RUSH Special #1: 1974-1980

This is what Rush is like without any sense of progression. This is not progressive rock. This is Led Zeppelin-influenced blues/classic rock. Neil Peart wasn’t even a member of the band yet! The only three songs here that stand out are ‘Finding My Way,’ ‘In The Mood,’ and ‘Working Man,’ which still get some decent radio play by classic rock stations, but in all seriousness; in terms of musical intelligence and innovation, this album is massively shadowed by the band’s coming works.

However, this isn’t a ‘bad’ album (if it was, it would have earned one star)… It’s just not that great, at least in the eyes of a Prog fan. The thing that suffers this album the most is it’s total lack of ‘prog.’ That’s why it can’t be marked too high. For a pure classic rock fan, this might come across as being a great album. There’s definately talent to be seen here, this is still Rush! But this is Rush without keyboards, without meaningful lyrics, but with rather lacking production quality, and self-indulgent solos.

A steady delve into the realm of classic rock, but Rush wouldn’t have their first taste of prog until the excellent ‘Caress Of Steel.’ It only gets better from here.

Rush can be said to have had a bit of a rough start, at least in terms of being progressive. However, in the matter of a few years, they went from a blues-rock Led Zeppelin clone, to a more musically intelligent body. Although ‘Fly By Night’ isn’t amazing, it’s a definite step forward in terms of complexity, and a sharp improvement from their epynomous debut effort.

This new approach to rock music can be attributed to the arrival of their then-new drummer, Neil Peart. It was his lyrics that drove Rush from being rather typical in their content (the majority of Rush’s ‘love songs’ are on their debut, which Geddy and Alex wrote the lyrics for.) Now instead of typical classic rock lyrics, we see ballads about mileaus from the Lord Of The Rings, and commentaries on the work of Ayn Rand. It is this intelligence that upgrades ‘Fly By Night’ from it’s predecessor.

‘By-Tor & The Snow Dog’ could even be considered the band’s first ‘epic.’ Although compared to their other epics, it’s rather short, it still shows an appreciation for the extended song length, which is a characteristic typical of progressive rock. While it’s still not stellar, it set the stage for future epics, which would be found in no short supply in this album’s excellent successor, ‘Caress of Steel.’

While a lot of the songs on this album would still fit into the classic rock category, it’s still a better brand of classic rock then was found on the debut. Songs like ‘Fly By Night’ and ‘Anthem’ are Rush classics. However, there isn’t any material on the album that really shines. It’s because of this that ‘Fly By Night’ is non-essential. Still worth picking up if you’re a fan of Rush, though.

‘Caress Of Steel’ has long been one of my most fond Rush releases. It was essentially the turning point for Rush leaving their generic classic rock roots behind, for greener fields. Putting ‘Caress Of Steel’ into context, it is without a doubt their most revolutionary and ambitious effort. While the three first songs could have easily been part of the prior album ‘Fly By Night,’ ‘Caress Of Steel’ really shines with the presence of not one, but TWO epics, ‘The Necromancer’ and ‘The Fountain Of Lamneth.’ For both of this compositions, there is a heavily Tolkien-influenced fantasy theme that abounds. ‘The Necromancer’ is a very dark and progressive piece. There’s alot of weird effects heard here, and it adds to the atmosphere. After a monotonous bit of dialogue setting the stage, Geddy Lee’s voice comes in and begins the story of the tale of ‘three travellers going deep into a dark realm’ (anyone else thinking of ‘The Two Towers?’) After a very prog section, a refreshing happy-sounding finale comes, with some nice melodic leads. It’s very beautiful, and a sharp contrast to the mainly dark mood of the song.

‘The Fountain Of Lamneth,’ while not as strong as it’s successor ’2112,’ is still a very good song that ages well. It tells a very different story then ‘The Necromancer’ although it feels like it’s being told in the same mileau. An inhabitant of paradise goes on a perilous journey to find the fabled ‘fountain of lamneth,’ which apparently can grant him eternal life. I find the concept for this song is much more interesting than the first epic, simply because theres an aspect of complexity and psychological tension in it. Musically though, while there are alot of fantastic parts, ‘The Necromancer’ feels more concise as a song, although that simply may be because of the shorter song length. There are some really fantastic parts of this song, such as the acoustic ‘Panacea’ and the optimistic ‘Bacchu’s Plateau.’ The most beautiful part of this song comes at the end, where the intro of the album is reprised, except with vocals. The final few closing phrases of this song are so beautiful, each time listening to it I feel like crying. There is such a power to it, and it really shows what a profound impact powerful music can have on the soul.

‘Caress of Steel’ is amazing, and if only the first three songs were a bit more distinguished from the album’s mediocre predecessor, I’d be able to easily give this a five star rating. But seeing as I only really love two songs of the five, a four star rating it is.

This is generally considered by Rush fans to be the band’s ‘breakthrough’ album, and the album that essentially saved their career. Although they definately had some stuff (particularily ‘Caress Of Steel’) that was stellar, there were only a few people that really cared about the band until ’2112.’ While the album itself isn’t a masterpiece, the song itself is, and is an essential track for Rush.

The science fiction theme comes front and center in the first few seconds of the song, erupting with a trippy spacy intro that was very rare for the time. While the music is very hard rock centered, the concept and theme of the music gives it a very progressive dimension to it.

There are heavy parts, mellow parts, and an epic, dramatic finale. Everything that an epic should have. It is in fact, the first epic that I fell in love with, and undoubtedly the precursor and influence that drove suceeding band’s like Dream Theater to write their epics.

The rest of the songs range from being just alright to great. ‘A Passage To Bangkok’ is a great song, with oriental influences. The only really forgettable song on the album is ‘Lessons.’ The rest of it is actually really good.

I don’t enjoy this album so much anymore (although I’ve had it for quite a few years) but I figure that if it really was a masterpiece, it would still hold alot of virtue for me. Good, great even. But it’s too hard-rock oriented to stand the test of time, at least for me.

Contrary to popular opinion, I don’t think ‘A Farewell To Kings’ is that amazing of an album. Rush have certainly done alot better, and there are only two songs on here that stand out as being masterful (the mystical and textured ‘Xanadu,’ and the very progressive sci-fi epic ‘Cygnus X-1.’) The rest of the songs are good, but aren’t necessarily the sort of stuff that would be found in the ideal masterpiece.

‘A Farewell To Kings’ is good enough, and has a very pleasant acoustic introduction. But the rest of the song only ranks as being ‘alright.’ Listenable and energetic, but there’s definately better stuff out there.

‘Xanadu,’ as I’ve stated before, is one of the two highlights. This is an amazing song, and somehow conveys a very strong feeling of oriental phantasm, without using far-east instrumentation. There are alot of references to the Coolridge poem the song is based off of. The keyboard work by Geddy Lee here is fantastic, as well as the atmospheric soundscaping Alex Lifeson does at the beginning.

‘Closer To The Heart’ is a song that I’ve never liked. It’s Rush’s ‘hit single’ but I think it’s annoying; especially Geddy’s vocal delivery. The optimistic guitar intro is a nice touch, but the majority of the song is disposable for me. The guitarwork is the only thing that makes this song enjoyable at all. This is the sort of song that you might find on a two star, or three star Rush album, not a record that is considered by many to be one of the greatest Prog-Rock masterpieces of all time!

‘Cinderella Man’ is pretty forgettable, but pleasant enough. It’s a bit of a weak track. Even now, after a few hours after, I’m having a hard time remembering it, besides it’s chorus, which has an interesting melody.

‘Madrigal,’ despite being about two minutes long, is probably the third best song on the album. The vocal melody is gorgeous! Geddy’s voice is in top notch here. Amazing.

‘Cygnus X-1′ is very proggy, and verges on being metal. It’s even better than it’s ‘Hemispheres’ counterpart! It builds up with some great sci-fi textures into an epic finale to close the album.

I’ll probably get hung by other ProgArchives fans for this, but this isn’t that amazing of an album. It’s good, but I’d rather listen to a better album, like ‘Moving Pictures.’ Worth checking out if you’re a Rush fan, though.

The concept of ‘Hemispheres’ can be seen in the album art, read in the title, and heard in the music and lyrics. The concept of ‘art versus science’ has long been an interesting debate, and Rush address the topic in the best way they know how, through intelligently constructed science fiction lyrics and an epic song length. Wrapping up the story the was started in ‘A Farewell To Kings,’ ‘Cygnus X-2: Hemispheres’ has the greatest lyrics Neil Peart has ever written, as well as some great music that feels like Rush’s most cohesive epic to date (despite the criticism it’s gotten for being a tad repetitive.) I’ve always liked the first side of this album more, but side two is a fantastic three song arc that is only hindered by the mediocre track ‘Circumstances.’

The ‘war between heart and mind’ borrows lyrical elements from philosophy, classic science fiction, and greek mythology and melds it all together into a massive poem that could easily be the topic of a university paper in terms of it’s complexity and deepness. While the music isn’t up to par with the ingenuity of the lyrics, the flanger guitar is a very interesting addition to the sonic tapestry, and the vocal performance for the acoustic closing chapter ‘The Sphere’ is very emotive.

The other highlight of the album is the instrumental ‘La Villa Strangiato.’ Arguably the band’s best instrumental, theres some really great guitar work from Alex Lifeson here, possibly his best. Thrown into the mix as well are some homages to ragtime, which are unexpected and bring something new and refreshing to the table. The guitar solo in ‘La Villa Strangiato’ is one of the best of all time, and it stands as being a Rush classic.

‘The Trees,’ while being better than ‘Circumstances’ sort of feels like an extention to lengthen the gap between the two longer songs. ‘The Trees’ (as shorter Rush songs go) is really cool, and like ‘Cygnus X- 2,’ the lyrics are of particular appeal.

Despite being only four songs long, Rush has made a prog classic here, and while it’s not their most consistent, it’s a great addition to their discography. Well done, Rush. My hat is off to you.

‘Permanent Waves’ represents a new stage in the band’s development. Musically, the prog was starting to be melded with a new, more commercial approach. It is through this move that Rush experienced it’s most commercially acclaimed period. ‘Hemispheres’ was obviously going to be a hard effort to top, but Rush was able to put together a record that while not beating it’s predecessor, harbours a quality and flavour of it’s own.

The record starts with one of Rush’s most well-known and radio played pieces, ‘The Spirit Of Radio.’ The guitar work for the signature riff of this song is intense, and is very hard to play. There is prog to be had here, but unlike ‘Hemispheres,’ which was content to go on along with it’s long song lengths and comparatively uncommercial approach, there’s also an optimistic radio-friendly sound on here… An AOR sound that helped Rush to become as popular and influential as they are. While commercialism generally is frowned upon (especially by prog audiences) there’s no fault here, and it’s done in such a way where it only makes the music more listenable.

‘Permanent Waves’ is an easier album to simply sit down and enjoy, as opposed to ’2112′ or ‘Hemispheres,’ which needs a bit of audience participation and attention to really appreciate. It’s music that can be played while driving, or while working out. There’s good energy here (for the most part, songs like ‘Different Strings’ convey a more balladesque style.) The ‘epic’ ‘Natural Science’ unfortunately is probably the weakest epic Rush ever composed. Taken into consideration though is the fact that the song was written and arranged in a relatively short time (less than a week.) The production and sound effects on the song are very cool, such as the vocal effects towards the middle of the song. ‘Natural Science’ also has a strange evocation of progressive metal, despite the fact that the genre itself didn’t come into major play until ten years later. The ‘intense’ part of the song sounds like a very fitting precursor to Dream Theater. If you listen to it, you’ll know what I mean.

‘Permanent Waves’ is worthy of five stars, but not an essential masterpiece of progressive music. Despite some very great songs, it has a comparatively less-strong middle section. A great prequel to the band’s masterpiece however, ‘Moving Pictures.’ This album comes highly recommended, even if it’s not as highly recommended as the masterworks.

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