Because squirrels need rock idols too.
Lineup Card (1968-2003)
Geddy Lee (bass, keyboards, vocals)
Alex Lifeson (guitar, keyboards)
John Rutsey (drums) 1968-1974
Neil Peart (drums) from 1975
Half a weird, parodic Canadian splice of Led Zeppelin and Yes, and half a brilliant and innovative group of hard-rockin' virtuosos, Rush has been one of the longest-running and most consistently successful bands of the last 25 years, mostly because they appeal to every dork Dungeons and Dragons addict with nipple rings made out of 20-sided dice (note to readers: if you own a set of dice with anything more than 6 sides, count yourself out of the Cool Olympics right now), every dork Isaac Asimov-Trekkie sci-fi worshipper, every dork Canadian, and every dork musican shredder-wannabe high school marching band snare drummer in North America, and each and every one of these fools comes out to their periodic concerts, where the band plays forever and ever, thug guitarist Alex Lifeson beats the living crap out of every male in the first three rows before being taken down by three police German Shepherds and a cattle prod to the anus, Twiggy singer/bassist and Wicked Witch of the West lookalike Geddy Lee finds the harmonic frequency of every dog within earshot, causing unsightly blistering at best and devastating cranial implosion at worst, and comedically challenged big-philosopher drummer Neal Peart plays each and every one of his 1,396 different pieces of percussion in turn for 17 hours. I mean, Rush are a throwback to a time when bands didn't sniff at the idea of all three people in a band soloing endlessly throughout each and every song while the singer screeched like a Siamese eunuch with his tongue caught in a lawnmower. Even today, as they try to come across as Adults with a capital flagpole up their Ass, there's still quite a bit of that old mid-70's, handlebar-moustache, silk Kimono, naked star-guy flash to the ol' Rush band.
Verily, Rush fall victim to the pratfalls and tripwires in each of their chosen musical genres. Their hard rock period showed them heavily indebted to Cream and Led Zeppelin and given to leaden pastiches to 'the road' and 'leaving my bay-bay', and generally getting every bit of their 35 cents worth out of their riffs. They didn't even particularly play all that well for their first three years or so, and wouldn't achieve the status of Chop Gods until the 1980's rolled around (though Geddy's basswork always leaned more to the Jack Bruce-y second-melodic instrument side of bass playing rather than that of the 'root note thump' Bill Wyman school). Their prog years (1976-1978) showed them rolling out hoary ol' thematic cliches like the Distant Future Where Music is Banned or the damned Mystical Battle of the Gods that's always showing up. Why not make a 25-minute obscure prog bonanza about finding a really great-fitting pair of shoes or that one time your friend snorted Pixie Stick and ended up having to have an appendectomy? I suppose Genesis wrote a bit differently, and I'm never too sure what Ian Anderson's going on about all the time, but most of the time with proggers it's like they saw the movie poster for 2001: A Space Odyssey, learned a few tricky chords and decided they were fit to fill the third slot on a bill with Robin Trower and Wishbone Ash. Rush labored in the Opening Act Concentration Camp (Motto: Get the fuck off the stage and make way for Foghat, you fuckheads!") for most of the 70's, but began to dig up a loyal group of fanatics who finally burgeoned into a horde upon the release of Rush's golden trio of Permanent Waves, Moving Pictures, and Signals albums from 1980-1982.
Aside: Rush studio albums often seem to come in natural threes, like the sludge-rock from Rush to Caress of Steel, prog from 2112 to Hemispheres, the abovementioned arena-blaster period of '80-'82, and synth rock from Grace Under Pressure to Hold Your Fire. Nowadays they only release a new album like every Catholic Jubilee or whatever, so the pattern's broken down, but in those old days, man, if you didn't like something, all you had to do was wait for a new live album to come out and you'd get something completely different the next time out.
The prog years brought the band a loyal following and all that tricky woodshedding soon honed their instrumental skills down to razor-sharpedness, and they quickly morphed into modern arena rockers with the landmark Permanent Waves release. The band started sounding more like Journey and less like Uriah Heep, and the less you can sound like Uriah Heep, the better off you'll be...just a rule of thumb. I may hate James Taylor and wish he was dead and rotting in the ground, but the fact that he sounds nothing like Uriah Heep is still a big plus in his favor. (Oh, and in case you're wondering, I do, in fact, own EACH AND EVERY LAST URIAH HEEP ALBUM. Gosh, is my psychosis bothering you yet?) Anyway...the Arena Rock era was a huge watershed for Geddy 'n' Purty 'n' Lifey as they 1) scored big Top 40 hits, or at least FM radio instant classics like 'Tom Sawyer' and 'The Spirit of Radio', 2) Thankfully defined an original sound for themselves with the loud, chorused guitars, lots of loud bass, and Geddy finally singing more notes in the range of human hearing than ones in the dog/wombat range, and 3) sold scads of great hard rock albums at a time when all the O.G. hard-rock dinosaurs like Zeppelin, Purple, Aerosmith, and the Who had croaked, and the likes of Sammy Hagar and Loverboy were ruling the Radio Airwaves with an orange-red leatherette-encrusted fist. They couldn't hold on forever, though, and as their decorative synthesizers began to overtake their increasingly lame riffing, things got boring throughout the late 80's. Of course, now they're combining everything into a great big Rush soup like all aging stars have started to do after the 90's came along and made it okay not to want to fit in on MTV. Not that Rush ever did...
One of the main draws for the egghead-types who follow Rush are the lyrics by Mr. Neil 'Serious Sam' Peart (who took over lyric writing after joining the band in 1975, and started squeezing out the verbal diesel in earnest as of 1976's 2112 album), which seem to run the gamut all the way from unsmiling science fiction pastiches about stars and banned guitars to unsmiling social commentary pastiches about outcast kids and nuclear holocaust. Around the early 80's, the guy started performing some sort of dime-store self-psychoanalysis in his writing, leading to lots of songs that tend to address the audience directly with little slogans of empowerment and not-so-little parables about whatever happens to be bothering Peart at the time - and ponderous going they are. Lots of folks might find Peart's unironic plainspoken-ness and lack of poetic flow refreshing, but I often find it ponderous and preachy. Hell, I even agree with him a lot of the time, and he has a pretty good critical eye for what goes on in the world around him, but I can't help thinking he feels he's performing some great service by lowering himself to our level to discuss how shitty it is to be a dork in high school when he really wants to get off on Ayn Rand with more of his honky buddies. And forget the pleasures of the flesh! The dude's frankly uptight...he shows no sense of humor beyond the odd random 'witty' turn-of-phrase, and most of the time he tends to be talking at us, performing some sort of sermon through the chipmunky mouthpiece of Mr. Lee. You show me a guy who needs a fat spliff and a long blowjob more than Neil Peart, and I'll show you Donald Rumsfeld. Personally I think he's compensating for a lack of 'material assets' with his monstrous drumkit, too...it takes John Bonham's jungle gym setup and makes it look like something Charlie Watts would play. Believe me, I'm not doubting Peart's skills - he's tricky without losing the groove, and if there's anyone who can make use of several dozen different percussion pieces, it's him...but still, aren't drum solos quite a bit like Mr. Peart's lyrics? Artless, obvious, and better when they're cut off after a couple of minutes. At least the other two seem somewhat like meat-eating, party-hearty Canadian dudes who like beer and hockey...check out Alex Lifeson's cute little Flash cartoons on the Rush website, or Geddy Lee's ridiculous vocals on Bob and Doug McKenzie's 'Take Off!' for some clues to their humanity. Plus, I hear Alex Lifeson is ranked #13 in the Canadian Boxing Association's Over-50 Heavyweight bruiser class, just below Randy Bachman.
Rush are really not very important to anyone who isn't a fan, as their peculiar contribution to this thing we call Rawk 'n Rowl, isn't so big as you'd think. They never pioneered much other than non-wussy synthesized 80's hard rock, of which they were just about the only practitioner. They're simply great players who incorporated their influences well and peaked at a time when most bands were far on the decline. And while their road crossed the Great Commercial Pipeline once or twice, they've never seriously 'sold out' in a way that's compromised their strangely resilient artistic integrity. As such, they remain one of the most 'true' of the 70's rock legions - they aren't too hot on following trends and have never truly embarrassed their fans (though things got a little threadbare there in the late-80's) with a bad release. Anyway, I hear they kick ass live. Gentlemen and other Gentlemen, here's Rush...
- Mercury 1974
Rush kicked off their career with probably the only release in their 30-year history that could be considered 100% chockablock genuine to the beer-swilling pub-rockin' crowd that was making up their audiences back in the early '70's. Forget the science fiction dystopic bullshit and ten-minute drum solos with snare hits that don't happen on beats TWO and FOUR like God intended! Let's have some songs about workin' hard, downin' beers, and screwing chunky, sweater-clad Canuck chicks all through the White Nights while the Maple Leafs (call 'em Leaves and expect to have your nuts chopped off by a British Columbian lumberjack's axe) skate unhindered to the Stanley Cup championship. Aw, baby, yeah! Who doesn't need some stupid cock-rockin' griddle-sizzlin' boogie woogie every once and again to remind them they've got hair on their balls and sweat on their chest? Who doesn't need some Black Zeppelin slowball fuzztone spelunking to remind them to crank up the treble on their Three Band Graphic Equalizers? Well, Rush is proof that while every hard rock band wanted to play faintly rebellious, monumentally dumb three-chord high school music in 1974, only a select few were able to pull it off. Rush does, and creates some sort of classic of the form in the process. Rush brings it on nice and strong and stupid, never once winking and insinuating it's all a big, elaborate joke meant to break the band just enough so they can start putting out 'serious' music. The band just wants to rock (and Geddy just wants to be reborn as Robert Plant's younger brother) without any ties to progressive rock, blues traditionalism, glam-rock posturing, or any other potentially poisonous preoccupation. And they're much better than the Kiss albums released the same year, for damn sure, though the rudimentary 'In the Mood' sure sounds like an entry in the Gene Simmons 'it's a quarter to eight, it's getting late, I need a date' songbook.
So Rush is an album of clearly defined, high-percentage small pleasures, and there ain't anything on here coming within half an acre of surprising. The intro to 'Finding My Way' sounds kind of like the intro to Zeppelin's 'Celebration Day', and Geddy squeals like a pig impaled somewhere near the perineal region on an electrified fence, but for an opening track to a debut album, I can't help but be impressed by the effortless riffing and, especially, the little lip-smack funky bridge section. 'What You're Doing' sounds like Lifeson's been stealing Tony Iommi's amp settings, except Rush makes for more of a party band than Sabbath does (Ozzy always sounds like he's just crawled from out the grave even when he's exhorting us to 'COME ON!!!' and 'GET YOUR FUCKING HANDS UPPP!!!!', but Geddy Lee sounds like an overenthusiastic junior varsity cheerleader pulling the same tricks with his 'AW YEAHHH!!! AW YEAH!! OOEEEEAAAAAAAWWWWW YEEAAAAAHH!!'...aw hell. Maybe it's because Rush has a superior rhythm section than Sabbath did, even with original drummer John Rutsey (who ain't no Neal Peart, but ain't no Bill Ward, neither). Of course, Iommi's downtuned demon-howls make my fillings want to dig themselves out of my molars and go running for the hills, and Alex Lifeson's guitar is just, you know, lowdown and dirty, but I've still gotta give them Rush boys respect...they can shake the earth when they want to. The band waxes sympathetic when they want to, beating Aerosmith to the punch with a fine, sweeping snow-covered intro to 'Before and After' (I guess this is the 'Before' part) which reminds me of some of the more pensive moments on Toys in the Attic before busting into a bass-flexing Deep Purply speed-demon second section ('After'). So it's not just pro-forma riff-jobbers we're dealing with here, but they don't try to stick us with any 9-minute walking stiffs like the next two albums, either. The longest tracks are the 'Since I've Been Loving You' crying-my-eyes-out ripoff (and intolerable Geddy Lee showcase 'Here Again'), which has no excuse, and the acknowledged classic 'Working Man', which kicks ass like a Columbian loanshark...slow, hard, and with lots of gleeful, high pitched hoots of 'Oh yeah!' Lifeson's riff is nicely mastodonic, and the band follows itself through several tempo changes and Led Zeppelin-y climaxes before dropping down to perform some boogaloo voodoo with a fine guitar solo direct from the Jimmy Page sloppy, fast, and violent stylebook. I don't know how much Geddy Lee knows about being a 'working man', what with being a flimsy regional rock sensation, and I sure as hell don't know how much sympathy I've got for a guy who has to 'get up at seven *yeah!* and be at work by nine' (fucking WUSS! I get up at quarter to six and am at work by 7, so suck me), but I still like the anthemic, fist pumpin' nature of this one, which really is one of the few songs dedicated to us wage-earning drones.
Okay, so listen...Rush is great stuff for folks who, like Rush themselves, were weaned on early-70's hard rock and don't mind having a little more of it in their lives. Despite a few less-than-stellar tracks and some super-derivative songwriting copouts, this album is darn solid rockin' and quite different from the rest of the Rush catalog. Fans have simply gotta have it, and though it's not representative at all, I'd say casual listeners wouldn't be hurt too much to pick it up and give it a chance. Hell, even people who hate Rush for being too high 'n' mighty might appreciate the down-to-earth, unwashed unpretentious feel here. I guess I do...besides, it's darn refreshing to hear Geddy sing lyrics that don't come across as leaden as Neal Peart's every once in awhile.
Capn's Final Word: Small time hard rock gems from a band that forgot this stuff too soon. Simple pleasures for simple people.
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Brian Deuel Your Rating: B
Any Short Comments?: Last I heard, John Rutsey was the automotive manager at a Michigan Meijer store. No shit!
Great ugly rock album; the last we'll see from Rush until Vapour Trails, unfortunately.
Fly By Night
- Mercury 1975
Stumbling towards a sound that doesn't resemble something ripped out of the Led Zeppelin In Four Hours or Less fakebook, Fly By Night is most notable as being the first place we encounter big bad Neal Peart and his entirely non-excessive drumkit, and I can already hear a big difference in the band's approach to ensemble playing. Peart's a naturally busy player, and Geddy Lee himself doesn't mind taking off on his own little excursions to the Land Where Eighth Notes Don't Exist, so that leaves much of the 'foundation' playing to Alex Lifeson, who begins to fill a sort of Pete Townshend role at times. The overall effect is a certain shift towards progressive complication, where even simple riff-rockin' tracks like 'Best I Can' turn into showcases of 'round the kit rolls and bass-pops that make Chris Squire sound conservative. As of Fly By Night, I still prefer the more grounded style of Rush...many of the flourishes here seem like empty window-dressing that add little to the songs themselves, which as a group are far inferior to what we had on the debut. Luckily, the rhythm section boys aren't completely groove-retarded, so the responsibility of keeping the beat tends to shift back and forth as the song requires it, which is actually a pretty cool effect that might be familiar to any of you who've heard 'Won't Get Fooled Again' (not on this album) before. If you haven't heard it, God's Wounds get the fuck off this website and go buy Who's Next RIGHT FUCKING NOW.
That's the take home message of this review in case you were dozing just then or something: fuck Fly By Night...go buy Who's Next, and until you do I'm not letting you back on my webspace I pay so dearly for every month. That's right. I'm password protecting my page and requiring the Who to reissue their Who's Next CD with the password in the insert, just to prove my point that while Rush albums are nice, you really have to get your head out of your ass once in awhile and create a musical foundation for yourself before heading off and buying a bunch of this second generation stuff I'm busy reviewing now. People asked me why I kept reviewing Sixties artists for so long, and why now I don't review the Strokes/Vines/Kings of Leon/Kylie Minogue/Pink/Quad City DJ's/Rooney or whatever else is the flavor of the fucking month in goddamn NME, and the answer is that while I may have heard these bands, and may have actually enjoyed a few of their songs here and there, I'm sure as hell not convinced that they have something to offer me that should supercede reviewing a band that's been around and respected for 30+ years.
Anyway, I wouldn't feel this way if every album by every old band I listen to were like Fly By Night, which is in all ways a 'little' album that lacks the minerals to be considered anything but a 'development' album made while the band was still trying to figure itself out. There's about as many outstanding tracks as there were on the debut, with the energizing 'Anthem', the slightly corny and not-so-slightly catchy 'Fly By Night' and the AC/DC-ish 'Beneath, Between, Behind' being the three best, though I wouldn't go and say they ever beat out their superiors even on these. The title track is a bit too close in feel to Zeppelin's 'Night Flight', the production is cruddy and muddy and lacking power, and I begin to tire of Geddy Lee's endless quest to create the most piercing, highest-ever-pitched 'YEEOW!!' in the history of recorded sound. And 'Rivendell' is just so thin I don't even want to get near it. FBN shows up the immaturity of the Rush band at this point...they're beginning to try their hand at songs that move beyond the sex/party/damned women thematics of their debut, but when they do they come up with something as godawful as 'By-Tor and the Snow Dog', which wastes a charging intro section on a chorus section that is about as unintentionally funny as the last few John Grisham movies. Now, call me an uncultured boor, but I couldn't tell you if my life depended on it what a 'By-Tor' (biter?) is. Still, I can't help but guess the undulating basso rectum noises that take place on the extended middle section are either A) the cries of anger/anguish/pain/or horniness of this particular By-Tor or B) the unfortunate By-Tor gastrointestinal result of consuming an undercooked Snow Dog. Anyway, when it's not churning stupid power chords here and there, it all sounds like a deathmatch between a nearsighted mongoose and a particularly nasty-tempered hot water bottle. Har, I say...har.
Okay, so while Fly By Night shows some amounts of growth over the debut, there's also a fair share of growths to be seen here as well. I get a feeling like this album was done quickly and on the cheap, from the hokey cover painting of a chubby looking owl to the sludge-disposal sound clarity to the somewhat underdone lyric and vocal-melody writing. Sure they rock, though not as crunchily as the debut due to Alex Lifeson's shift to a more normal, non-mastodonic guitar tone, but they don't do much else. Just hold on a little longer while they get their thematic shit together and stop all this ELP-ish made-up monster bullpatoot.
Capn's Final Word: Hey, is that the real vocalist pictured there on the cover? SCCREEEEECCCHHHHH!!!! Some good, complex rockers despite an overall sense of cheapness.
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Caress of Steel
- Mercury 1975
Ungh...so Fly By Night was immature, sounded rushed, and had groan-worthy fantasy elements and shitty production quality that belied the fact that the band was still young and ass-deep in comic books and Zeppelin albums..it also had a couple of good-to-better songs on it to balance out the lamer material. If Fly was rushed, Caress of Steel was kicked out of the nest before it even grew wings. I don't think Rush was at all prepared to release a second album in 1975, and so there's just one decent song on this album I can find. And since there's only five of them in the first place, I don't have to look very hard. The opening 'Bastille Day' is speedy and rabble-rousing enough for what it is, and I'd rather the band harp on about evil royalty and bloody revolution and the charging of the castle walls than fictional Arctic teddybears any day, that's for sure. Still, though, the prog elements intervene, and not at the right times, either. Complicated lines that would be cool to hear once are always repeated several times in a row, just to make sure we heard them nail that particular 13/7 unison quintuplet just like ol' Emerson, Lake, and Palmer would've done. And oh Christ, does Geddy Lee's owl screech wear on my soul here. He howls, 'OH YEAH!!!'s, and employs a vibrato wide enough to cause plate glass to shudder like a paintcan mixer. Combine this with some of the muddiest, least distinct guitar and bass sounds I've ever put through my ear canal and you've got some slow going, even if the riffs are fine for what they are. It's almost as if they're trying to hide their playing rather than let it shine, and Alex Lifeson is clearly trying to emulate Jimmy Page's dirty Les Paul guitar tone but doesn't have the production chops to make it sound like anything other than a dingy bowl of bathwater.
The songs, well, besides 'Bastille Day', all I have to say is 'ouch.' They range from corny and weak like the nostalgic 'Lakeside Park' (how Neal Peart can make thinking back to childhood days at the park sound like a trip to the dentist is beyond me) to corny and overblown and underfed, like the long coo-coo mystic Tolkien fantasy songs like 'The Necromancer' and 'The Fountain of Lamneth' that are so long and frustrating as to actually steal life force away from the listener like vampires on the wing. 'Necromancer' maybe is the less offensive of the two, and sounds pretty much like one or two decent four minute rockers padded out to three times that length with endlessly inapproporiate boogaloo guitar solos and spoken word sections that make Hawkwind sound like Joy Division. Plus, none of the music is particularly 'progressive' outside some tricky soloing, and the use of indistinct power-chording as a basis for each and every theme is far from being a good use of twelve minutes. Never am I taken anywhere (except maybe to the WC for a piss break), like maybe Yes is able to do (especially with the roughly concurrent Relayer, which is as visual an album as I've ever heard). Now I hear that the 'Necromancer' is somehow related to 'By Tor', which seems to explain a lot about the fact that I don't understand either damn one of them. Not only do I still not know what Prince By-Tor is, I'm about as interested in figuring out his relationship with 'The Necromancer' as I am in jamming lit toothpicks under my toenails. Perhaps if Rush had made their Tolkien ripoffs sound beautiful, or violent, or hallucinatory, or mysterious, or something, I would be able to reign in my attention span and care a little more. As it is, my mind wanders worse than a blind Alzheimer's patient in the middle of the Mojave. 'Lamneth' is worse, as it rocks less and delves even deeper into the 'mystical' cesspool. What, did I say that 2112 was the first prog-rock Rush album? I was dead wrong. Caress of Penis falls victim to the worst tendencies of progressive music AND idiotic hard rock, leading to a murky middle-ground where the songs are too long, the riffs are too simple, and the point is absent. Ah well...the real problem isn't the music, it's that the boys just don't put across their lyrics like they think they mean a damn thing, that's all. What, am I supposed to sit there and decipher Geddy Lee's screeching some indistinct pulp-rag hoody hoo trying to find some deep meaning? No, thanks, not when I still have Talk Talk albums waiting to be reviewed. Call me back when I can hear what you're saying.
Shit, there's a song on here called 'I Think I'm Going Bald' that has to be the most mistaken Rush song I've ever heard. All their little 'complications' that are littered all over this pro-forma riff rocker simply make me think they're fucking it up. Sometimes I'm convinced they actually are. They don't even get the intro drum cue right, for Chrissakes! Man, there's not too much they did get right here, now that I think of it.
Capn's Final Word: The best thing I can say is that it obviously doesn't really portray their true sound. But does it belie their intentions? Filthy mystic dishracket.
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- Mercury 1976
Much, much, much better. For one thing, the sludgies that have plagued them since day one are gone out the window, and the production here is lively and crackling. The guitars are amassed and huge, synthesizers moan and wheeze, and the rhythm sections sounds like they're a unified front rather than two mercenaries who happen to be sharing the same time signature. Plus, fer Back in the USA's sake, they've learned how to properly use a treble knob. Holiest of holies, imagine my surprise at such a thing! 2112 is, of course, based around a massive sidelong sci-fi epic about a dystopian future where an innocent kid finds an ancient guitar, learns to play it, and is persecuted for his troubles by the sad old guardians of the traditional ways. Sure, it ain't much more than a loose rewrite of the Who's Lifehouse, but yet I still find myself drawn in by the damned thing. The best part is the opening 'Overture' section, which actually seems to pull me into the distant future, past one hundred and eight years worth of Who reunion tours, the disastrous Arnold Swarzenegger presidential administration, the invention of beer that never gets warm, and no Cubs championships until our arrival is heralded by the brilliant line about the meek inheriting the earth. Suddenly, I'm smack dab in the middle of the Temple of Syrinx (Sphincter?) with all these asshole, doo-gooder priests standing around telling me what to eat for breakfast and how many bowel movements to have in a day's time. You know, upon reflection, the Priests sound a lot like the administrators of Clearchannel Entertainment and the RIAA, if you ask me. Then Our Hero shows up, having just discovered a guitar out of the ruins of some abandoned carcass of a Big Dude's Music City or something. He begins strumming, and within minutes plays guitar as predictably as Alex Lifeson does. He can't hardly contain his excitement with this wonderful new toy for humanity, and goes running off to tell the priests, undoubtedly hoping for a pat on the back and maybe the use of the priests' harem for a day or two. But the priests call him on it, saying that giving the world musical freedom is like giving a toddler a landmine - fun to watch for a few minutes, but sooner or later you'll be scraping fleshy matter off the ceiling with a spatula. Our Hero pusses out and goes off to eat peyote, have visions of intergalactic defeat of the priests, and die in depression, his dreams having been crushed. Wah. I hear it's derived from Ayn Rand's writings. It could have been written by Captin Kangaroo for all I care, it's still a pretty nifty theme for 20 minutes of cool, evocative music. When the Hero plays his guitar for the first time, we hear Alex Lifeson tune up and noodle around. When the Hero gives up and decides life ain't worth living without the freedom to play 'Batman' whenever he wants to, the music gets all appropriately hair-metal wanky, and when 'The Finale' begins and the aliens are presumably kicking some Priestly butt all over the Temple, things get all triumphant and Kiss-like. Manic, but I wouldn't change much about '2112'. The music contains cool, familiar elements like the Who's franticly strummed acoustics, Deep Purple lead lines, and Bill Bruford busy-as-hell drumming, but it's obviously Rush's sensibilities at work. Fine work from Rush, finally, and even if I'm still not truly convinced that the plot has gone anywhere or that they've reached their pinnacle of songwriting or musicianship, I still think the musical elements tell quite a story even when the lyrics don't quite hit the mark.
Side 2 is made up of shorter rock tracks that as a whole bear more unfortunate resemblance to Caress of Steel slop-rock than to '2112's icy coolness, and is in general a big letdown from the first half. The opening 'Passage to Bangkok' exists mostly as a travelogue detailing Geddy Lee's lengthy worldwide search for decent weed, but has a neato stomp-riff and one of the best uses of Geddy's screech on the chorus. Something called 'The Twilight Zone' ought to be dark and mysterious, maybe a bit dizzying even, but all this song does is bore me into thinking maybe Rush actually meant to call the song 'The Dead Zone', because it makes me feel like I'm in a coma. The lightweight 'Lessons' sounds like 'Fly By Night's younger brother, the one who never became the captain of the football team, and settled on being an alternate in the audio-visual club instead. 'Tears' is about as manly as a pink doily toilet-seat cover, but we've never heard Rush attempt an honest-to-goodness acoustic ballad yet, at least not so much that I would've remembered it, and this one isn't so bad. Geddy's wavery singing has begun to frighteningly remind me of another Canadian export, however...Alanis Morrisette.
Yikes! Did I say that out loud?
I have to be honest with you now, Dear Reader...Ms. Morrisette has always been a secret obsession with me, see. I think about her all the time. I even concoct little scenarios where we talk to each other and I express my deepest feelings for her. I fantasize that I meet her at a club one night, we make eye contact across a crowded dancefloor. She's wearing a tight sequined party dress that shows off her ample bozom, and her stringy, unwashed hair falls over her bare shoulders like waves breaking on the shore. We approach each other, and we're soon within inches. We continue to gaze into each other's souls, thinking maybe we've finally found the one we've been searching for for so long now. I try to speak, but my voice cracks with embarrassment and comes out as just a whisper. She leans to my ear and speaks softly 'it's okay, darling, what do you want to say to me?' and I respond by stammering, 'Well, you know, umm...you're Alanis Morrisette and umm, there's always something I've wanted to ask you'. She licks her soft, full lips and replies breathily, 'Yes, of course, I want to hear it...please tell me. What is it, love?'. I gather my courage, and pause while I pull myself together and continue to look deep into her being through her full, bright eyes that seem to hold the wisdom of a thousand saints. I nearly lose myself in those deep pools, but suddenly I realize this is my chance...I'll never again be able to express my deepest wishes to this sweet Alanis, and so I clear my throat, lean in close enough that I feel her deepening breaths brush my cheek and can smell her perfume and musky, feminine aroma, and I intone sweetly into her ear...
'Would you please not sing like that anymore, Alanis Morrisette? It sounds like hyenas are having their tonsils removed with a weed whacker.'
2112 is a near-effort. The second side may dive like a concrete football, but the first side shows enough growth and confidence to indicate good things may soon be on the way. I hazard to guess, considering Rush's underachieving record so far, that they might realize they only wrote half an LP's worth of good material and still got overwhelmingly positive audience response. This was the first Rush record to gain much interest outside of the Great White North, and still stands as a sort of major milestone in the band's career, and from listening to the first side, it's not hard to hear why. They actually achieve a very difficult thing - making tricky, proggy hard rock sound as good or better than the full-bore prog rock that was coming out at the same time. Genesis sure couldn't have released a side-long set that cohered as well as '2112'. Nah, that second side is what bothers me...besides 'Bangkok', there's really nothing of interest going on. It's as barren and unforgiving as Rosie O'Donnell's uterus. Would Rush continue to build on their success and impressive turnaround? Or would they skate on stylistic cliches until the next wave of inspiration hits? So we shall see...
Capn's Final Word: A side full of highly crafted, highly enjoyable progressive junk food backed up with a side full of short songs that are nothin' but junk. Maybe listening to the second side is what made the Priests take Geddy Lee's guitar away from him in the first place.
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Alex Your Rating: A-
Any Short Comments?: The second side is still better than Tarkus's second side...
World's A Stage - Mercury 1976
Rush's first live album, released following 2112's comparatively yelp-worthy success (but something tells me this was recorded before it...why else wouldn't you include more of the songs on side 2 of 2112? Wha, didja realize they all SUCKED?) and serving as a nice signpost saying 'Now Leaving Sludge Rock Town. Please Roll Up Your Windows', because after this Rush would become 'professionals' and stop releasing 'albums' full of '12 minute' 'riffrockers' that 'lick' the 'garbage man's' 'armpit'. And verily, wouldn't ya know, besides a faithful take on '2112', this one concentrates totally on the first three albums, especially Caress and Fly By Night. This, of course, means we get to storm the castle again with 'Bastille Day', bang our respective ganglions to 'Anthem', sit back and smoke a fag('s cock) on the boardwalk with Neil on 'Lakeside Park', raise a beer in disgust at yet another week of servitude and over exhaustion on 'Working Man', and...yes, my dear friends and accomplices, we get to relive the heart-stopping, face-smashing good times of the Battle of the Century between By-Tor and the fucking Snow Dog!! Glory glory be, I wonder how much sleep I'm gonna lose trying to figure out what a By-Tor is supposed to be...
Rush's performance here is long on noise and enthusiasm and short on self-control. Alex's guitar rages, smokes, and sparks like a bullfrog stuffed with gasoline-soaked Black Cats and Neil Peart gets as busy as his little hands can carry him, and Geddy Lee....let's just say that if you thought Geddy was grating before, just give Stage a try. His constant shrieking makes Siouxsie Sioux sound like Barry White, and while I'm impressed that the man can sing lead lines and play his busy-ass bass parts at the same time (a feat which has been described as driving in the Indy 500 while waxing your bikini line, or making tacos while skydiving, or calling yourself America's Pastime when you tacitly allow steroid use among the same players who threaten to strike and cancel the World Series every other year. It's hard to do, but Jack Bruce could do it, as could Paul McCartney and a few other crazy nutballs. So can Geddy, but the difference is that Geddy sings like a girl whose nuts are being gnawed on by By-Tors and Snow Dogs all the time. Listen, Rush is a talented band, very highly so, but around this time they're still playing their ugly hard rockers like they're a poor Canadian version of Led Zeppelin. (Fuck me if that isn't a violin-bow solo by Alex in the middle of 'By-Tor'...come on, shouldn't Jimmy Page be able to sue or something?) Reliving the 'high' points of Caress of Steel and Fly By Night isn't what I'd call a particularly good time, not like making margaritas out of drain cleaner and sewing needles, anyway, but I guess buying this album pretty much negates having to buy those two albums individually. And yes, I am awarding points for their hopped-up energy level and the fact that they can make songs from their suckiest two albums sound better than ever because they play so frigging loud. But 'better than ever' and 'good' are two different things, and I don't think these tracks have the potential to be anything other than annoying, derivative hard rockers.
I say if you want to avoid buying FBN and COS in style, avoid Stage and just get either the Chronicles comp or track down the old Archives collection. Avoid the newer collections like the plague, because who wants a hits collection that doesn't have 'Working Man' (Retrospective, Vol. 1) or 'Bastille Day' (Spirit of Radio) on it? I'd say that's one sad, sad person indeed.
Capn's Final Word: Got Screech If You Want It.
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to Kings - Mercury 1977
Not horrible! Well, big parts of it are, so what am I going to do? Give it a C? Hell, no, there's a few things on here I'd put right up with Rush's best work, mang! The peak of Rush's hardcore progressive period came with this release and 1978's Hemispheres, and while this has to rank as Rush's preachiest and most arch work ever, and Geddy Lee's vocalisms sure haven't improved in the last few years, the playing is fantastic throughout the first 20-odd minutes, and there's even a couple of out-and-out fine tracks on this one. All in all, not nearly as bad as what seems to be the Prevailing Critical Viewpoint of this album, that it's somewhere between a mediocrity and an abomination of humanity. Hell, but we only listen to the Captain, don't we? Well, don't we? No fair thinking for yourselves! This is a pretty decent record if you can ignore about half of it, kind of like if you were to date a really fat chick.
The first half of Kings is loosely based on a concept, and that concept seems to be that people are fucking up and not living to their potential, should be listening to their hearts and no acting like such greedy assholes (Republicans) all the time. Fine by me, but isn't that a bit obvious? Isn't it akin to saying rednecks like NASCAR and cheap beer or black people spend too much money on athletic shoes? Aw, heck...I guess you have to start somewhere with these goddamn prog songs. I'd rather them be preachy about stuff like this than the *shudder* alternatives. The mind seizes up with fear and disgust as I imagine the possibilities. At least the first part has some semblance of meaning, because the album-closing 10 1/2 minute 'Cygnus X-1' ain't got even a crumb of it. More on that later, but first let's talk about what's good here - the opening title track begins all fairy-folky acoustic before exploding into a bombastic, bootylicious morality tale, tough as nails and sung with lots of huevos by Mr. Lee. So, I, too hate the way he says 'SCHE-MING DE-MONS!!!', but there's little I can do about it, like there's little I can do about the way the guitar solo is about as in-tune as Keith Richards playing a $50 Lotus with rusty strings in Houston in August. But it's nice, a nice little-big introduction to the album as a whole. The other nice track is the wonderful 'Closer to the Heart', which isn't much more complex than the average Rush track, but I sure like the earnest call-to-action of the lyrics, and I like the gradual crescendo that builds towards...well, I guess towards Geddy's Gwen Stefani yelps, but it builds nonetheless. And it's less than three minutes long?!? Don't we have to revoke Rush's membership to the Prog Rock Country Club or make them shave their heads or something?
Now, no one's going to confuse 'Xanadu' with anything but progressive rock, and it's a big ol' chunk of that stuff, fer damn sure. 11 minutes, tons of different, sparkly sections, lyrics about eating honeydew off the laps of the Gods (or somesuch mystical honkeysquirt), woodblocks, and really tricky time signatures that never sound 'doinky' or weakly performed. There's something about Rush's ability to make it's music sound thick despite having only three players that impresses me in general, especially on this kind of Big Bertha flash-playing stuff. Take a band like ELP or Gentle Giant and listen to them fly through a million different scales and a million different time signatures and I never am convinced that it's really rock 'n' roll (now I realize ELP can rock, but only when they're not doing twiddly, tippity-tappity scalar runs). Maybe Alex Lifeson isn't any Steve Howe, and Geddy isn't quite Chris Squier, but they sure can match and even beat the rocking, heavy feel of the best Yesmusic. 'Xanadu' is some sort of watershed moment for the post-2112 prog Rush, but I'm not sure the melodies and intensity level are quite high enough to place it among prog's best songs.
And fer Chrissakes, forgetting the sweet but inconsequential 'Madrigal' (yes, also the name of a Yessong off Tormato, which came out a year after AFTK, so you can draw your own conclusions whether someone was stealing ideas from someone else or not) and the sprightly 'Cinderella Man' (which has awful, didactic lyrics...this time by Geddy Lee mind you), no one in their right mind would confuse the abominable 'Cygnus X-1' as being anything but a load of trash. For one thing, Rush has apparently decided that all the audience needs to be convinced of the greatness of a Rush epic is shitloads of swooshy noises like those that opened 2112, some loud guitar honking, and some science-project lyrics about space travel or something. If I want a song about space travel (and, yes, this song came out roughly concurrent to the original Star Wars craze, leading me to believe Rush was engaging in more than just a little bit of trend following here. Listen, it totally doesn't fit in with the rest of the album conceptually, so what else is it if not a last-minute inclusion to score some points with the Spock-wannabes?) I want it to make me think of something related to space travel, ala 'Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun' or something by Hawkwind or Amon Duul II, not think of cheesy space-jockey serial soundtrack music, which the whole opening half of 'Cygnus' resembles. The second half doesn't improve much, either...everything's so straight-ahead that not even the now-reliable Rush virtuosity saves this song. Not that a simple show of virtuosity would be enough to make this song enjoyable, but it might make it tolerable. Talk about black holes...'Cygnus X-1' sucks really really really really hard.
Capn's Final Word: Prog from all sides. Including the back one.
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Hemispheres - Mercury 1978.
Looking at the track listing sure isn't going to indicate this ('Cygnus X-1: Book 2'?!?!? Holy Christ!! The first book was enough for me to swear off the English language for good!!) but Hemispheres is pretty darn fine as a record album, as long as you enter it with fresh ears and not ones polluted by the worst excesses of the last two albums, numbed to the great ensemble playing that Rush is now capable of. Hemispheres is still deep, deep progressive rock music (in 1978?!?? Two years after punk rock, Southern rock, and disco made progressive rock about as fashionable as Hypercolor t-shirts?) These guys must've had nuts the size of medicine balls, because this is most definitely Unreconstructed Prog of the kind most bands had long since abandoned. Listen, by 1978 Jethro Tull was playing folky stuff, Yes was making disco, King Crimson had broken up, ELP had, well, fucked themselves for good with two inadvisable Works volumes and the execreble Love Beach, and God knows what anybody else in the 'old guard' was trying to accomplish. Rush had stuck by their artistic guns with some decent payoff, and not for the last time, either. To be fair, a few concessions are made to the advancing years, as Alex Lifeson has discovered his famous chorus pedal, forever turning down the Page-y distortion he's run on since Rush, and now taking on a cleaner, more direct sound. It's a welcome change, as now he's finally distinguished his sound from anybody else. The 'copycat' charge no longer fits him. Geddy and Neil are mostly unchanged, but the production is satin-smooth and clearly points the way towards the arena-rock direction the band would take in the 1980's.
One charge I can't make against 'Cygnus X-1: Book 2' (subtitled 'Hemispheres', for you perverts who get off on subtitles) is that it's pointless. It's long (18 minutes, which is nearly 2112-length, but for no really good reason), rambling, and could use some more of those energizing instrumental sections that fill up 'La Villa Strangiato', but it's fooking ace when compared to the first one musically. Thematically, it's actually an interesting exploration of the reason vs. emotion debate nicely illustrated by the bare-assed cover art which caused my old friend Scott Barber to call me a fag when he saw me with this album back in 8th grade. I finally explained it to him through the boot-to-ass method, and he came around to see that finally Neil Peart can make some good points on a side-long epic without relying on frigging Ayn Rand to provide him his ideas (this time it's Greek mythology, which I don't think was a drug addict like Rand was. Or maybe I'm just high.) Not that I'd be able to tell how good the lyrics are by listening to Geddy Lee, who isn't getting much more decipherable as the years advance, only more willing to tackle ever higher(!) notes. All I can say about that is: jeepers!
Forgetting the ugly 'Circumstances', which seems to act like an unneeded coda to 'Book II', the second side of Hemispheres has two of Rush's best songs ever. 'The Trees' is a parable about racial strife, starting off all sweet and fairy-taleish before becoming rather violent and noisy, this time using a war between oaks and maples to demonstrate that We Should Really Just Try To Get Along. Now, lets suspend disbelief for a minute and forget that trees are immobile and generally pacifistic creatures who tend to surrender within seconds whenever a well-equipped beaver comes crawling by, it's a cool little intellectual idea that culminates in the line 'all are kept equal, by hatchet, axe, and saw', which is sorta fatalistic when compared to good ol 2112's humanistic bent, but hell...everyone's gonna get harvested and chopped up into firewood and baseball bats one of these days. The instrumental 'La Villa Strangiato' by itself has more musical ideas than every Rush album so far put together bar the first side of 2112, and is downright scary with it's sneaky buildup and well-placed EXPLOSIONS into bright, sharp solo sections that show how deep Alex can cut when he's let off the thematic leash. Definitely one of Rush's better moments, 'Strangiato' could very well be on Permanent Waves or Moving Pictures with it's compact, confident clean attack. Oh, and by the way, this song is oddly subtitled 'An Exercise in Self-Indulgence', which makes me wonder what Rush considers to be self-indulgent. Just because it doesn't have lyrics means it's self-indulgent, you creeps? I mean, if 'Cygnus X-1' had had a subtitle, would they have made it 'An Exercise in Shoving Steaming Piles of Fresh Human Excrement Into Your Ear Canal'? If I had a subtitle, would it be 'Hasn't been banned from posting idiotic, repetitive reviews of tired old classic rock bands on the World Wide Web'?
Nah, really, if I had a subtitle, I'd want it to read whatever Jabba the Hut is saying to Luke Skywalker in disguise in Return of the Jedi, but I want it in its original Tatooine.
Hemispheres isn't much of an album to play for your friends, not if you're not the type of person who has friends who would like Hemispheres, 'cos it's still pretty dorky and wouldn't get through a high school gym locker room without getting slapped by at least three towels and having it's Biology textbook tossed into the showers. But I still think there's more than a couple signs that the Rush band is finally breaking out of its little shell and realising that its full potential lies beyond walking around in the footsteps of British dinosaurs. It may be the end of an era, this Hemispheres, but I wouldn't go shedding any tears about it.
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Permanent Waves - Mercury 1980
A big shift in approach occurred between 1978's Hemispheres and 1980's Permanent Waves, a veritable revolution in the Rush world, and though it seems like everything is new and different, some things remain the same. And it's precisely what's remained the same that's the problem with Permanent Waves, an album that at first comes across as the greatest thing you've ever heard, but upon closer inspection becomes more and more flimsy until you realize that all the good stuff is crammed at the beginning of side 1 and, lo and behold, the rest of the album is kinda weak. That, friends and neighbors, is a Rush trick as old as Fly By Night. Aw well, what's to really hate when you dig the new Rush sound, first unveiled on 'La Villa Strangiato' off Hemipsheres, but now fleshed out to new levels of early-80's stripped-down cool?
Well, you still need more than 2 or 3 decent songs on an album, but let's just forget that for now and strip down naked and wallow in the new-wave/rock hard Rush sound, shall we? The most important difference is a new feeling of space, where Alex Lifeson leaves behind a lot of the crunchy, heavy power chording of the old days with his new chorused, airy arpeggios and fleet-footed scalar runs that seem to fill between the lines without choking off the light sources. Though Alex would soon become about as important to the Rush sound as cocaine is to the flavor of Coca Cola, as of now he's still in firm control of the melody lines, and Waves is still a highly guitar-dominated album. Rush has, however, begun using synths, though I don't necessarily think they know what they're doing with them yet. They've spent years using them exclusively for sci-fi sound effects, but now that they're chording instruments to augment Alex's rhythm playing they're used mostly to fatten up the sound. Still, when forced to make a decision between 'vestigal synths' and 'synth domination', I'll take the former any day. (Hell, brother, I'm a rocker! If it ain't got wood on it, I don't want it in my band, dig? Excepting the odd wind instrument here and there, that is...) The song structures are now a lot more 'written' and given to less aimlessness and overlength than in the prog years, but instead of this new amount of stricture becoming suffocating, the instrumental sections are tight and vibrant and the drumming endlessly shifting and changing within the beat. And Geddy finally begins to sing, at long last, in a register and tone that replicate normal human hearing range. Cool stuff, and with lots of potential, sounding sort of like a prog-rock version of the Police. How it's put to use is something else, though....
The first two track on Permanent Waves are good enough to fool you, though, and both were big hits (well, relatively, considering Rush never has been a big Top 40 phenomenon) and enduring Rush classics. The rockin' radio promo (no kidding...it was written with some Toronto FM rock station in mind) somehow manages to combine boogie, reggae, anthemic metal, and a chorus section that almost sounds surfy to my ears in a big ball of fist-raisin' excitement. Rush almost come across like normal people here, just happy to be rockin' out on the highway to their car stereo, amazed that people are still able to make free art out of such a commercial venture. Oh, okay, so maybe they still come across like nerdy moralizers, but they come across like nerdy moralizers who can kick AAWWRRSSE!!! 'Freewill' is a lot closer to Rush's bread and butter, sorta like a cross between 'La Villa Strangiato' and 'A Farewell to Kings', only the beat turns around so much (intentionally, that is) that Gloria Estefan's head would probably explode in a crimson cloud of mist trying to keep up. 'Freewill' is pretty hardcore anti-religious, or let's say 'anti-mystical' for saving-my-ass-from-religious-nutcase-Passion-worshippers' sake, having at it's main point a hardcore rejection of fatalism and all of the 'phantom fears' and Calvinists that seem to follow along with it. I always thought the chorus of this song was pretty rinky-dinky when compared to the considerable riffage on the verse, solo and bridge parts, but I guess some people like it. I just sit back and try to keep a beat going in my head, but those darn prog rockers keep foiling me at every turn. Dammit.
The maligned 'Jacob's Ladder' follows, supposedly written in such a way as to simulate a gathering thunderstorm, or maybe the feeling you get when you watch a gathering thunderstorm, or maybe the feeling you get when you try to write a song about a gathering thunderstorm, or just Rush wanted to make a ponderous, heavy-as-lead track that sounds in parts like 'La Villa Strangiato' on Quaaludes. I guess I buy into the whole 'big as the sky' band sound, but for thunderstorm soundtracks, I'll take King Crimson's 'Red' any day because it's A) faster, B) more massive and more violent, and C) doesn't have any place for Geddy Lee's completely useless vocals. 'Entre Nous', loosely translated as 'Eat Your Boogers' in Frog Language, is pretty pale and uneventful when compared to the rather thrill-packed first three songs, but 'Different Strings' builds from melodic to shifty at a leisurely pace and ends just as its getting good, though it's certainly no 'Freewill' or anything. 'Natural Science', though, returns to the yawn-inducing days of yore when the songs were too long, the references were too mind-boggling, and the excitement level lay somewhere between frying an egg and giving head to Barbara Bush. This track is just boring, boring, boring, as if they'd used up all their cool ideas in the first two minutes of 'Spirit' and 'Freewill' and decided to make one acceptable three-chord guitar figure, an unsmiling show of guitar technique, and a treated robot-voice make do for 9 minutes. It's not offensive, but the payoff after waiting around that long just isn't much worth the trouble.
The second half of this album in general is darned mediocre, and I'm not even too sure about 'Jacob's Ladder'...the material on Waves is just not that strong. After the first two singles, things settle down into a sort of grindingly cold hard-prog professionalism that's long on precision and shine and short on catchy lines or inspiring shows of emotion. I realize Rush were growing up, but Waves misses out on the spontaneity that made some of their earlier prog work interesting even when it sucked balls in the final evaluation.
Capn's Final Word: Working a different angle, but with a lot of the same handicaps. Still, that's a fine couple of songs there at the beginning...
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- Mercury 1981
Moving Pictures is undoubtedly Rush's peak as a recording outfit, both commercially and artistically. The Concorde-sleek new sound is fleshed out with more provocative use of synthesizers and some of the most relentlessly rocking rhythm tracks ever imagined by Geddy and Neil, and Alex's guitar flash is in full force throughout this record. The individual confidence of each member coupled with their freakishly good ensemble playing makes for lots of shiver-moments...the 'instrumental technique' score on this album is damned high, in other words. And, at times, the music keeps up...but there's also inexplicably long sections where it fails more miserably than the post-war Iraq occupation policy. For once, though, the lyrics transcend Neil Peart's expressive limitations and enter the realm of Real Rock Poetry, where not everything has to be spelled out in Black and White and turns-of-phrase are equated with making your point in an interesting and original way. Nah, Neil's right on with his unsettling description of neo-mystical/neo-fascist new world man 'Tom Sawyer', one which prefigures the real life mid-80's yuppie scumbag phenomenon by a good four or five years and ranks as my favorite Rush song, hands down, and one of my favorite songs of the 80's. The song itself is a metal grind through which Geddy whispers warnings of how Tommy 'gets high on you, and in the space he invades he gets by on you...' while noisy atonal guitar solos and metallic synth swoops remind you rape and murder is just a deal away and Neil's muscular drumming pops like machine guns and diesel engines.....man, if there's a better paranoid anthem of what it felt like to step from the organic 70's into the synthetic 80's, this is it...think of 'Tom Sawyer' as Rush's 'Won't Get Fooled Again'.
No, sadly, Moving Pictures can't sustain the transcendent level of 'Tom Sawyer' through a whole LP, but it tries hard anyway. 'YYZ' (so spelled out in Morse code on the headbanging intro section) retains a lot of the frenetic and paranoid feel of 'Sawyer' and compresses it into one of the band's best-loved instrumentals outside 'La Villa Strangiato'. The smashing-glass percussion effects and chicken scratch guitar/bass interplay parts are fucking ace in my book, too. If 'Sawyer' channels the Who, 'Barchetta' somehow gets infected by the Beach Boys, and the 'Boys want a sci-fi fable about escaping from oppressive police in an ancient, contraband Ferrari. It seems custom-made for Rush, but they sound wussy throughout, and instead of conjuring images of frantic chases and 'tires spewing rubble', I get a picture of Geddy Lee riding a Vespa Scooter wearing nothing but a lime-green Speedo. To be honest, I get this image whenever I stand in the shower spray a certain way, but I don't think that means anything, does it? 'Limelight' attempts to synthesize 'Spirit of Radio' and 'Freewill' in one handy-dandy radio-ready package but ends out inferior to both in terms of being a great rock song, plus I've never really felt like Neil Peart is a very good person to comment on fame. I mean, he's not exactly Paul McCartney or Mick Jagger, is he? The dude can go out and buy his six-pack of Molson and bag of chips (or liter of Evian and two ounces of free-range smoked caviar, whatever the dude happens to eat. Whatever it is, his shit sure doesn't smell bad, at least as far as I can gather from him) and not worry about thirteen year old girls ripping large chunks of hair out of his balding pate. Better leave the 'trials and tribulations of a rock star' stuff to someone else, Neil. I ain't buying it.
'Camera Eye' is yet another massive, epic use of chorus pedals over two chords for several minutes, just like 'Jacob's Ladder' and 'Natural Science' were on the last one. These particular two chords are more interesting than the two used in 'Science', but ain't so hot when compared to those motherfuckers used in 'Ladder'. Plus, shit...11 minutes? Of what? Geddy Lee singing like Air Supply? Please...The final two tracks are decent techno-rock, but I wouldn't ever admit to having walking down the street humming 'Everybody got to deviate from the nooooorrrmmmmm!' ('Vital Signs') unless I'd just seen George Wendt take out an office block with an RPG or something. What's with Rush's inability to fill two sides of a record with good material. The last two or three albums have shown that they have some pretty great songwriting stuck up their armpit, but it's like they're trying to hold back the hooks for the benefit of 'serious fans' who don't enjoy the sellout material like 'Tom Sawyer' or 'Limelight'. Either that or the well is really just that shallow, that after four songs the band packs up the circus tent and heads for Fillersville. Either way, the lack of good, quality material in the Rush catalogue is what holds them back from being considered with the Zeppelins and Sabbaths and, hell, Van Halens and AC/DC's of the world. Even at their very best, they're simply not consistent enough to make what I consider to be a 'great' album. Here, at least, they've made a great Side A, certainly better than anything else from 1981 outside the Stones and Van Halen, anyway.
Hey, dig the cool album cover, which is one of Rush's best. They're 'moving pictures', see? The guys are carrying (moving) pictures that may be construed as being 'moving', like one of Joan of Arc and another of dogs playing poker, and a third of the naked Rush guy, and the whole scene is 'moving' to the three mourners in black. Neato! Sure beats the crap out of a
Capn's Final Word: Some of the only moments of unrequited genius in the entire Rush catalog are contained on this disc. They only sustain it for one side, but that's a helluva good side.
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Left - Mercury 1981
Rush live albums are either great shit or boring as hell, depending on what your expectations are. If you like the idea of a rockin'-ass, note-perfect time with songs you're about as familiar with as you are your own left hand, I say Exit's darn close to Rush Valhalla for someone like you. But if your idea of live albums is something slightly more complicated than A Nice Compilation, Exit, and pretty much all of Rush's live albums, are just going to disappoint the hell outta you. For one thing, it shouldn't be forgotten that Rush are, first and foremost, players (as opposed to being, say...writers. PSHHHAA-HAHAHAHAAHAA!!!)...and players like to show everyone how they can color between the lines and produce shiny-clean live product that varies almost zero when compared with the well-known studio material. And man, the band does indeed crank out the horsepower like a '72 Mach 1 351...it's sometimes hard to remember there's only three of them up there. But man, if you've heard the studio versions, there's sure not gonna be any surprises happening during these trips around the same rollercoaster. Sure, it's impressive that they play every note in perfect sequence, but if someone can show me three serious differences between the live versions of 'Spirit of Radio' or 'Limelight' or 'Freewill' and the studio versions, I'll make a booger sandwich, eat it, and ask for seconds. It's just not happening, man! I'd be damned surprised if the running times are different by more than a few seconds...the guitar solos, drum fills, everything is right where it's expected to be. How is it that a band like Cheap Trick can elevate themselves to heights we never thought they'd be possible to reach because they get fucking excited when they play. Now, I'm not doubting Rush's energy level or anything...it takes six gigawatts of pure power to play like Rush does for hours on end...but I never get the impression that they're legitimately jazzed to be up there playing like they are. Eh...maybe I can just blame it on prog-rock style disconnection between band and audience, which means they're actually having the time of their life even when it almost seems like they're punching the clock.
Sheeit, I'm probably being to hard on the guys. I have to admit, though, that I'm fairly biased against this live album in particular because, allegedly, the overdub factor is really friggin high, which helps explain how they can sound so damn full all the time. I'm a purist when it comes to this shit, trained on years of postulating warts-and-all live tapes from one of the most mistake-prone bands in the history of the world. I'd rather hear all the blips and missed cues and bum notes anyday than realize that what I'm hearing is only as live as the number of takes it took Alex to nail the solo he flubbed on the actual performance night. I guess that's just the hardcore rock 'n' roll radical coming out...make a live album live, not a collection of premeditated plastic surgery disasters. Now, don't get me wrong...I know that some live albums I've rated darn highly on this site have more than their fair share of smoke and mirror bullshit, but when it's a known fact that a live album has been doctored to the level that Exit has (and, now that I concentrate on it, my ears are damn sure it's been overdubbed to the hilt, and the last time my ears lied to me was the last time I heard George W. Bush open his smirky yap) it affects my enjoyment of it. I'm already having enough problems finding reasons to put this on rather than Moving Pictures or Permanent Waves, and now that I realize there's not that much 'live' in this live album, I'm down to two...the vocals are worse and there's a drum solo. What a ringing endorsement, kids!
No, really. Utility-wise, it's great. Just about perfect for someone who wants a handy way to get all the good stuff from the much-improved Rush band of the late 70's in one place. The songs, of course, are damned fine, and the track selection is beyond reproach. I like that they remember 'Beneath, Between, and Behind' from Fly By Night and like that they forget everything but the good stuff from their two proggiest albums. Of course, all the requisite singles from PW and MP are prominently featured, attesting to the popularity of 'the new stuff' back when this album was released. Just, dammit...why couldn't they have had the guts to release a real live album of a real live show?
Capn's Final Word: Gosh, like Pamela Anderson, it's hard to tell where the real ends, the fantasy begins, and just how much of it is made out of melted plastic. And anyway, haven't we already heard these songs played this way?
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- Mercury 1982
While Moving Pictures was made by a hard rock band playing synths, Signals is made by a synth-rock band playing hard. While the overall quality of Signals is high, I can't help but feel they're getting a bit too mature for their own good. Here 'tis: as of this album, Rush finally 'grow up', both in good ways and bad. The process of evolution that began back on Hemispheres has finally come to an end and the guys are now stonefaced professional modern rockers with an original sound, musicianship beyond reproach, and dork-chic to last them for decades. While Signals was still a nice selling hunk of plasticene, the commercial high of '80-81 was coming to an end and Rush would soon begin a retreat back into the hinterlands of popularity where the glory years never seemed so damned far away. Let's count the changes, eh hosers? Geddy stops heeing and hollering and sound like any other Mickey Thomas you care to name. His vocals have become undistiguished, but hell, he's always been distinguished for the wrong reasons. At least now he's not likely to make you swallow your tonsils during a shriek-inspired epileptic fit. Secondly, Alex Lifeson's contribution has shrunk to about the size of Bill Romanowski's penis...still technically there, but not very bloody likely to impress anyone into taking off their pants. His solos are succinct, his guitar tone even more chorused, and his riffs bearing more resemblance to Andy Sommers than Jimmy Page (or Eddie Van)....in short, he's been marginalized into being the Rush member least responsible for the bands' sound. The synth content is ratcheted up another three or four notches, and while Rush's synthtones beat out Styx and Journey for rough cool, there's still a good chunk of hunkiness missing from the sound. It's simply too clean for my tastes, as if they're all on Prozac and don't want to wake the downstairs neighbors. Sheeeit, without Neil's drumming, this stuff would be Mike + the Mechanics!
Talking about connecting with your core audience, Rush pens the ultimate dork anthem with 'Subdivisions', a grumpy, nihilistic view back at the living beigest hell that is being a teenage high schooler in the suburbs. Neil, in his inimitably simplistic way, 'subdivides' people into the drones and 'dreamers and misfits' who are 'cast out' of the 'basement bars and backs of cars' and for whom 'the suburbs hold no charms to soothe the restless dreams of youth'. Stop the presses, Peart. You say living in the suburbs is so boring it leads us to either self-destruct or sell out? Holy crap, and I thought I was living in Shangri La! Jesus Christ, Neil Peart's thoughts on 'youth' Wanna know what its like to be a teenager? Listen to 'Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue' by the Ramones. Wanna hear what an aging middlebrow intellectual thinks being a teenager is like? Listen to 'Subdivisions'. Fucking hell, Neil, but 'Subdivisions' is a good song despite its obvious, pathetic attempt to capture Teenage Angst with music that resembles old farts like Genesis more than anything actual teenagers listen to. It's itchy and monolithic and somehow captures the monotony, boredom, and creeping mortality that growing up white and middle class feels like in this country. Huh...that description makes it sound like the song blows goat nards, but that couldn't really be any further from the truth.
So I hate to say it, but once you've heard 'Subdivisions', you've heard Signals, because they've lost the ability to make songs sound different from one another. It's as if they've regressed 8 years and are back in the place where they made Rush, though instead of being a derivative but reliable Zeppelin copy, now they're a very original, very reliable and not very interesting AOR band. Each song has similar chord-based lead lines to substitute for legitimate melodies or riffs, lots of airy, whooshy synth pads, and nice, computer-complex rhythm work that crosses 80's King Crimson and the Police. So maybe this latest bout of maturation has prevented them from making any more 11-minute long Keith Emerson carnivals of prog excess, it's also seemed to kill a lot of their spirit. Listening to Signals is hearing product...good product, for sure, and not too close to what anybody else was doing at the time, but still about as commercial and accessible as a Big Mac with extra cheese. Hell, I'll say 'New World Man' has some rockin' potential , and 'The Countdown' sounds like, but as for the rest of this album, it's just too damned uptight for me...
Other topics scheduled for the Peart Pulpit this time around include the Wonders of Nature ('Chemistry'), neutered and benign Tom Sawyer wannabes ('New World Man'), and nuclear destruction/dangers of relying on technology caution tales. There's an endless update to 'Passage to Bangkok' called 'Digital Man' that talks a lot about Zion and Babylon in symbols that are both ponderous and dull, though the line about 'he's got a date with fate in a black sedan' reminds me of Television's 'Marquee Moon', and anything that reminds me of that song has got to be more positive than negative. Otherwise, oh holy hell, who cares what Neil Peart think about everything, anyway? The guy's now so damned literal all the time that anytime he tries to be 'poetic' he hits a bum note, and he's better off being straightforward and mushily pseudo-philosophical like he is on 'The Weapon' (about man's fear of himself, or some shit like that, and the first of a trio of 'fear' songs that don't add up to one John Cale, fer damn sure). But this is now Rush as We're Forced to Like It, and they'd play out this stonefaced string for the remainder of the decade. Signals is probably the best of the lot, and has a couple of very good songs, but there's a real sense that Rush has bought this whole Adult Contemporary thing hook, line, and stinker, and proceeded to drive the damned Winnebago right off the cliff. I guess what mainly bothers me, other than the fierce sameness of their new style, is the fact that it doesn't at all make use of their instrumental talents... only their professional ones.
Capn's Final Word: Rush Remove the Rock
Brian Deuel Your Rating: B+
Any Short Comments?: Definitely not the dry progressive masterpiece that Moving Pictures was, but I really like this album. I think it's the flashback to Funway Freeway arcade, Kentwood Arena skating rink, and starting high school. Upon playing this album, I'm always taken back to the best year of my life. Too bad it would all go downhill from there.
Much like Rush's musical output. Until Vapour Trails, that is.
Grace Under Pressure - Mercury 1984
Very, very much Signals II: The Leg Lifts Again, two great songs, some highly negligible but listenable filler, and a few stinker tracks that probably all came off the same assembly line. That's both a good thing (this album is very easy going down, and has a certain level of quality to it) and bad (the songs are once again pretty fucking the same as each other). I'm not even going to go into my usual spiel about what the bands' motivations were...hell, you wanna know what they were? They were motivated to make another album just exactly like Signals, that's what! They wanted to continue to sell albums, fill up arena seats, and get decent reviews from boomer rock critics who love Rush because they sound just as old, moldy, and crotchety as they do. But what, am I going to say this album doesn't sound good? Of course it does! They're professionals, goddamn it, and if they want to make sterilized synth rock about impending nuclear and biological annihilation, that's their business. I even like their often nasty tone that builds on the doom-saying that filled up Signals. I like the way Geddy spits out 'cut down the unlucky ones!' in 'Red Sector A' and how he attempts to KKEEEEHHAAAWWWLLLL!!!! out the rockin' chorus of 'Distant Early Warning', but I despair at the ridiculous turns taken on Side B, culminating in the classic, timeless 'One! Zero Zero! One Zero Zero! One! SOS!' chorus on the butt-ugly 'Body Electric', which not only sounds like the babbling of an uncute 2 year old watching his My First Counting DVD, but also nabs the entire 'Morse Code' thing from 'YYZ' of only THREE YEARS BEFORE! At least, you know, write a song about Working Men or fucking 'By-Tors' or something...I mean, Neil Peart must've either been a HAM radio fanatic or a BIG fan of that one Metallica video with the head-bangin' cripple dude to keep referring to stupid Morse Code. What, was the Little Orphan Annie Secret Decoder Ring too difficult to count out in 13/7 time?
Actually, there's a lot of unintentionally ridiculous material on Grace Under Pressure, but let's be kind...this is Rush we're talking about, not the fucking Rolling Stones. Things that would sound perplexingly clunky coming out of a normal person's mouth sound just about right coming from a cool-magnet like Geddy Lee. Wanna hear a Sesame Street song about Red Stuff (seriously...it's all about the color red. Your heart. Sunsets. Shit like that) that rhymes 'red' and 'read' in a way that not even Adrian Belew would find much ironic humor in? Well 'Red Lenses' takes the cake as the stupidest fucking Rush song since 'I Think I'm Going Bald'.
Hell, mostly GUP (like Signals) is maddening because it doesn't really suck that bad...it's just not interesting enough to be any good. Forget just Alex, they're now all marginalized by their fierce attachment to professionalism, literal lyrics, and highly controlled synths. They've filed down all the rough edges and are now the musical equivalent of a well-used bar of soap.
Capn's Final Word: Like government hot dogs...you can live off 'em, but you don't really want to ask about how they got that way.
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Tracy Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: It's not morse code...it's binary code, 1's and 0's. If you're going to bag on them, at least get it right!
Power Windows - Mercury 1985
Right...so they didn't quite make Signals III, but they sure as hell tried to. Which is to say they are just not good enough anymore to make an album as boring as Grace Under Pressure, so where does that leave them? I'd say this is the worst failure of a Rush album since Caress of Steel (though it wouldn't be for long) except that the album of a decade before tried hard to be Yes Zeppelin without knowing what the fuck that was supposed to sound like (they were young and stupid!) and Power Windows tries to be Grace Under Pressure again and just can't cut the Grey Poupon (they're old and artistically bankrupt!). For third parts in trilogies, Power Windows is like Godfather III...all the players and all the cliches which seemed fresh on the first two are suddenly delivered without a shred of class or pinache, no new ideas are introduced, and you are forced to actually revel in it's badness to get any enjoyment out of it at all. What, so Rush fans love this shit? They find depth and meaning here? Jesus, no wonder these guys are considered to be about as cool as a neon-green Members Only jacket...this album is the least Rush album they've ever done! They really want Rush to sound all artificial and thin like this? They really want Geddy Lee straining his low-register like this? They really want to go through life as lonely narcissistic outcasts, trying to find salvation in this album, where none exists? Be my guest, fools...Power Windows is a serious dead end. It sounds bright and complex, but that only because all the synths are reverbed to Cleveland and back...and anyway, if you can't make a minor chord on a synthesizer that sounds 'thoughtful', you probably have no right plugging things into the wall without parental supervision.
Okay, so 'Big Money' is big and dumb and has a big and dumb hook, if you can hear the damn thing through all the inappropriate reverb letting all that draft in the door (or window, heh heh). Rush just sound wimpy hiding behind all their chorused, echoey bullshit, and go from being one of the few 80's bands that approached synthesizers with taste and control to going overboard into chimey tinkle noises and lots and LOTS of random-sounding Debbie Gibson guitar 'hits' (KAJANGLEJANGLE!!! JANKAJANKAJANKA!!!) and when Geddy starts spouting off Neil's gripes about 'style without substance' on 'Grand Designs', I feel just about apt to chuck my PC out the window and into mid-day Richardson, TX traffic. I have strong memories (well, I was 9 years old, so there's no real excuse why I wouldn't remember it. But then again, there's always the whole lead paint debacle to consider...) of my Ratt-obsessed older sister singing the chorus to 'Manhattan Project' back in '85 as if it was a Beatles lyric or something. Well, it's not, but it at least is easy to remember. Try to remember anYou know what a lot of this album reminds me of? It reminds me of an old Shawnee, Kansas high school band named Perpetual Change. Same overweening synths and overserious tone, same clunky lyricisms like 'big shots try to hold it back/fools try to wish it away' that are supposed to come off as profound but always seem like the pathetic attempts of a 16 year old writing his first songs. Well, SURPRISE!!! Perpetual Change was a bunch of 16 year olds who took too many piano lessons and were trying their hand at writing their first songs...Rush'd been making music for, like, 15 years or something...what's their excuse? I suppose 'Mystic Rhythms' is also one of the more decent tracks here, mostly remembered as the future live vehicle for Peart's drum solos, and especially loved by me because it finishes up this fucking album so I don't have to listen to it any more. The rest of the album? Imminently forgettable unmelodic sentimental junk, that's what it is...and NO, I won't be describing each little scrap of filler and the minute degrees by which it differs from it's neighboring shitturd scrap of filler, thank you very much.
Okay, okay, I wouldn't give Power Windows a relatively decent C+ if it didn't at least cover a few of your good ol' fundamentals. The songs are relatively well constructed and the lyrics aren't any worse than they usually are. Hell, the filler isn't even as bad as it was on the last album time, AS SONGS. It's just all the same. All. The. Same. As entertainment, this ultra-bright, sparkly shit just gives me a headache. Everything's complicated beyond belief with all this useless ear candy bullhonkey that seemed like the key to infinity back in the mid-80's. So Rush fell victim to the same disease as every single other artist in 1986 who wasn't the Dead Kennedys or Metallica, I'm still gonna nail this album for being lame even if it'd been recorded with normal rock-sounding instruments. Again, this isn't MY Rush, this is some group of malignant space aliens who invaded southern Ontario sometime around the release of E.T. and infected Peart, Lee, and Lifeson and forced them to become a sad cross between Devo and Air Supply in an attempt to subjugate the entire population of Canada to a life of somnambulance. It's intergalactic planetary, I tells ya!
Capn's Final Word: Cygnus, come home! All is forgiven!
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That title is pleading for mercy from a bloodthirstily angry mob of old Rush fans who didn't accept their new old-fart sound and were willing to sacrifice their Gods for the good of future generations, so that they wouldn't have to suffer listening through crap like 'Middletown Dreams' ever again. Well, though they most definitely had times of serious suck in later years, Hold Your Fire is just about the last of the TRULY BAD Rush albums, their last attempt to try and force themselves into acting like responsible, boring adults instead of egghead virtuosos with a penchant for tacky lyrics. Gawd, though, unless you thought Power Windows was 'truly excellent' or 'the best Rush album of the 80's' (akin, in my eyes, to proclaiming Dirty Work as 'the best Rolling Stones album since Flowers', or George W. Bush 'the best President since Franklin Pierce') I wouldn't try playing around with the tampered Tylenol that is Hold Your Fire. It's bound to rot out your bone marrow and leave you bloated, horny, and unable to control your bowel functions. Forget rockin' and rollin', Rush sounds about as hard as your average Menudo album here...to give you an example of just how low they've gotten as a rock band, Invisible Touch-era Genesis kicks the shit out of this band. They demand 'tough hearts and tough songs' in the opening 'Force Ten' (home to a few decent hooks, I'll admit), and then proceed in giving us a song that's about as muscular as Olive Oyl after a bout of the kissing disease. This isn't a case of succumbing to hair metal...Rush went about as far the other direction as you can imagine. This version of the band makes hair metal bands like Warrant or Kix look like Throbbing Gristle. In truth, they're trying for similar territory as that of a Richard Marx, if that can be believed. In fact, 'Time Stands Still' sounds a whole heckofalot like Marx, mostly because Geddy duets with the criminally overrated Aimee 'Hush Hush! Voices Carry!' Mann like it's a Disney soundtrack song or something. The whole album is carried off like it's intended for conservative adults and their weak-minded overly-protected children. That's the only audience I can figure would come even close to enjoying something as treacly-weak as 'Second Nature' or as brittle as 'Turn the Page'. God...I suppose with a gun to my head I'll admit there's some melodies at play here, some poppin' bass lines on what sounds like a fretless Steinberger (or some equivalently soulless piece of IC-enabled 80's stringed-instrument ca-ca) and there's maybe a few more guitars than the last few albums (all clean and as trebly as a test pattern, though), but why bother giving you some false hope? This album is just another in a string of bad, bad, bad releases by the Rush band in the 1980's. They continue to throw their pearls (virtuosity) to swine (awful, trendy production in the service of yuppie-tranquilized 'adult pop'), and all it does is break my heart just a little bit further.
Capn's Final Word: Three bullets on the cover for three unsuspecting wuss-rock skulls. We wish.
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A Show of
Hands - Mercury 1989
Okay, so there's really nothing to be said about this album that can't be deduced from a quick glance at the CD case (or record jacket, for you Luddites, or cassette insert, for you tightasses, or allmusic.com, for the smart ones in the bunch). The first thing you should notice is the cover art shows three mod-art/cubist figures are standing on a stage playing similarly geometric-looking musical instruments. Hrm...live album. Rush may be a good live band to look at, but their other two live albums have been about as exciting as watching old people talking about paint drying. What's that they're standing in front of? They're in front of a pastel backdrop, and the font used in the album titles looks like something off of an old Scandal Featuring Patty Smyth album. What does this teach us, kiddos? Get out your thinking caps and pull out your head from aside your crap, it must be the 1980's! They weren't so good then, were they? Flip it over and see the date...yup, 1989. Really weren't too good that year at all. Okay, what else? Uhhhh, notice how there's one of those little figures playing drums...okay, so that must be Neil back there all small and round-headed. He probably gets another drum solo, as if we needed it with all of the hatred and injustice in the world he's not telling us about. Okay, that was easy...but who are these other two fools? And...whadafah? What's this, the maggots? SOMEONE PLEASE WRITE ME AN EMAIL AND EXPLAIN WHY ONLY ONE OF THEM IS PLAYING A GUITAR?!?? We've got one playing some doinky little guitar and the other one is busy banging on a little white box that most DEFINITELY ISN'T HOOKED INTO A LOUD, DISTORTED MARSHALL STACK LIKE WHAT WAS ON THE COVER OF ALL THE WORLD'S A STAGE!!! RUSH IS A FUCKING POWER TRIO!! POWER!!! TRIO!!! NOT A QUARTET, NOT A NONET!!! AND MOST FUCKING DEFINITELY NOT SOME STUPID SYNTH BAND!! HOLY SHIT, RUSH REALLY HAS TURNED INTO GENESIS!!! GGAAWWKKKKKK!K!!!K!K!@JK!@#!@#JK$
Capn's Final Word: Oogly Boogly.
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Presto - Atlantic 1989
So at least they're trying to stop the worst of the bleeding, as I no longer want to disembowel them and put their intestines through the floppy drive of their fucking Korg synthesizers. Almost. At this point, I'd settle for a perfectly good decapitating car accident with lots and lots of media at the scene. Fer sure, though...they've probably already lost too much blood and are damned for eternity to stumble around as rock zombies (no, not Rod's Zombies...I already reviewed them. Go buy their boxed set. And not Rob Zombie, who is about as interesting for me to listen to as my wife describing all the foreign vacations she used to go on with the boyfriends she had years ago) desperately looking for BRAINSSSS!!!! BRRRRAAAIINNNNSSS!!! when it's so fucking obvious that they lost theirs about 1982. I don't know, maybe by the time of Test for Echo they'll have figured out how to make a decent album again, because here all they do is make a handful of decent tracks and surround it with a bunch more of their endless, repetitive mid-tempo filler asspoof that sounds pretty much identical to the endless, repetitive mid-tempo filler asspoof they've been releasing since Signals came out. They certainly haven't improved their variety any. A shade more guitar, some faster tempos, and no lezbo-fembot Paul Thomas Anderson worshipped tearjerker backup singers do NOT make for an album I would elect to hear twice. I mean, Christ, does every Rush song now have to either be A) an album-opening fanfare ('Show Don't Tell', which makes so little impression on me it may as well be singing about sucking cue balls out of Alan Thicke's glazed rectum) B) one of the innumerable Xerox-clone 'earnest', middle-of-the-album tracks that make me yearn for the understated sublime beauty of a Creed or a Cannibal Corpse (see 'Presto' or, shit, just wait around for three minutes, another one'll come along), or C) One of their newfangled 'rockers', which pretty much revolve around a rather weak riff ('Superconductor', 'Ball Lightning'), a slowed-down 'intense' middle section, and whatever 'powerful, yet intriguing' subject matter Peart can pick at random out of his Popular Science magazine. Thunderstorms! Biology! Christ, Mr. Wizard, if you can answer one question for me, it would be to tell me why Peart is such a tool all the time? Oooh, ooh! Is he autistic or something? Can he calculate square roots of irrational numbers and remember all of Fernando Valenzuela's pitching stats from 1987? Does he eat pancakes with toothpicks?..DOES HE BUY HIS BRIEFS AT K-MART?!??
Umm, well...I guess I need to say something more about Presto to justify my having listened to it 5 or 7 times, but I guess I'm just not that excited about reviewing Rush anymore. You know what? It's kinda impossible for me to tell if this is GOOD awful Rush or BAD awful Rush (though if there's one thing I'm sure of, it's that its fucking awful, and if you want to write in 100-line emails about how I should've liked 'Chain Lightning' because it's 'powerful' and somehow keeps up a thread with 'Jacob's Ladder' of 10 years before or how you had your first autoerotic assgasm while listening to 'Red Tide', you go right ahead. I'll post them, but you'll never hear how loudly I'll be snickering all the way over here on the opposite side of the Internet) because all I can say is that it's less irritating than the last album, though not necessarily any less stultifyingly boring. They might be doing some extremely tricky shit deep down in these Gobi deserts of notes, but they're never ONCE arranged in something that might be considered a melody. Even if they were, the album would still sound just a hair less weak than Hold Your Fire. Hey, you want it short? It's BAD, okay? And because I don't have the time to actually drop each Rush album after Moving Pictures down a whole letter grade as I should, I'll just lay on my C grade and chalk up another notch in my bedpost.
Capn's Final Word: Oogly Boogly.
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Bones - Atlantic 1991
Definitely better than the Haitian potato-peeler torture that was Presto (its stylistic brother) but still way too trendy for its own good. Roll the Boner finds Rush entering the early 90's highly unsure of what their role in the Rock Pantheon is supposed to be. Are they a prog throwback? Are they hair metal? Are they Adult Rock? Their rabid fans might be happy for them to have stayed comatose elderly electro-ticklers, but I ain't, fer damn sure. At the very least, Bones features Rush playing guitars, basses, and drums like God intended, rather than standing next to synthesizers playing pre-programmed sequences of chord washes like they were Human League or something. (it's not like the synths are gone completely, they just don't choke out the rest of the instruments like Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman mode, and the change is a big improvement) They just have a bad tendency to sabotage themselves with idiotic pieces of early 90's pandering, the worst offender being the highly embarrassing rap section on the title track. What was sad and out-of-character for 1991 now sounds like a pre-calculated attempt to appeal to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Recordbuyers of the day, the same brickheaded lemmings who made Vanilla Ice a multi-million seller. Hearing Geddy rhyme Neil-infested couplets like 'polyester slacks' and 'gluteus max' is like watching your mom get stinking drunk at a wake, hit on the priest, and fall into the pool before finally passing out in a pool of her own sweat and vomit...it's not just embarrassing, it makes you want to disown the person for life. I mean, am I supposed to ever take these guys seriously again? That's not all, but if I were to describe each and every synthesized-Paula Abdul 'orchestra hit!' dance cliche or 'sensitive' pasted-on guitar overdub, I'd never get to go and eat my lunch.
Thing is, the songs themselves are much easier to take as a whole than the last three or four outings, and if there isn't a single really great song here. Even the memorable opening flourish, 'Dreamline', recalls Synchronicity-era Police so closely it can't help but compare badly to that patchy album. Still, I can enjoy stompin', slick rockers like 'The Big Wheel' (hey, I like John Mellencamp, too! 'Crumblin' Down', baby!) or 'Face Up' or 'Neurotica' all day and all night, but then again I can sit and listen to .38 Special the same way. But is it Rush? What I want from this band is mystique - more of that explosive, gargantuan instrumental confidence that bursts out in a shower of blood and shock like that baby monster in the first Alien movie. Well, folks, keep looking, because Roll the Bones is all about playing it safe. They keep their instrumentalism under such close reign you'd think they were afraid to get within 10 miles of a 'prog' tag, like it would ruin the chances of 'Dreamline' hitting the Casey Kasem Top 40 or something. Dream on...the only people who bought Roll the Bones were old fans who wanted to see if Rush could make another Moving Pictures or Signals (or, sadly, another Power Windows). What we have on the vast stretch of mid-tempo rockers that sound like people who aren't Rush. They're all just too goddamned conventional, so much so that they actually resemble a (much) less melodic Out of Time-era REM on the chimey 'You Bet Your Life' and Tom Petty's Heartbreakers on 'Ghost of a Chance'. I know progressive rock wasn't necessarily on the radar in 1991, but please...at least shred those fucking guitars a bit more! When I want REM or Tom Petty, I'll go to the source...this is a Rush album. At least that's what the cover says.
Capn's Final Word: Okayish collection of forgettable mid-tempo professional-sounding rockers that are about as exciting as they are original.
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Counterparts - Atlantic 1993
Rush attempt to keep current again with Counterparts, and aren't we lucky that the musical landscape of 1993 was filled with big, distorted rock songs and not, say, Gay Ibiza Disco Trancecore Whale Calls or some shit. Rush take to their instruments with gusto, pounding their decidedly analog guitar/bass/drums for all their worth...and actually coming up with a fair amount of good-to-great material in the process. As much as I think the bass/organ sounds like the Cure and the guitar like Pearl Jam's 'Even Flow', 'Animate Me' is denser and more convincing than anything they'd done as an album opener in a dozen years, and the 'polarize me...sensitize me...criticize me...civilize me' (etc.) chorus is a fine hook. Where they'd been hiding this coiled, well-mannered rock style for so long is a big mystery. Of course they were always able to play like this whenever they wanted to, (it's Rush, man. They can play whatever the crap they please. What they please is the problem...) but did it take a couple of years of decent hard rock to arise before they figured it was safe to play like this again? And even still, they're not like they're in full-blown prog-complex mode - the drums may kick in weird time here and there, and sometimes the bass gets busy, but the riffs...they're no more difficult than grunge ever gets. Counterparts may not be the most Rush-y album ever, but there are some solid connections to the band that, for too long there, seemed ripped up and thrown out for good. Like how 'Stick it Out' has sections that suggest 'Jacob's Ladder' or 'Leave That Thing Alone' and 'La Villa Strangiato'...hell, after recycled synth-rock that seemed as fresh as last week's sack of dogshit, I'll take this kind of nostalgia any day.
Counterparts is a nice listen, but as I've said so very unclearly, it really stays a bit too close to emulating the popular acts of the day and doesn't strike out on a more original, Rush-y direction. The parts that do sound like Rush are the more unfortunate ones because they sound like shitty Rush, not thick, creamy, buttery Rush like it should be. Now, I like fags and all, and I think that probably if I were one, I'd be mighty embarrassed at 'Nobody's Hero', which kicks off with the classic of bad Rush lines - 'I knew he was different in his sexuality' Boom! What, isn't that just about all the criticisms that can be laid at this band's unfortunate lyric style, all in one handy little line? Not only does it try to be oddly warm and fuzzy and a bit too topical at the same time, its about as poetic as stereo instructions. While your 'good' lyricist might come up with an apt euphemism, or maybe an evocative simile, and a 'fair' lyricist would probably just come right out and say the guy's gayer than strawberry ice cream, Rush find themselves unable to say anything that isn't blunt, cold, and more than a little mechanistic. The rest of the song rings just as hollow of a note...while I don't doubt that Neil (I'm assuming) has legitimate, human-like feelings for this dead gay friend of his, he sure doesn't convey them very convincingly. I'm not hot on 'Alien Shore', either, where they assert that 'sex is not a competition...not a job description', but the clanky lyrics sure make it sound like sex is about that interesting. I dunno...I want Neil or whoever to get pissed, to show some passion that lies beyond the choice of whatever bleeding-heart subject matter is going to be the cause of the day and giving Alex some 'drama-face' chords to play to make it sound important.
Awww, well, this is just me bitching because I'm a bit worn out by the Rush Rocker, and while Counterparts has some above average material and some legitimately interesting riffs, I don't find enough new going on here to really light my fart and make me fly around the room like person with his rectum on fire. Rush may simply be too old-farty to do anything other than what they've already defined as 'safe ground', and while CP might even make them a couple of new fans, the majority of record buyers out there will probably get tired of it pretty fast.
Capn's Final Word: They get grungey with some mixed results...but the best part of it tells me its the best thing they've done in a loooooong time.
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Brian Deuel Your Rating: C+
Any Short Comments?: Not too bad. It's no Vapour Trails, though.
And what the fuck is up with "At The Speed Of Love"? Neil writing a love song just sounds pretentious and lame.
Brian Deuel Album
Name: Test For Echo Your Rating: C+
Any Short Comments?: Where is the review for this one? It seems to be missing.
You got me. It's lost somewhere in the virtual circular file. I'll tell you this
- I didn't like it that much. I'll still look around for it and see if I can
find it somewhere.)
- Atlantic 2003
Wotta buncha cads. All of a sudden, a new Rush album appears, and *BINGO!*, it's one of their very best, and if you measure it for total quantity of great shit, it's most likely their best ever. Songs, power, meaning, arrangement, originality...along with Deep Purple's similarly amazing Bananas and the Allman Brother's near-career-best Hittin' the Note, this is one of the the best returns to form in recent memory. I mean, they were gone for six long years, and not unimportant ones - Neil saw two immediate family members die in close succession and went off on a solo motorcycle trip during which he contemplating offing himself more than once in his grief, Geddy did a solo album, and Alex watched way too many rap videos and episodes of COPS. They reconvene as a completely different sounding band than the one that left off with Test for Scoliosis. That one was politely rocking, adult, reserved...boring. This band, however, is charged up, full of grainy noise and sharp points that, at least at first glance, don't sound much like Rush at all. Instrumentally, they're a badass bunch of motherfuckers again. They approach things from a 'making big, cool noises' rather than 'playing like bunnies fucking' standpoint, but I haven't heard Geddy play bass lines this varied and impressive since, well...ever. It's his peak, for sure. Alex conjures up so many different timbres and effects from his guitars that it becomes Lifeson as Orchestra along the lines of an Achtung Baby-era Edge except without the gay. Hell, I even dig the lyrics a lot of the damn time, and it's because for a lot of the album Neil writes like a normal person grappling with normal human difficulties like grief, guilt, confusion, and helplessness rather than the Phil Donahue of the rock 'n' roll set, spewing commentary and complaint in that pompous way he had for so fucking long. Shit, for the first time I think we hear a lot of the 'real' Neil Peart here, and while his couplets haven't gotten a whole lot more poetic, there's a human touch that's been missing ever since he took over writing the lyrics way back in 1975. Notice 'How It Is', which is a great anthem for someone who feels like fate is playing with them like a crocodile with an infant's severed head but if you don't get your ass up, you'll probably just dry up and blow away. Or how 'One Little Victory' sounds more like Queens of the Stone Age than Incredible Touch, and how Geddy sounds like he's pleading for 'one little victory', like if he doesn't get it, he might be sucking on the exhaust pipe soon. Geddy's vocals are another HUGE change here...he's double and triple tracked almost all the time, and sounds thicker and sicker than ever. The effect wipes out a lot of his screechy vocal tics, thankfully, but leaves in a lot of wicked interplay between the voices that reminds me of when Keith Richards used to do backup vocals...he almost never sang the same melody as anyone else, but it invariably sounded like the croak of the Godhead. The vocals on Vapor Trails have some element of that same 'wrong...but right' power. Hell, tell me the vocals on 'Stars' have anything wrong with them at all...his performance masterfully flops between a mournful wail and scorn, and none of it sounds even remotely like a squirrel.
Okay, so I think the first side is just about flawless. From 'Victory's masterful 'introduction' through the pure hot lead blast of 'Ceiling Unlimited' and through the more introspective 'Ghost Rider' and 'Peaceable Kingdom' (a schizoid track where every instrument sounds scary as fuck, like waking up in the morning next to Meg Ryan before she covers up her Joker face with 10 pounds of makeup. 'The Stars Look Down' is the culmination of the first side, and no doubt represents a lot of the loss and helplessness of Neil's depressive period. 'How It Is' shows the cliff jump that is 'the next day', the day when you realize that, though you feel half dead, you must be half alive. Fucking awesome track, and what a journey. Still, it's one that doesn't tie up into an 'everything's gonna be okay' neato ending. Things are most likely gonna be shit, but you're either going to be here to experience them or not.
I think the album falters a bit with 'Vapor Trails', which goes back to a more symbolic lyric style like, well, every other album Neil's done, and the effect is noticeable. He's detached again, speaking from a pedestal and not making a whole lot of impact emotionally when compared to the much more personal work earlier in the album. The rest of the record follows a similar pattern to this song, though many of them include music that's some of the most exciting of the entire record (like 'Secret Touch', which is MONSTROUS) but also becomes a bit deadening towards the end. I mean, I connect with the first side, but the second one is just, well...cool sounding. Funny how it splits right down the middle like that. Still, it's a hard thing for me to name a track I would excise from the record (maybe the last one, which hardly has anything new to say and contains the only true groaner line of the record - in a song called 'Out of the Cradle', the hook line is 'endlessly rocking'. Jesus guys...leave the fucking witty-ass phrase turns BE!!)
One thing that's been discussed is how overloud this record is, from a mastering standpoint. The thing clips like a motherfucker in places (meaning, the recording as a whole distorts because it's mixed too high, and that's not just because I'm listening to a poorly encoded MP3 copy either...I can tell they fucked it over to make it sound 'loud', man!) and generally isn't as clear as what it could be. Still, it's far fucking better than Test for Echo, which sounded like some New Age producers sick idea of a hard rock album. Given the choice between overloud and underballsy, I'll err on the side of the maxed-out VU every time. Gimme gimme tape saturation, baby!
Man, I just can't say enough for how encouraging something like Vapor Trails is to a guy who really wants to like Rush more than he actually does. I mean, thirty years, two dozen albums, and maybe 6 of them are really any good at all? But Trails indicates that the road ahead might be paved with a lot more honesty and good ol' fashioned noisemaking than what's come so far...if Lifeson can keep his bruiser ass out of the slammer, that is. At the time of writing, he's being arraigned on charges of assaulting a police officer during a New Year's Ever bust up when Lifeson, who's real name is Dostoevsky or something, came to the rescue of his drunken, disorderly son and somehow got his nose broken while allegedly throwing a cop down some stairs. Considering Alex was arrested in Ontario and that Rush is responsible for probably 85% of the Canadian GNP, here's predicting he gets off with a fine. I sure as hell hope he does, because I'm holding 12 tickets to a Rush show in June and I don't want to see it cancelled.
Capn's Final Word: What? It takes this long to define a fresh sound? Well, they fucking did it, and it's massive. Not to wish more pain on Neil, but if this is what real life does to you, ya gotta live some more.
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Ben Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: First off, congratulations on finally seeing fit to give Rush an A (better late than never). This album is rather amazing especially considering how late in their career it came. It is certainly one of their most energetic and emotionally engaging albums. It is a far cry from the cold precision of their 80's albums, athough they too have their merits. One small factual error I wanted to point out: Alex was arrested in Naples FL, not Ontario.
Your Rating: F
Any Short Comments?: Wow! I can't believe your glowing praise for such a pathetic submission from one of the world's most talented and influential bands! Are you sure we listened to the same album? Vapor Trails, right?
For a band as talented and successful as Rush, who have created some of the most incredible rock albums ever, Vapor Trails is a dismal failure. Rush are about musicianship, precision, and emotion. VT is loaded with emotion, but the background music that carries it is an absolute disaster. Neil even admitted that the majority of the album was peiced together on a computer, pasting together numerous months worth of jams on a Mac G4, because they said they couldn't better the performance, so they stuck with the original takes, horrible sound quality and all. Speaking of sound quality, VT is, by far, the worst sounding album from a professional label I have ever heard, and it's from a band known for being perfectionists! The layers upon layers of vocals and guitars (21 layers of guitars on Sweet Miracle alone!!), and bass is just too much. Add to that a lead vocal that sounds like it was recorded under water and within 5 minutes of listening you want to rip the CD out of the player and throw it against a wall!
I guess your copy is not only still intact, but probably rests on a gold pedestal above the mantle.
Ryan Your Rating: C
Any Short Comments?: Some good ideas but the sound quality was terrible. The simultanious root-fifth-octave geddy used was often too dissonant and lifesons single note with a bend in the intro to freeze is aweful.
Rush in Rio - Atlantic 2004
Now when Rush tour, they tour a LOT, make sure to hit all the places in the world in which the population of pony-tailed, rail thin sci-fi fanatics exceeds 10,000, and play shows that rival the lengths of Pakistani weddings. Rush in Rio comes from the band's 2003 tour, one that was supposedly a 'career retrospective' tour rather than a 'recent hits' tour like the one for Exit...Stage Left or the 'wallowing in a pool of rotting pig flesh' tour that gave us A Show of Hands. And specting the retro is what's happenin' on here, fer sure...how else to explain the mysterious reappearance of the unwelcome likes of 'Cygnus X-1' or 'Roll the Bones' or 'Natural Science'? And what malicious alignment of celestial bodies caused the reincarnation of a half-rotten Evil Dead II version of 'By-Tor and the Snow Dog' fer Chrissakes? I guess there's gotta be some stinkers, 'cos this fucker is two hours and fifty three minutes of Rush live concerting in front of more little brown people!!! That's longer than their first four albums put together, or longer than it's recommended to keep your Cialis hard-on before bolting to the emergency room, or longer than the last two minutes of most NCAA basketball games, or....well, fuck me, it's a long goddamn time, anyway. Sure, it sounds great, great that is if you can ignore the incessant chanting of the little brown Brazilian people like they're watching Renaldo beat the shit out of Rivaldo with a tire iron right in the middle of the soccer pitch or something. The crowd interference may have been inspiring for Geddy and the folks, but for recorded sound I've not heard more irritating screaming since the Kinks' Live at Kelvin Hall. Not to be presumptuous here, but the Brazilians being as carefree, boob obsessed, vocally inclined, and fun loving as they are, they'd probably scream and yell for three hours at just about anything put in front of them. Perhaps after years of playing in front of bloodless American and Canadian audiences, they released this album as a sort of primer for Rush dorks as to how to have fun at a rock concert. I hear the next album's gonna have a free insert of Metallic KO in there for graduate level studies.
Anyway, as far as Rush live albums go, this is the gold standard. The performance is just about everything you could ask for out of the band...lots of great songs, some rarities, some well-performed Vapor Trails material, chainsaw-massacre soloing, $38 t-shirts and $8 beers, all that crap. Since Vapor Trails returned them to a sort of metallic playing style, I'm happy to report that on Rio they actually play things on the rough 'n' ready side instead of in the note-perfect overdub-laden style that made their other ones so unnecessary. I say 'rough and ready', but for Rush this still means 'note perfect', just with the intensity level ratcheted up a ways. I'll admit, I'm a bit burned out on Rush after a month of reviewing them, but I still get a mighty jolt out of Alex Lifeson's pensive middle section on 'La Villa Strangiato' (before the crazed blathering section, that is), I still find myself smiling in spite of myself at the MIDI swing-orchestra part of Peart's drum solo (here titled 'O Baterista', which I think mean's 'Oh waiter!', but I could be smoking crack. Actually, there's a very high probability of that). Rush are a substantial live band, there's no doubt in my mind, and Rio is the first of their four regular live releases to capture their innate excitement wholesale. I suggest foregoing Stage, Exit (and for fuckssake, do not spend perfectly good drinkin' money on A Show of Hands) or any of the Diff'rent Stages ('Whatchoo talkin' bout, By-Tor?') comps and just getting this barn burner.
Capn's Final Word: They may be old, but when they re-signed in the Book of Rock, they meant it.
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Victor Tolentino email@example.com Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: Man, your reviews are cool and funny, but, i'm a
brazilian, and things like 'little brown people', and 'they'd probably scream
and yell for three hours at just about anything put in front of them'
did not show RESPECT. It was the first (and maybe last) time that Rush came
here, and OF COURSE that Rush brazilian fans gone crazy! And it was a fucking
good show (i don't live in Rio, but i was there), why the
audience would be quiet? I don't see a reason.
(Capn's Respose: You didn't say anything about being boob-obsessed. I'll admit Brazilians aren't all little and brown, but they ARE loud, and boy, do they have a thing for the bulbous mammaries. The thing you miss here is that I LIKE that about you guys.)
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