RUSH Albums Ranked

Rush

Rush needs no introductions. Over the past 49 years the band released nineteen studio albums and crowned themselves as one of the most influential and important progressive rock bands of all times. You can love them or hate them, but it’s a fact. The band differentiated themselves from the standards long time ago, what gave them enough credits to be labeled as one of the most original acts on the scene.

Prog Sphere took on somewhat risky idea to rank Rush albums from the least to the most favourite. Check it and make sure to let us know what are your favourite Rush albums.

19. Presto (1989)

Presto actually shows a lot of promise with its first track “Show Don’t Tell,” which exhibits some of Rush‘s finest instrumental and songwriting chops in quite a while. Plus, Alex‘s heavy guitar tone is so satisfying to hear when in sync with Geddy‘s bass playing. However, right from the very first five seconds of its follow-up “Chain Lightning,” you can instantly (and I do mean “instantly”) tell what’s wrong with the album. Namely, the sound is incredibly thin and sterile. I know it’s been stated many times before, but Presto‘s production is absolutely horrible. While the watered-down sound is fine for mellower songs like “The Pass” or “Available Light,” it doesn’t even come remotely close to giving the faster and more intense songs the power and weight they probably deserve. This is the band’s first album with producer Rupert Hine, and while he would do a better job on the follow-up record Roll the Bones (although only marginally better), this was just a lousy first effort. But sadly, this is not the only thing wrong with the album. The forgettable and boring nature of the record also extends to the songwriting, as the songs just seem to blend together around the middle portion. It’s easy to forget you’re even listening to the record as background music when you’re not giving it a completely focused listen, which is a real shame considering the memorability of the band who made it. Some things do stick out, such as the simultaneously atmospheric and danceable “Scars” or the nicely off-kilter 7/4-time rhythm of “Superconductor’s” intro, but they aren’t enough to salvage much of the record.

That is, UNTIL we reach the last four songs. Presto might have a lot of issues, but you wouldn’t think so if it was just judged by these final tracks alone. From “Anagram” to the gorgeous closer “Available Light,” Rush display some of their most inspired songwriting since Grace Under Pressure five years ago. “Hand Over Fist” benefits greatly from a great mix between quickly-strummed guitar chords and a fun melody from Lifeson, while “Red Tide” and “Available Light” can attribute their high quality to some really great piano lines that are integrated into the rhythms and melodies. These songs not only sound inspired, but very emotionally resonant as well. Also, as usual for Rush‘s standards, the musicianship of Presto is top-notch; for how simple and frustratingly bland many of these songs are, the band can find some pretty creative and impressive ways to give them life. While I already touched on Geddy and Alex‘s parts, Neil Peart is also great here. He might be limited by many easy 4/4 rhythms, but his willingness to make the best out of this format just displays more versatility and variety on his part. A drummer doesn’t necessarily need to show off to be good, and Peart understands this concept very well.

So we have a bit of a mixed bag. Presto is just as flawed as Hold Your Fire, but the former is arguably more frustrating because there was the promise that Rush would be making some grand return to the glory days. On the other hand, Geddy Lee explained in an interview about the record that the band still decided to revert back to many of Hold Your Fire‘s pop elements and synthesizer-driven parts anyway. Perhaps they weren’t quite ready to leave this comfort zone just yet and make another switch to their sound, but the lack of progression is still incredibly disappointing when given the album’s potential. Luckily, things would turn around in a pretty big way with Roll the Bones.

18. Test For Echo (1996)

Test For Echo is the 1996 release from Canadian prog-rockers, which is almost a full thirty years after the band first started making music. And the band has come a long way over this time. Starting as a Led Zeppelin clone, then becoming the kings of progressive rock in the seventies, Rush saw a turn towards synthesizer-dominated music in the eighties. Following contemporary musical trends with their previous release Counterparts, Rush was starting to break away from the synth-dominated sound of much of their albums from the 1980s, and they changed their sound with an excellent effort.

Test For Echo continues with this more guitar-oriented sound, but for some reason it doesn’t quite have the same feeling, the “bang” that Counterparts had. There are times where the album almost seems confused with its identity. “Test for Echo” and “Virtuality” are all very heavy, very strong prog-rock tracks. However, these are juxtaposed next to airy songs such as “Resist” and “Limbo” that kill the vibe. While they are all good songs in their own right, Rush accomplishes what Radiohead did with Amnesiac—instead of creating an album that is easy to listen to from beginning to end, they made an album that cries to be listened to one song at a time. Yes, Rush was evolving at this point, but it seems to me that they seemed to have trouble deciding exactly what direction they were aiming for here.

That’s not to say that Echo is a bad album at all. In no way, shape, or form have any of the members become lax with their duties. There are still songs in odd time signatures such as “Time and Motion.” Geddy Lee‘s voice has matured nicely (no more “Fly by Night” shrieking), and his bass cuts through the mix in his signature way of smoothly playing meandering lines under Alex Lifeson‘s liquid guitar. Alex still proves he can solo on (unfortunately only) a few moments on the album. And it goes without saying that Neal Peart‘s drumming and lyrics are top-notch. The three members have that chemistry that can only come after playing together for three decades. And they still manage to write good songs and sound fresh doing it.

17. Hold Your Fire (1987)

Following the success of the solid Power Windows and its subsequent tour, Rush took a much-needed break so they could be with their loved ones and relax. However, after a mere few months had passed, the band members quickly started letting the creative juices flow again and they started writing material for their follow-up release Hold Your Fire. Once the promotional single “Force Ten” was released to the public, it was clear to everyone that Rush hadn’t given up on the poppier arrangements of the previous record; in fact, it seemed even more accessible than usual! With punchy drum work and flashy synthesizer bursts from Geddy Lee‘s trusty keyboard work, it sounded as though Rush were really going off the deep end with their pop-rock phase this time around. And… well… yeah. In a way, they kinda did.

Don’t get me wrong; there are indeed progressive moments scattered about Hold Your Fire. In fact, the album’s big hit single “Time Stand Still” is ironically one of the most typical and classic-sounding Rush songs on this entire thing because of its frequently altered tempos and more experimental character (with the female vocals, heavy atmosphere, the works). Unfortunately, this is also one of the first times in Rush‘s career in which some of their choices end up really biting them in the collective arse. There’s only so much someone can take of a more watered-down Rush, and songs like the bland power-ballad “Second Nature” and the overly cheery instrumentation of “Mission” are begging for a songwriting overhaul. The emotional weight is here in top form, but—and I do hate to say this—the music has a tendency to be just plain boring. It’s not that Rush have to be technical to be good, and the band’s instrumental prowess shines in tunes like “Prime Mover” and the mystical “Tai Shan,” but the synthesizers are really what kill a good chunk of this record. Why? Because they’re so damn overbearing. As with Signals and a decent chunk of Power Windows, it feels as though Alex Lifeson has been once again shoved off to the sidelines as Lee‘s large array of keyboard effects comes in to take command of the record.

16. Roll The Bones (1991)

If Presto showed Rush at their worst, then its follow-up Roll the Bones showed them at their most inspired and enjoyable in years. Whereas Permanent Waves began their ‘80s era with a reinvention of sorts with the new wave elements and more accessible songs, Rush simply decided to expand off their already-established sound for their first ‘90s album. But while Roll the Bones may just seem like an extension of its predecessor, the songwriting and overall vibe suggest that much more creativity and passion was involved this time around. This even comes down the wonderful concept that drummer/lyricist Neil Peart conceived for the album, one revolving around the consequences and rewards of taking chances and thus betting your life. As he explains in his Roll the Bones tourbook:

A random universe doesn’t have to be futile; we can change the odds, load the dice, and roll again…. For anyone who hasn’t seen Groucho Marx’s game show You Bet Your Life, I mean that no one but Groucho knows the secret word, and one guess is as good as another… Anything can happen. That is called fate.

This concept is also a great angle to hear the album from, as it lends itself to some of Rush‘s darkest material… certainly their darkest since Grace Under Pressure, at least. To reflect this, Geddy‘s vocals have become even more laid back and reflective than in the band’s ‘80s period, completely devoid of the high-pitched Robert Plant-esque vocals that initially defined his style. And it works perfectly in the band’s favor; the ‘70s-era vocals just wouldn’t have worked in the context of the alternative rock influences this album draws from. Right from the simple melodic guitar line Alex Lifeson employs in the intro of “Dreamline,” it’s clear that Roll the Bones is a more straightforward and less progressive offering than the usual Rush fare; in fact, a song like “Bravado” is ridiculously simple for anyone who’s familiar with the band’s earlier work.

The gap in quality between Roll the Bones and Presto is pretty immense, but it’s definitely inspiring to know that Rush could pull off a return to form in just two years. Many acts stay in a rut for years before churning out worthwhile material once more, but these guys always seem to bounce back at all the right times. This isn’t really a 100% return to their glory days, especially with a less complex and more melodic approach to songwriting, but it’s an extremely unique and underrated work in their post-‘70s canon.

15. Caress of Steel (1975)

After the moderate success of Rush‘s first two records, the band made the ballsiest choice in their entire career: they ditched their old bluesy hard rock sound in favor of straight up progressive rock. Fans were shocked at this sudden switch; while Fly by Night had some elements of progressive rock, Caress of Steel saw the band going headfirst into the proverbial pit of the genre. But hey, sometimes the most unlikely successes happen because of sporadic stylistic choices, so maybe it’s gonna work for Rush

Oh dear God, it didn’t!

A huge leap backward from the previous two albums, Caress of Steel alternates between short straightforward rockers and two lengthy progressive epics. There are certainly good and bad aspects of each section of the album, but the epics are where the most things went wrong. While they are certainly ambitious, they’re also incredibly disjointed and frankly boring. “The Necromancer” is split into three parts, and while the spoken-word segments are fun enough to listen to, the solos are irritatingly long and tedious. With “Working Man” off the first album, the solo section was a lot more enjoyable because there was enough compositional variety accompanying Alex Lifeson‘s guitar work. With “The Necromancer,” the solos go on for ages; it doesn’t help that the song doesn’t flow very well either. As I said though, the spoken word parts are pretty fun despite the cheesiness of the low voice narrating them. The instrumental work is also at its strongest here, with melancholic clean leads giving some atmosphere. “The Fountain of Lamneth,” however, is where everything turns completely sour. Despite an admittedly beautiful acoustic opening, the heavier section that follows is a bit sporadic and uncalled for. But even then, it’s cool to hear Neil Peart doing some nifty technical drumming around this section. However, it all goes downhill once the drum solo starts. This portion completely screws up the entire epic, derailing the rest of the song’s consistency; once it’s over, the rest of the tune consists mostly of variations on the same melancholic guitar lines you heard earlier. There are some changes in style and dynamics, but they never amount to much.

The rockers are definitely better than the epics, but there are some problems here too. “Bastille Day” and “Lakeside Park” are really solid hard rock numbers, the former being a classic Rush song that is played live to this day. The main riff is almost punk-sounding and the lyrics about the French Revolution are definitely well-written. The song’s structure sounds like it could have been featured on the previous album Fly by Night, with more emphasis on hard rock than progressive rock. “Lakeside Park” is a bit more laid-back, but offers a calming atmosphere represented by cleaner guitar playing. “I Think I’m Going Bald” is a pretty terrible song though, with ridiculous lyrics about—what else?—going bald. The song’s instrumental work is completely average, and nothing stands out very much. All of this amounts to the album’s biggest problem: it’s too inconsistent. There’s an annoying disjointed feel about the record, and while the rockers are fun enough, the epics are overlong and boring as hell. This might just be Rush‘s worst record overall; luckily, the band would find their footing with the next effort, 2112.

14. Rush (1974)

Since drummer Neil Peart wasn’t in the band yet and thus didn’t influence the band in a more sophisticated direction yet, this line-up of the trio happened to be more influenced by their blues-rock roots. In this debut record by them, you’ll hear plenty of Led Zeppelin in Cream riffage throughout their compositions. So how does this record hold up? Surprisingly, it’s pretty damn solid.

Okay, it’s not even close to the band’s best work, but there are a few glimpses into the band’s future. The biggest praise would have to go to the band members’ individual instrumental talents. Even drummer John Rutsey does a really above-average job on the record and pulls off some great fills in the album’s more complex (or fast) songs. Even before their prime, Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson were rife with talent, especially on the closing highlight “Working Man.” The extensive solo section of this piece is wonderful, showcasing a mix of blues, ‘70s hard rock/metal, and a few hints at the band’s future prog-rock suites. Speaking of which, that whole song completely blows most of the album out of the water. The verses are extremely heavy for 1974, and the alternately ascending and descending guitar/bass work going on in the chorus is infectious. But fear not, there are other great moments on here. “Need Some Love,” despite being only about two-and-a-half minutes, packs quite the speedy hard rock punch in that amount of time; meanwhile, the song “What You’re Doing” has a bluesy riff that would make the aforementioned Led Zeppelin proud, while containing punchy drum work from Rutsey and a nice meaty guitar sound from Lifeson. There are a few interesting experiments on this record too; the biggest one is the intro to “Before and After.” The song starts out in a very serene way, almost as if you’re entering a garden or a forest of sorts. The clean guitar work from Lifeson really highlights this tune, and once the bass and drums enter the picture, they only further illustrate this image of peace and quiet joy. However, all of this is halted once the song erupts into one of the best rockers of the record. Geddy Lee‘s vocals sound especially loud and dominant, and the syncopated rhythm adds to an already-solid hard rock song.

Unfortunately, the problem with all of this is that, by the fifth or sixth song on the album, it gets a little boring. Most songs sound very similar after a while, and there’s not much variation on the blues rock sound. On top of this, there’s no extra instrumentation on top of the normal guitar/bass/drums line-up, so there’s not much to speak of in terms of additional ornamentation throughout the record. Especially around the middle, a few throwaway tracks like “In the Mood” and the aggravatingly long power ballad “Here Again” pop up. Also, I hate to say this, but Neil Peart‘s absence on this record is truly felt after some time listening to it; after about the second or third time hearing the record, you start to think about how much Peart‘s future inclusion into the band benefited them in the end. That’s not to say John Rutsey‘s a bad drummer by any means, but he does lack the charisma and technical ability of Rush‘s future bandmate.

However, I’d still consider this a great album because the songs that work do really, really work. This is the sort of record you spin when you want to just have a good time and not worry about super-technical progressive rock anthems. With Rush‘s next effort Fly by Night, Neil Peart would enter the picture and the rest would be rock history.

13. Fly By Night (1975)

Rush‘s eponymous debut album was largely comprised of hard rock/blues rock tunes a la Led Zeppelin and Cream. While it had many solid tunes, the album as a whole sounded pretty safe and derivative; the songs didn’t really provide anything especially new for fans of ‘70s hard rock music. Most likely because of this, the album didn’t do very well in terms of sales (it only managed to reach 105 on the Billboard 200); to make matters worse, drummer John Rutsey had to opt out of the album’s tour due to his diabetes and ended up leaving the band. So when Neil Peart was set to audition for the group, his future bandmates were a bit skeptical, especially guitarist Alex Lifeson. But eventually they formed a bond and started to become great friends, especially since the band’s first tour was a few weeks away. Once 1975′s Fly by Night was released, some very drastic changes were made from the group’s previous effort, but was it all worth it? Definitely.

Fly by Night retains a large amount of the hard rock its predecessor had, but adds a bevy of new tricks to keep listeners on their toes. The most obvious improvement is in the percussion department; Peart‘s precision and overall technique definitely fit Rush‘s music a lot better than Rutsey did. But beyond this, he also provides most of the album’s lyrics; on top of that, there aren’t any more songs about love and sex, but rather about philosophy and fantasy for the most part. The music has also taken a step forward, and there’s no better way to display this than with arguably one of best opening songs in rock history, “Anthem.” The band immediately throw you into the fray with a heavy (almost metallic) guitar riff and energetic drumming to back it up. The band calms down a bit for the verses, offering a nice contrast to such an intense first impression. Alex Lifeson alternates between the aforementioned heavy riffs and some nice clean guitar playing, while Geddy Lee‘s bass playing and vocal work are certainly a step up from the trio’s debut. “By Tor and the Snow Dog” operates in the same vein, but has a fantastic instrumental section that would hint at the band’s future progressive rock epics. The verses are pretty fun too, just your standard hard rock; once again, Neil Peart steals the show with some exceptional drum fills and a keen ear for detail when it comes to his technique. However, my absolute favorite track on here would have to be the insanely-underrated “Rivendell.” Ironically, the song doesn’t even have drums or the bass guitar on it; it’s a folk ballad with Geddy Lee‘s softer singing and Alex Lifeson‘s beautiful acoustic guitar playing. As the title suggests, the song is about the elven outpost of the same name in The Lord of the Rings, and Geddy Lee sings about the tranquility and beauty the place brings. The entire song is gorgeous and doesn’t need any embellishments to improve it; the almost-minimalist nature of the song and the emotional charge it has is certainly enough.

Unfortunately, the downside about this album is that, as with the band’s debut, this album has a good chunk of filler to plow through to get to the good stuff. “Best I Can” and “In the End” are average rockers that could have easily appeared on the first album, while “Making Memories” is a pretty boring acoustic rock piece; the clean guitar work is a nice addition, but the bass is a little listless and the drumming’s pretty bland for Mr. Peart. Luckily, the album’s fun title track comes in midway to balance things out, and inconsistencies are more tolerable. It’s still pretty annoying to have to sit through the boring tracks in the first place, though.

However, these flaws aren’t enough to destroy the album; if anything, this album was a very bold move for the band; “By Tor” offers a glimpse into the band’s future glories and other songs show the band refining and polishing their hard rock formula very well. This isn’t really one of the band’s best albums in the end, but it’s at least a fun hard rock/progressive rock album that benefits from well-focused compositions and well-written lyricism. If you like Rush or want a hybrid of progressive rock and hard rock, this album should do the trick.

12. Vapour Trails (2002)

To say the mid-to-late 9’0s were not very kind to Rush is quite the understatement. First there was 1996′s Test for Echo, which is widely regarded as one of the band’s biggest disappointments with the critics and the fanbase; then there was the infamous car accident that killed Neil Peart‘s daughter and the battle with cancer that his wife lost. Any of this would have been good reasoning to retire and call it a day… hell, he actually DID tell his bandmates he was retiring around that time. But was this the true end for Rush and Neil Peart‘s careers? Nope! Instead, Peart decided to take a lengthy sabbatical throughout North and Central America to reflect and mourn what events had transpired. After writing a book about his travels, he decided to remarry and then tell his bandmates that he was finally ready to return to the fold. What came of all this was Vapor Trails, a great comeback album that displays the band in top form again.

Don’t get me wrong, however; it’s still not the perfect comeback a lot of people were clamoring for. The most common criticism of Vapor Trails is a pretty well-founded one, and that’s the record’s mix. It’s easy to conclude that the record was a victim of the loudness war, which was becoming more frequent around the 2000s; because of this, there’s a bit too much loudness and compression permeating the whole thing. Luckily, this doesn’t do much to lessen the impact of the songwriting because of how strong these tunes are from the get-go. One listen to the opening number “One Little Victory” can tell you that this isn’t synth-era Rush anymore. Instead, we’re given some of the beefiest and most metal-oriented guitar lines Alex Lifeson‘s ever played, highly overdubbed and layered bass lines courtesy of Geddy Lee, and the most inspired lyrics and drum work from Neil Peart in over a decade. It’s really great to hear Rush go back to a more traditional sound again, and Vapor Trails represents sort of a mixture of all their eras into one. “One Little Victory” has a more modern progressive rock/metal sound to fit the 2000s, the motifs of “Ghost Rider” and the title track sound like something that could come out of their Roll the Bones days, and the more prominently displayed virtuosity on this album recalls their more complex ‘70s and early ‘80s material like A Farewell to Kings or Hemispheres.

But what pushes Vapor Trails over the edge is just how damn inspired the whole thing sounds. This is not only a reinvention of the band, but it feels like one. A lot of this comes from Peart, whose lyrics on this are probably the most personal and hard-hitting the band have ever had in their career (alongside Clockwork Angels, I’d say). Also, as I mentioned, this album can be really hard-hitting and heavy for Rush standards, especially “One Little Victory,” “Peaceable Kingdom,” and “Secret Touch.” The latter is especially notable for its heavy syncopated main riff which is perfect for some headbanging; what I’m saying is that these tend to be some pretty metal songs, which is something that Rush would continue for the next two albums. But the intensity levels are never excessive, and the band usually know when to scale things back and focus on a more layered or subdued musical environment. One of the best traits of Rush has always been how the three musicians blend their instruments together and sound like a cohesive unit despite such complex pieces, and Vapor Trails is no exception to this. It also helps that Geddy Lee‘s vocals are quite varied on the album, able to fit whichever mood the song has created with ease. In fact, he can still hit some pretty damn high notes despite his age around this time, especially that one note he sustains near the end of “Peaceable Kingdom.”

Vapor Trails is no classic, but it’s a substantial improvement over Test for Echo and probably the band’s best work since Power Windows. Despite the weird production (which has thankfully been improved in the 2013 remix) and being a bit too lengthy (over an hour long), this is a great display of Rush being reborn for the new decade. Musically, it makes enough nods to their past while remaining firmly in the present, with a great variety of lyrical and musical concepts to reflect this.

11. Power Windows (1985)

By the time Grace Under Pressure came out, it was clear to fans and critics that Rush were skilled in displaying their own takes on trending musical styles. Their first two albums saw them successfully (in hindsight, at least) deliver heavy, driving guitar riffs in the vein of Led Zeppelin and Cream, the 1976-1981 progressive heyday displayed that the band could join such genre giants as Genesis and King Crimson, and both Signals and Grace Under Pressure showed us that the band could throw that style away for something more synthesizer-oriented and lyrically personal. Basically, Rush can adapt to the times exceptionally well. With that said, you could definitely say that 1985′s Power Windows is likely Rush‘s most ‘80s-influenced album, as it explores many of the synthrock and pop sounds of the era… specifically, the huge emphasis on Geddy Lee‘s synthesizer work. After all, why deny the opportunity for reinvention yet again?

As soon as “The Big Money” makes its grand statement with a blast of synthesizer chords and Alex Lifeson‘s mix between chords and rapid-fire lines on the guitar front, you can already tell you’re in for something both bold and oddly distant. Power Windows is a pretty bizarre album because, while many of its lyrical themes are personal and social, and the guitar work has a tone that cuts through the production to reach the listener on a more personal level, the synthesizers end up pulling you away at the same time. Songs like the electronic drum-oriented ballad “Mystic Rhythms” and the dreamlike tune “Manhattan Project” have a bizarrely expansive and cold quality that, strangely enough, inspires more intrigue and warrants repeated listens just to catch every little nuance of this experimentation. However, Rush do make plenty of room for both more progressive and poppy arrangements to offset these darker moments. “The Big Money” is incredibly fun (despite its message of greed) because of how bubbly and fast-paced the instrumental work proves to be once the grand opener. The same can also be said of”Marathon,” which combines fantastic instrumental work in the verses (primarily that wonderful bass line from Lee) with a wonderfully inspiring chorus that features Geddy Lee at his best vocally. And of course, there’s that great message about getting through the marathon known as life, and how tough the run can be.

Unfortunately, just like with Grace Under Pressure, many Rush fans will likely be turned off by this incarnation of the group. Even for these ears, the synthesizer experimentation gets pretty old after a while. Once at the 6th or 7th song, one might just wish for a break from the ridiculously frequent keyboard use and instead go for some more guitar-oriented Rush music. Granted, there are a few songs that break the pace a bit in this regard, like the more hard rock-oriented tune “Territories” or even a good chunk of “Marathon,” but some may wish for more of Lifeson‘s guitar playing. However, the bright side is that he does have a larger presence here than he did on Signals, which almost cut him out entirely. Regardless, if you’re in the mood to check out some of Rush‘s oddest material and you feel adventurous, Power Windows is a nice bet. It takes Grace Under Pressure‘s dark, cold sound and expands upon it with more synthesizers and overall experimentation. It’s multifaceted, sparse, dark, and high in replay value. It’s worth playing multiple times just to, once again, hear something you didn’t catch the first time around.

10. Snakes & Arrows (2007)

Whenever I hear the lyrics of the chorus of “Far Cry,” I always feel as though it’s a metaphor for all the hardships and triumphs that Rush have experienced throughout their illustrious career. Seriously, just think about this for a moment… back in the early ‘70s, would you have ever believed that a progressive rock trio with complex instrumentation and heavy lyrical themes regarding fantasy and philosophy would become the rock juggernaut they are now? It’s quite incredible, especially when considering what tragedies and struggles have befallen the band over the years. And here they still are, over four decades after Neil Peart first joined the band, still maintaining the same lineup after all that time has passed. The fact that Rush continued even after something as tragic as the deaths of Peart‘s wife and daughter and made an album as good as Vapor Trails is a true testament to how close-knit and committed these guys are. However, where were they going to go after their 2002 effort? Well, Snakes and Arrows strengthens the band’s newly modernized sound found on Vapor Trails while managing to be one of their most emotional and sentimental works.

The instrumental “blend” is honed to near-perfection on this album. In fact, the more economic playing styles of each member here are really effective in keeping the album cohesive. Even the primary instrumental “The Main Monkey Business” offers very little in the way of flashy musicianship. Instead, there’s a much more warm and inviting sound at work; Alex Lifeson‘s gorgeous acoustic guitar work is one of the most prominent elements of the record, and there’s a lot more subtlety in Geddy‘s bass playing. But don’t think for a second that this is a complete step down in intensity from Vapor Trails; one listen to the opener “Far Cry” will immediately dispel that notion with its heavy riffing and hard-hitting rhythms. However, there’s a certain beauty to Snakes and Arrows that’s a bit difficult to describe. There are a lot of lush arrangements and beautiful layers that give many of the songs an otherworldly quality, one of the best examples being the chorus “Armor and Sword.” After a distorted riff from Lifeson and harmonized vocals from Geddy Lee, the song breaks into a very spacious and dreamlike portion for the chorus, with the guitar work sounding massive and almost cathartic.

Snakes and Arrows really is among Rush‘s finest works. It’s hard to believe that the next album also surpasses this one, but it just shows how strong and relevant the band still are, even in today’s rock scene.

09. Counterparts (1993)

Considering how willing Rush were to adapt to the current musical times, Presto and Roll the Bones displayed them shifting toward an alternative rock sound with a mellower vibe. But then you have 1993′s Counterparts… and if Roll the Bones had many hints of alternative rock, this album puts the genre right into the foreground of the music. By this point in Rush‘s music, it was definitely difficult to call them a progressive rock band anymore; the songwriting and musicianship was just getting more and more straightforward, and the band hadn’t created an epic 10-minute+ song in years. However, as with Porcupine Tree‘s Deadwing, this record does display both progressiveness and high quality through little nuances and nods here and there. So how does it compare to Roll the Bones? Well, despite having their minor differences, they’re both about equal in quality.

What keeps Counterparts consistently interesting is based on some really fascinating risks it makes along the way. Songs like “Animate” and “The Speed of Love” are just your typical mid-tempo Rush songs; they’re okay, but they just sound like leftovers from the last few albums. But then “Stick It Out” comes through your speakers, and… well, Rush just turned grunge for this one! Between the extremely thick riffing in the chorus, the much darker lyrics, and an angry overall vibe, it sounds as if Rush briefly channeled the heavier moments from Pearl Jam‘s Ten record. Other songs like “Double Agent” and “Alien Shore” are extremely satisfying as well when they keep this heaviness intact, and this aspect is also what somewhat saves the bland nature of the album’s sole instrumental “Leave That Thing Alone.” Counterparts is widely regarded as Rush‘s real return to their guitar-driven roots, and it’s easy to see why.

08. Signals (1982)

If Moving Pictures and Permanent Waves showed us anything, it was that Rush could succeed in reshaping their traditional progressive/hard rock sound in multiple ways and achieve some crossover success. Just as an actor may choose to play in many different kinds of roles to avoid being typecast, occasionally a band will have to switch their sound a bit so their competitors don’t leave them in the dust commercially. While Permanent Waves was still a full-fledged progressive rock album that merely scraped the surface of stylistic change—such as the reggae elements of “Spirit of Radio” or increased dominance of Geddy Lee‘s synthesizer work—1981’s Moving Pictures was what really changed the way people would view Rush. While viewed as a classic today, many deemed it a sell-out move for the band back then, as songs like “Tom Sawyer” and “Limelight” became big hits and permanent FM radio fixtures. However, if people got angry about the more streamlined nature of Moving Pictures, imagine how they felt when Signals came out!

1982′s Signals is essentially the result of two things: 1. the more radio-friendly direction of Moving Pictures and 2. what was going on in ‘80s synth-rock at the time. There’s even less of a progressive rock inspiration this time around, mostly replaced by a more reggae-rock/new wave hybrid… with progressive rock thrown in. Don’t get me wrong, the prog still rears its head plenty of times, with the odd time signature here and there (especially on that iconic opening 7/8-time synth line to “Subdivisions”) as well as the new-found reliance on multiple genre experiments. Something that’s really cool about the album is the fact that, no matter what style the band try, the music still sounds distinctly Rush. Even with the suspenseful synth-layered “Countdown” or the swing-like drum work of the reggae-inspired “Digital Man,” the overall vibe and instrumentation (particularly Alex Lifeson‘s signature chordal guitar playing) indicate that the band haven’t lost their identity. Once again, the emphasis is on “reshaping” the sound they already had, and it really works nicely for them. “Analog Kid” remains one of Rush‘s best ‘80s songs, easily being one of their fastest and most hard rocking tracks while keeping a fun and breezy atmosphere throughout the verses. The lyrics of the record, in keeping with the tone of the previous two albums, don’t follow the fantasy and sci-fi themes of the band’s ‘70s work but instead focus on reality and the human condition. For instance, “Subdivisions” seems to be about being ostracized for not “fitting in,” with the iconic line “be cool or be cast out.” “Losing It” references the later years of Ernest Hemingway’s life, while “The Weapon” is another song in the band’s Fear series, which deals with the many ways fear is brought about and dealt with.

Signals is definitely a tougher album to get into than any of Rush‘s previous efforts. Despite more radio-friendly songs and new wave experimentation, many of the tunes go a bit too far into synth territory. “Losing It,” despite an interestingly melancholic atmosphere, is probably the worst offender. At some point you have to ask yourself, “How far are Rush going to go with this more keyboard-laden sound?” Even “Subdivisions,” one of the most popular and recognizable Rush anthems, trades much of what guitar work there would presumably be with a dark, brooding synthesizer used to carry out many of the melodies and basslines. That’s sorta the issue here: Alex Lifeson, while present for a good chunk of the album, just isn’t present enough. Neal Peart, however, is stronger than ever; in fact, what’s really impressive is how much he does with a more limited range of time signatures and a simplified overall sound. The crazy fills are still there, as well as a nice variety of tempos and dynamics that are executed; business as usual. Geddy Lee is still doing well with his more subdued voice (or at least more subdued than he was in the ‘70s), and his basslines are still fast and technical during many of the instrumental passages. Alex Lifeson brings out some of the best guitar work of his career… once again though, when you can hear him and he isn’t being drowned out by the keyboards. The problem with Signals is that they seemed to go way too far with the synthesizers; while songs like “Digital Man” and “Analog Kid” aren’t as reliant on them, the songs that are reliant go a bit overboard. The band had experimented with synthesizers in the past, but not to this degree. It’s not a huge issue though, because the high-quality compositions and other instrumental performances shine through in the end. It’s still excellent enough for my recommendation; it isn’t another Moving Pictures, but the experimentation and compositions still make it a completely worthwhile record despite its missteps.

07. Grace Under Pressure (1984)

Looking back at the band’s entire discography, Signals was probably the biggest risk Rush had ever taken musically. Even with a warmer reception in recent times, many fans remain divided on the album’s foray into ‘80s synth rock and Alex Lifeson‘s increasingly subdued guitar role; even Rush themselves didn’t enjoy the record, which led to them dismissing producer Terry Brown in favor of someone new. Many clamored for a return to the band’s more hard rock-oriented take on progressive rock music, while others were becoming curious about Rush‘s continued experimentation and odd progression. And what did everyone get? Pretty much both and neither of those at the same time.

Let me explain what I mean. Yes, there’s still a pretty large amount of synthesizers being used here. And yes, there’s also a larger emphasis on Lifeson‘s heavy guitar work. But the way they’re both used is drastically different from Signals or any previous Rush album; much of this comes from the atmosphere, which is easily Rush‘s darkest and most fascinating yet. True to the album’s title, Grace Under Pressure tackles the theme of pressure and its varying effects on different people. There’s a constant contrast musically between a richness and coldness, with Alex‘s resonant guitar chords and Geddy Lee‘s dark synth arrangements working off each other beautifully. But beyond the music, the “pressure” theme and the darker lyricism really give off a more human feel than in previous albums by the band. With 1981′s Moving Pictures, Rush largely ditched their fantasy themes for more realistic subjects, and Grace Under Pressure essentially reveals the pinnacle of this lyrical style. The songs are usually incredibly bleak but never in an overly dramatic way, as revealed in “Red Sector A”‘s gritty portrayal of concentration camps during the Holocaust; other dark stories include a loved one’s death in “Afterimage” and one’s internal fear and struggles with “The Enemy Within.”

The music, of course, mirrors the lyrical content perfectly. The biggest reason this record surpasses Signals in terms of composition is that the synthesizers actually have more of a purpose here. Not only are they a bit scaled back to let the guitar playing shine, but they’re also necessary to bring out the album’s atmosphere. Most of these songs wouldn’t be nearly as effective without the keyboards creating some bleakness or tension in the backdrop. “Between the Wheels” is one of the best examples, its intro combining an incredibly heavy Drop-D guitar riff with dissonant synth jabs so two moods collide brilliantly into one tense hard rock track. The initial atmosphere of “The Body Electric” actually introduces a slightly hopeful mood with it being in the key of A-Major and having slightly more calm vocals from Geddy, until the famous “1001″ chorus brings back the feeling of fear and anxiety to the table. Of course, Neil Peart‘s drumming helps in numerous ways too. Not only is his technical skill still nearly unmatched, but his simultaneously more mechanical and yet refined style here makes for some mesmerizing work when combined with the other instruments. Whether it’s the fast-paced hard rock of “Afterimage,” the more progressive and tempo-shifting opener “Distant Early Warning,” or the more new wave and reggae-influenced “The Enemy Within,” Peart‘s work on the kit always fits each mood perfectly.

When discussing the most unusual or inventive Rush albums, Grace Under Pressure should be one of the first albums mentioned. While not sounding much like its predecessors, the record is a fascinating trip into the band’s darker side and a more realistic approach to both their lyricism and their music. It’s cold, yes, but that’s what makes it so interesting and fresh. When it comes to progressive rock albums that are equal parts emotional and compositionally compelling, this is one of the finest ones of the bunch. If you’re willing to take this journey, get ready for the most underrated album Rush have ever released.

06. Clockwork Angels (2012)

Very few bands have ever had what you could call a “second heyday.” A popular groups hits a peak, and then either calls it quits or embarks on a downward spiral. But it seems as though Rush have subverted the trend of spiraling downward just by sheer virtue of making consistently good music throughout their entire career. No matter what changes they bring upon their established style (usually following or setting certain trends with each decade of their work), their music is unmistakably Rush and always guaranteed to have some level of excellence with each album. Of course, most people consider the trio’s heyday to be their mid ‘70s-early ‘80s work. But, starting with Vapor Trails, it seemed as though a new Rush Renaissance had arrived as each successive album had been getting better and better.

Clockwork Angels is not only technically impressive, stellar in its songwriting, or vocally sound. No, the reason this album is so good is because of the passion and effort clearly thrown into it. Rush sound more fired up and inspired than they have in years and it’s hard not to get sucked into the energy these guys pour into the experience, an impressive feat given their ages. Just like the last two albums, Clockwork Angels kicks things off fittingly with a hard-hitting rock/metal number known as “Caravan.” However, “BU2B” is where things really get kicked up a notch; the main riff is just brutal in its distortion and heaviness, the dynamics are varied between the verses and the choruses, and the whole thing just flows so smoothly. But that can be said of the entire album; the lack of significant filler here is just mindblowing as each and every song serves a distinct purpose. Some of my personal favorites here are the more ornate and layered tracks such as the title track and “Carnies.” The former is especially outstanding, kicking off with an a cappella melody akin to the theme song of Halo before launching into a beautiful blend of Alex Lifeson‘s bright guitar chords and a driving rhythm section courtesy of Geddy Lee and Neil Peart. Also, some of Lifeson‘s best soloing occurs on this track; that’s always a bonus.

Clockwork Angels perfects the sounds that its more immediate predecessors created while sounding so damn fresh on its own as well. There’s no bad song on the record, and you’ll often finish the experience feeling both satisfied and emotionally fulfilled. A lot of people got a bit irked by the album’s sound production because of the compression and loudness war nonsense (something that also plagued Vapor Trails) but I feel as though the mix is quite stronger this time around. It may be a bit loud and somewhat muddy, but the blending of instruments is still consistently clear and the loudness tends to add to the intensity of the heavier songs. In any case, Clockwork Angels is truly one of Rush‘s great masterpieces. It’s beautiful, it’s heavy, it’s emotional, it’s layered, it’s technical, it’s Rush in top form.

05. 2112 (1976)

Caress of Steel was considered a huge disappointment for Rush, who almost instantly abandoned traditional hard rock (except for a few songs like “Bastille Day”) for the more complex progressive rock route. Many fans weren’t able to deal with such a swift change in the band’s sound at the time, and the album’s tour was eventually known as the “Down the Tubes” Tour because of extremely poor concert revenue. Not only that, but the album itself was very disjointed and overlong, a harsh departure from the consistency the band’s previous two records. But Rush, sticking to their guns, refused to listen to Mercury Records and ended up not selling out. Proof? Look at the next effort 2112, with a 20-minute epic literally opening the damn album! Naturally, the record label were praying that Rush knew what they were doing because people feared that the band would be done for good. Luckily, everyone was dead wrong.

2112 ended up selling more than people expected, and has garnered numerous accolades over the years; to this day, it’s considered one of Rush‘s best albums and a classic work of progressive rock. If anything, the title track certainly suggests this as it’s one of Rush‘s finest pieces. Clocking in at 20:34, the epic illustrates a world where priests (of the Temples of Syrinx, of course) rule every facet of everyday life and one man discovers an old guitar that is deemed obsolete by these Priests. Meanwhile, all planets are ruled by The Solar Federation as a result of a large scale war. This whole story is fascinating to listen to with the music and keeps the listener’s attention throughout; the music also sees a huge upgrade from the previous album as one would expect. Spacey synthesizers kick off a thundering hard rock overture, with every tempo/time signature change performed more fluidly than with the previous album’s epics. There are seven sections of the song in all, none going past the 4:33 mark; this is refreshing in its own right, as no segment overstays its welcome. One particular section to note is the Discovery portion, in which the volume dies down and the listener is given some nice atmosphere. Once the man in the story fully tunes the guitar he found, the melodies played by Alex Lifeson are beautiful and give off a feeling of renewal. The last thing to mention is the ending of the song, which is pretty unusual; the heaviness of the piece reaches its climax as the drum fills are going crazy and the guitar distortion is more intense. An announcement comes on: “Attention all planets of the Solar Federation; we have assumed control.” It’s interesting how the song has a bit of an ambiguous approach to the story as it concludes, but it’s cool seeing different theories float around about it. Either way, the song is amazing. It’s Rush‘s first successful epic, maintaining its freshness even today.

04. Permanent Waves (1980)

January 1st, 1980 was a very important day for Rush. After a large string of commercial successes in the ‘70s, Rush returned to the studio to work on their first album of the ‘80s, Permanent Waves. Not having released an album during 1979, many people were wondering what the band’s new record would sound like; was it going to follow in the hard-hitting progressive rock and long-winded epics of previous albums, or would it signal a rebirth for the band’s sound? Released on New Year’s Day, you’d expect this to be a completely new phase for the band, right? Well, Permanent Waves certainly sounds a bit different from its predecessors, but it has that noticeable Rush familiarity in terms of overall sound as well.

To be honest though, a mix of the old and the new is a great method for a band like Rush; it’s interesting to hear them integrate the sounds of the specific era while retaining their progressive rock approach. Points of interest include: Geddy Lee toning down his voice (like the near-absence of high Robert Plant-esque wails), more synthesizer use, and more accessible arrangements. The latter point is the most notable one, considering that new wave was very popular at this time and Rush were heavily influenced by UK rock band The Police around this point. However, Rush were one of the biggest influences on The Police‘s earlier material, so the influence essentially became the influenced; it’s pretty ironic to say the least. Anyway, no song goes over the ten-minute mark, so while you may consider album closer “Natural Science” an epic at 9:17, it isn’t separated into individual segments like the previous epics by the band.

Instrumentally, the music is a bit more conventional this time around. Despite heavy synthesizer use and the introduction of more eclectic rock elements (even reggae rock!), the overall sound is more reserved this time around. “The Spirit of Radio,” “Different Strings,” and “Entre Nous” are all mostly in 4/4 time with only a few variations rhythmically; the former in particular is a very tightly structured hard rock tune that switches frequently between a slow swinging rhythm and the driving guitar riffing that occurs around the verses. Nonetheless, the song is still fantastic as it seems to be a perfect mix of emotion, accessibility, subtle technicality, and anything else it may tie together. “Freewill,” despite its popularity, seems to be the real odd man out on this album when you get down to it. The sound of the verses is slightly sparse, mixing a mildly heavy guitar riff (syncing with the bass) with light guitar chord “bursts” as the drums are keeping everything in place. The 7/8 rhythm is also a bit off-putting initially as well, but it grows on you, as with the rest of the song.

So with all of these details, what’s the big reason the record’s so good? The consistency. Even in the two “epics,” “Jacob’s Ladder” and “Natural Science,” there’s not much musical baggage to bring the record down. Nearly every note feels where it should be; the band also know when to space out their dynamics, such as how the acoustic ballad “Different Strings” follows the energetic rocker “Entre Nous.” The album’s running time is only about 35 minutes, but the record feels completely satisfying at that length when you consider the replay value of each track. While the album is safer than some other Rush albums as I said, there are plenty of “wow” moments to offset the conventional ones. For example, the solo break in “Freewill” has Geddy Lee showing off his impressive bass playing with some exceptionally tricky runs as Alex Lifeson is adding his own soloing to the fray and Neil Peart is performing complex nuanced drum patterns underneath. It’s cool to hear the interplay between every member of the trio as they play so technically and fluidly at once. “Natural Science” is a song full of surprises; the soft acoustic opening is pretty unexpected as it is, but a surprisingly heavy riff comes in after the main motif ends. Suddenly everything sounds frantic and tense as the song starts frequently switching between time signatures and tempos. It’s stuff like this that combines well with the more accessible moments of the record, and it’s a great balance all around.

So yeah, this record is an awesome follow-up to Hemispheres. It’s not as technical or intense, but rather a nice mix of accessibility, technicality, dynamic variation, and consistency. The amount of control on display is actually very beneficial to this album and that’s why it works. However, the band had yet to really reach their commercial peak… as Moving Pictures would definitely prove.

03. A Farewell to Kings (1977)

2112 was such an important album for Rush; not only did it serve as a nice rebound from the disappointing Caress of Steel, but it catapulted Rush into stardom almost overnight. On top of this, it was a great album despite the second half’s inconsistencies and occasional filler material. Last but not least, the title track was absolutely incredible and paved the way for the band’s future progressive epics. So how did the band follow up a great album? They made an amazing one!

A Farewell to Kings isn’t just another album in Rush‘s discography, but instead a masterpiece that begins a large streak of powerhouse albums by the band. Here we have six tracks (just like with 2112) that range from miniature to being over eleven minutes in length. Something that’s particularly impressive about this record is how the band makes such great use of every single second of the running time. For instance, album highlight “Xanadu” could have begun with a typical hard rock opening to get things moving. Instead, it introduces itself with two minutes of atmosphere and allows drummer Neil Peart to reveal his vast arsenal of percussion equipment in a gradual manner. You hear woodblocks, wind chimes, and other instruments that would further enhance the calm atmosphere opening the track. Even with the heavier moments later on, there are still numerous tempo changes and varied dynamics to keep the listener on his/her toes. On the other side of the spectrum, there’s the short power-ballad “Closer to the Heart”; with an acoustic guitar introducing the main theme, the dynamics gradually build steam until an energetic hard rock finale closes things off. While this song is more on the conventional side, it’s still very well-written and brings out a more heartwarming feeling than “Tears” from the previous album. A song like this goes to show how much someone could do with such a short running time.

This record also showcases more diversity than the band’s previous efforts. Along with expanding upon the philosophical themes that were featured on a good chunk of 2112, the music has a few more surprises this time around. With the title track, you get a lovely classical guitar melody kicking things off; with “Cygnus X-1,” you get a lot of variety as each member shows his particular skills and a narrator fills you in on the dark story that’s going on. With “Madrigal,” you get one of Rush‘s quietest and shortest tracks, complete with soft guitar flourishes and Geddy Lee showing a refreshing sense of restraint in his vocals. The list goes on, and it’s all strengthened with a sense of songwriting balance. The music never gets overbearing or underwhelming; the band know when to switch things up within their compositions. Even the ominous guitar line near the end of “Cygnus X-1″ never really overstays it welcome; even if it did, the explosion of heavy instrumentation that follows easily makes up for that. If I had to choose the weakest song on the album, it’d probably be “Cinderella Man.” It’s still a good track, but a little generic compared to the others; the clean choruses (another area of Lee‘s restraint in terms of singing) are a nice touch to offset the hard rock sections, but those hard rock sections just aren’t as interesting. We’ve heard this work done in previous albums by Rush, and there’s not much new material brought to the table with this song.

Either way, A Farewell to Kings is still a remarkable album all around. It remains one of my all-time favorite progressive rock releases, and it seems that many other people share that opinion as well. Buy this if you haven’t already; it’s truly a masterpiece in ‘70s rock music and shouldn’t be overlooked. Interestingly enough, Rush would actually be able to top this album with their next effort. It continues the streak of commercial successes by the band and expands upon their already-established sound exceptionally well.

02. Hemispheres (1978)

With its four songs and 36-minute running time, Hemispheres is more abstract and less accessible than its predecessors; however, it also ends up being the band’s most concise. We’ve got an 18-minute epic, a long-winded instrumental closer, and two shorter hard rock songs sandwiched in between. As with 2112‘s title epic, the opening epic on Hemispheres makes up the entire first side of the record. The storytelling and overall lyricism, also like 2112, are once again a big part of this song, as I’ll talk about in a minute. As for individual performances, the trio absolutely astounds. One quality of Neil Peart‘s drumming here that really sticks out is the fact that he seems to put the overall band first. What I mean by this is that he only gets flashy when the situation calls for him to do so; he anchors the other musicians very nicely while bringing his own style to the table as well. Geddy‘s voice is as high-pitched as ever, but the bass playing is phenomenal at the same time. Alex Lifeson is more experimental with his guitar effects this time around, utilizing a wide range of tones and sounds to suit any given situation. His emotive and technical solos on “La Villa Strangiato” and “Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres” are standout moments on this album as well.

When the title track bursts right out of the gate, you can feel the band’s confidence shining through 100%. The band aren’t going to take any prisoners on this effort, and it shows as the instrumental overture goes on. Similar to 2112, you’ll hear many of the song’s future themes on this overture as it displays all of the band’s frequent time signature changes and unorthodox compositions. As you could imagine by the “Book II” in the title, there’s also a story to this epic. Following the events of “Cyngus X-1 Book I” in which the protagonist was sucked into a black hole during his voyage, the explorer enters a new world where he’s eventually destined to be the God of Balance. In a world filled with multiple extremes and fluctuations between love and hatred, the explorer decides to be the balance that anchors everything into place and is named Cygnus. The story is epic and moody, and the instrumental work always gets switched up to suit the mood. For instance, the Apollo segment contains contemplative guitar work and a sense of instrumental control to display the theme of wisdom that’s supposed to be represented there. While the technically remains present, it sounds more reserved at the same time. Then there’s the Armageddon segment in which the music is much more distorted and loud to represent conflict and chaos. The rhythm Neil goes for is a bizarre sort of swing beat, but it surprisingly works with the music. The last few sections depict how the explorer eventually becomes Cygnus (after it’s debated by the other Gods) and the Sphere segment tightly wraps things up with a calm acoustic finale. It brings a sense of closure to one of progressive rock’s best epics; frankly, I can’t recommend this song enough overall. It’s simply a masterpiece in every sense of the word.

The other songs are great too. “Circumstances” is the most accessible song on here, a straightforward hard rock song with Geddy Lee‘s high-pitched screaming leading the chorus. There are still plenty of technical moments here as well, like with the calm instrumental break before the finale or the chorus itself. Either way, everything sounds tight and in place. “The Trees” is a bit more interesting, talking about prejudice but with… well, trees. Sort of a weird scenario, isn’t it? Well anyway, it starts with 3/4-time acoustic guitar segment before launching into a clash of instruments before the verse comes about. The instrumental break in the middle is pretty interesting too, preferring to build itself up instead of making things too obvious. You get many little nuances here, such as Neil Peart‘s woodblock or the underlying synthesizers. Finally, we get to the other highlight of the album: the instrumental “La Villa Strangiato.” Holy hell, this song is absolutely insane; first of all, what other song would start with a shredding intro on a classical guitar? Anyway, this is another song that builds things up, eventually leading to one of Alex Lifeson‘s most emotive and refreshingly spacious guitar solos. After that, the craziness begins; a rolling drum beat is supported by a hard rock riff and rhythm changes start to get constant. The “rolling riff” is a recurring theme but usually appearing in different forms, such as a bluesy swinging section that reminds me of “Lovin,’ Touchin,’ Squeezin’” by Journey. This song is pretty much a perfect combination of compositional variety, exceptional instrumental prowess, and a cohesion matched by very few progressive rock/metal bands even today.

This record represents what music is all about, and only in 36 minutes.

01. Moving Pictures (1981)

Moving Pictures is a great example of how technicality, songwriting mastery, and a thoroughly emotional touch combine in an exceptional way. Lyrically, the album continues in the vein of its predecessor Permanent Waves in how it touches more on real-life subjects than the fantasy elements of previous works like Hemispheres or A Farewell to Kings. Due to drummer Neil Peart expanding his range of lyrical themes, we get songs about the price of fame (“Limelight”), the moods and lifestyles of different places (“Camera Eye”), and even automobiles (“Red Barchetta”). Geddy Lee‘s singing is improved and more varied range-wise on this record, establishing him as a more solid storyteller as he sings the tales that Peart is weaving. The instrumental work is, as usual, absolutely fantastic; the trio play off each others’ contributions wonderfully and there’s a great sense of unity that prevents anything from sounding like aimless noodling. Even in the sole instrumental “YYZ,” the band know what time to devote to soloing and what time to devote to composition. The Morse Code-inspired 5/4 section in the beginning is still an iconic progressive rock moment and luckily the song just keeps on giving, with a trade-off solo segment and a synth-ridden slow portion keeping things interesting.

Even then, what’s even more impressive about Moving Pictures is how it’s so radio-friendly for Rush and STILL manages to be so damn good. The hard-rockin’ radio staple “Tom Sawyer,” the dynamically-varied “Red Barchetta,” the fame-influenced fan favorite “Limelight” and of course “YYZ,” were all big hits when they came out, and yet remain considered some of Rush‘s most beloved songs even by hardcore fans who love their underrated material. Going back to the “balance” argument, that really does seem to be the reason for this. Radio rock fans will instantly recognize and appreciate that iconic first note played in “Tom Sawyer,” while the progressive rock crowd will appreciate the craftsmanship that went into the rhythmically varied guitar solo by Alex Lifeson. “Red Barchetta” will have the casual crowd enjoying the catchy melodies and Geddy‘s singing performance while musicians and hardcore fans will notice Neil Peart‘s varied drum fills going on in the meantime. Even lesser-known songs such as “Witch Hunt” and “Vital Signs” carry this sense of balance, the latter even using a combination of the typical Rush sound and Police-like reggae rock influences. While “The Camera Eye” and “Witch Hunt” are perhaps the weakest songs in the grand scheme of things, there’s enough atmosphere and variation to let the listener know that they aren’t bad tracks by any means, just a bit overpowered by the classics.

There’s so much quality packed into the arrangements and such a sense of unity (despite complex instrumental work) that everything comes together superbly. In the end, that’s what this album is: superb. It’s commercial enough for radio audiences and varied enough for the progressive rock crowd, making it most likely the biggest fan-pleaser in the band’s catalog. That’s probably the reason why it’s still the highest-selling Rush album (certified quadruple-platinum in the U.S. alone!); in any case, it definitely deserves that distinction.

Nikola Savić is a prog enthusiast, blogger and author, in addition to being the founder of Prog Sphere, Progify, ProgLyrics and the ongoing Progstravaganza compilation series.

4 Comments

  1. Marcos

    January 9, 2015 at 7:38 pm

    The self titled album isn’t better than Signals or P/G

  2. Dewey

    January 11, 2015 at 4:21 am

    This ranking is based on…what, exactly?

  3. Jon Leon

    February 7, 2017 at 2:36 am

    No way in hell Power Windows is that low. It along with MP and 2112 is one of 3 masterpieces.
    Horrible.

  4. jim

    May 14, 2017 at 3:41 pm

    Hemispheres has always been my personal favorite. Good job structuring the list.

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