How Rush Embraced a Nuts-and-Bolts Style for ‘Counterparts’ Cover
A decaying puppet king in front of a demolished house, a nude ballet dancer on a brain, a disoriented boy trying to control his window with a remote control — Hugh Syme brought grand conceptual designs to his early work with prog-rock trio Rush. By contrast, his cover for 1993's Counterparts was almost punk in its shocking minimalism.
"That was a bravely, almost impudently simplistic cover," Syme tells UCR. "In the wake of so many more elaborate Rush covers, I thought, 'I want to keep things migrating into whatever direction they should for a particular project.' That's where the band and I shared the credo that we always endeavor to 'deviate' from any expected norms."
The original concept was — like many Rush designs, including the overtly literal Moving Pictures — based on a visual pun. "The cover for Counterparts almost became an exploded mechanical diagram of a sink and a tap and a drain trap," Syme says. "It was going be a literal illustration of counter parts — even more silly."
But the art director's vision for the project shifted after getting in the weeds with Rush drummer and lyricist Neil Peart.
"We passed on [the counter parts] because we started discovering these dualities: yin and yang, salt and pepper, tortoise and hare, ribbed and lubricated, slap and tickle; lock, stock and barrel," he says. "We had a lot of fun — Neil and I spent about six or eight weeks calling each other, saying, 'I've got three more. I've got two more.' We built a whole archive — it became what I eventually illustrated as 'The Prayer.' Inside the package there was this big, folded poster that showed all these visuals. We couldn't decide on any one of them, so we said, 'Let's just do them all.'"
For the front cover, Syme wanted one of these images to reflect the entire "counterparts" concept. He landed on a nut and bolt.
"I just liked the diagram, and I liked how cheeky it was in its simplicity," he says. "I don't recall how it became the distillation of all those options. Any of those elements could have become the cover. Come to think of it now, I wasn't thinking remotely sexual with the bolt going into the hole or the proverbial train and tunnel, but hindsight says that's a fun aside. I was just glad it wasn't the sink and faucets and drain trap."
It was a drastic change from the lavish designs of past Rush LPs, but it reflected Syme's desire to evolve. "Even Neil resisted that simplicity at first," he recalls. "He thought, 'I love it, but really? Should we?' And I thought, 'Yes.'"