latter category and indeed has much in common with Dickinson's 1995 Skunkworks LP. While the absence of the brilliance of Lifeson and Peart is noticeable enough to detract for some listeners, there is much to be admired in the strong songwriting throughout, with a melodic hard rock template that is as pleasing on the ear as it is familiar.

If there is any major drawback here, it is that while Lifeson's 1998 solo effort Victor was a guitar tour de force, Lee displays little in the way of extroverted bass histrionics, with few exceptions (the excellent opener, for instance). Instead, it focusses primarily on songs as sums of their respective parts.

Stylistically, this sits comfortably in between Rush's creditable but divisive 1996 effort Test For Echo and their triumphant (production notwithstanding) 2002 comeback of Vapor Trails, melding the artist's love of classic prog-tinged hard rock with contemporary alt-rock influences, which updated the band's sound for the post-grunge era. In its own right, it is a fine album which deserved (and continues to deserve) more credit than it got, but it is for this reason that many continue to see it as a mere placeholder album for the band's most welcome return, which saw them overcome unimaginable tragedy.

File under perennial underrated curiosity. 7/10.

Brad Celani: I won't lie, I am not a Rush fan but I still wanted to give this album a shot as you never know what you may find. I thought there were a few solid songs, some great guitars, and a few decent hooks, but all in all, I don't think I will be listening to it again. Thanks for the suggestion though, I love trying new music.

Brian Carr: Another blast from the past for me - I happily bought My Favourite Headache upon its release and really liked it. So why haven’t I listened to it in probably more than fifteen years?

The songs are impressive with a nice variety of sounds. One of my favourite tracks is the funky Home On The Strange. I thought Geddy was quite reflective with his lyrics. The guitar work wasn’t flashy, but it was solid throughout, although I’m not much of a fan of the dissonant melodies on the title track or Window To The World.

So why so much time between listens? I suppose it’s a case of loving massive amounts of music- when I’m in a Geddy Lee mood, I’m grabbing Rush. Thanks to the Club reminder, it may not be another decade before my next Headache.

Bill Griffin: Rush made two mistakes in the '80s; axing Terry Brown and thinking they had to fill every second of a CD when that format was introduced. As much as I hated the loss of Brown, the latter was far more disagreeable. It stretched their ideas beyond breaking point and led to a series of albums that only included, at best, a handful of decent songs on each one.

Even they seemed to agree as only one song from each generally survived into the next tour cycle. So most of their '90s/2000s albums just aren't very good overall. My Favourite Headache is consistently good from beginning to end. It is still plagued by Geddy thinking he was now a bass-playing singer rather than a singing bass player though. I suppose that's what he wanted but don't think it suited the band very well.

Matthew John: It has grown on me over the years and if you listen to it now and look back and think “this is in between Test For Echo and Vapor Trails, it provides much better context for what you’re hearing. But it also makes me realise that even though each guy is fantastic at their craft, them together is the secret sauce. Rush really is Alex + Geddy + Neil.

Jonathan Novajosky: I thought this was a pretty decent album. I've always liked Geddy Lee and he sounds great here. The main issue I have with My Favourite Headache is that it doesn't blow me away. The songs are all decent, but not too memorable. My favourite was probably Runaway Train, but like I said, there wasn't really one I disliked. A good choice, but I don't think I will be coming back to this one. 5.5/10.

Marco LG: My relationship with Rush started in the late 90s. The first album of theirs I bought at the time of release was the live Different Stages, and My Favourite Headache was the first Rush related studio album I saw released. It is fair to say I have a sentimental attachment to it.

The album was written and recorded with multi-instrumentalist Ben Mink, who was already mentioned on the pages of this club as the man behind the violin in Losing It, a song from Signals that became the epitome of Rush’s timing for retirement. Mink enriched the musical vision of Geddy Lee with tasteful string arrangements, including his signature violin. 

The result is an album where the guitar is always present but never centre stage, an album where the drums are competent but not mind-blowing, an album where the voice of Geddy Lee is the main character. This is both the strength and the weakness of My Favourite Headache: it is the solo album by one of the most accomplished bass players in the world, and yet the bass is seldom on display. With few exceptions, most notably the opening of the title track which is also the opening of the album, the bass lines are discreetly mixed with the rest of the instruments, and in fact no instrument ever gets in the way of the vocal delivery.

But make no mistake, I love My Favourite Headache. The beauty of it lies precisely in the absence of impressive solo moments, all the songs are constructed around a memorable vocal line and some enthralling arrangement. Every time I listen my feet never stop moving and I can’t help humming along. 

My absolute favourite track is Working at Perfekt, which always sounds to my ears as a tribute to Neil, and then there is the magic poetry of Grace To Grace, which is the closest to a Rush song and in hindsight could have been an outtake from Vapor Trails. In fact, there is no denying the vocal performances on this album and Vapor Trails are the strongest of Geddy Lee’s career.

It can be argued the sound of this album became the sound of Rush when they finally got together, and heralded a newly found state of form which saw them concluding their career on a high. But it would be wrong to consider My Favourite Headache a Rush album: the absence of Alex and Neil is notable throughout, not only in the music but also in the overall chemistry. Rush was always more than the sum of its parts, and listening to My Favourite Headache makes it very clear.

In conclusion: Geddy’s first, and so far only, solo effort is a delicate affair which displays some of the best vocal lines of his career and ultimately was the harbinger of the sound of latter years Rush. It remains a joy to listen to, and for this reason it will get 8 out of 10 from me.

David James: Some really great in depth heartfelt write ups here. Thank you. 

As a Rush fan and a musician (prob most of you are too)... I totally get what you are saying about the song writing and production etc etc

I did take time to really listen to this release again today. It is a bit forgettable. I agree on that.

It’s also not Rush. And that’s ok. And Rush lost me in the '90s as well as a lot of you. What I did like about the album was it was Geddy. Just playing. I don’t think he tried to fill any expectation. Just songs. Different musicians. New flavours.

Just songs.

I also like songs that aren’t hits that have been beaten down by radio play over the years. So obscure and forgettable was quite refreshing.

Final Score: 7.04⁄10 (93 votes cast, with a total score of 655)

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