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Main Category: Prog Rock
Also applicable: Hard Rock, Heavy Metal, Pop Rock
Starting Period: The Interim Years
Also active in: The Punk/New Wave Years, The Divided Eighties,

From Grunge To The Present Day



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RUSH ***1/2

Year Of Release: 1974

How does one improve on the heavy metal punch created and firmly established in the early Seventies by Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Deep Purple? Why, by combining the main virtues of the three together, of course! You take the riffage methodology from Led Zeppelin, the grumbly, wall-rattling guitar tones from Black Sabbath, and the adrenaline-drenched unstoppable raunchy energy from Deep Purple - and you get the debut Rush album.

Which is its main and only merit, of course, because the songs themselves suck. Nah. Kidding. In fact, I rather enjoy Rush's debut. Initially, their power trio (with drummer John Rutsey - Neil Peart wasn't in the band yet) was obviously structured a la Cream/Mountain pattern, although, like I already said, their chief inspiration came from early Seventies heavy metal. And let's say it from the very beginning: these guys took their job and their responsibilities seriously. Yes, I don't hear too many original riffs on the record, since at least half of them are stolen and the other half creatively recycled, but goshdarnit, man, these are riffs, and they're good riffs; and if you think that's not enough, let me just remind you that messy hard-rock bands like Aerosmith didn't really bother about good riffs (these came in their lap almost by accident, and very rarely), while other messy hard-rock bands like Uriah Heep didn't bother about riffs at all.

On Rush, though, the riffs qualify. Frankly speaking, there ain't a single bad song on the album - it's just that most of the songs tremendously lack in originality or freshness of approach. Where 'freshness' equals 'inventiveness', mind you, not 'energy': there's loads of energy on here, in Geddy Lee's frenetic bass pumping and blissful youthful screeching (of course, way too often he descends into typical Plant-style 'oh yeah oh yeah' screaming, but that's not the main thing), and in Alex Lifeson's crunchy tones and searing solos. Without a doubt, this was the best hard rock album of 1974 - of course, the guys didn't have much competition, seeing as Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath were on a halt that year and Deep Purple were up to their neck in Coverdale shit, but that's still saying something.

I don't even know which one of those songs is my favourite, they're all so darn similar! All depends on the mood. One moment, it's the 100-ton 'Heartbreaker' ripoff 'What You're Doing' (typical illustration of 'influences': Jimmy Page's riffage + Tony Iommi's guitar tone + Ian Gillan's frenzied screaming = a classic Rush hard rocker). The next moment, it's the lead-in number 'Finding My Way', with a chaotic, yet existent and funny riff... but that's the one where Geddy tends to imitate Mr Plant a bit too much, so maybe not. Maybe it's 'Take A Friend'? Its chorus gotta be the catchiest moment on here: 'take yourself a friend, keep 'em until the end...' Good use of echo effects. Oh, and did I mention that the lyrics are typical early Seventies hard rock type of lyrics? Good lyrics, too. Not cock rock by any means, just nice unpretentious lyrics about life and love and rock'n'roll and stuff like that from Lee and Lifeson. Neil Peart, you're fired. Oh wait, you haven't even been hired yet... What a waste.

Now there's also the barroom rocker 'In The Mood'... Rush doing barroom rock? I LOVE THAT! And then there's their working man anthem, aptly titled 'Working Man'. But why does the riff sound like they took together all the heavy rockin', slow groovin' tracks from Master Of Reality, superimposed the riffs over each other and glued them into one dinosaur riff to end all riffs? Well, my guess is because they did do that!

If anything is able to spoil the picture, it's the two power ballads, 'Here And Again' and 'Before And After' (or was that one song? 'Here And Again And Before And After'?). Not that they're particularly bad: I tip my hat to the energy and passion displayed therein, but both are dreadfully overlong. Yeah, I know it's Rush I'm talking about, but overlong is overlong, and if you call yourself Rush, it doesn't yet mean that I'm willing to forgive you anything.

The vocal melodies are catchy, anyway. Anyway. Whatever. I like defending obscure 'debut' albums which everybody despises. It's a good heavy metal album, what else do you want? There's no 'Xanadu' on here, but, on the other hand, I could easily recommend this record to anybody who likes good heavy metal but hates the guts of Neil Peart. It's well-created and fun, and really sums up the merits of early heavy metal in a good way. Who knows where these guys could have headed had John Rutsey not decided to evacuate his post?

On second thought, what with all the Rush unpredictability, they could have become another Cinderella, so better don't ask.



Year Of Release: 1975

Enter Neil Peart. Enter sci-fi lyrics and cheap pocketbook fantasies. Enter complexity and pretentiousness. Exit good melodies? No, of course not, but still, I'm one of the few who thinks of Fly By Night as a relative drop-off of the level of Rush. Let me explain: Fly By Night is, by all means, a transitional album, and frankly speaking, I don't hear a huge change in sound as of yet. At least half of these tracks could have easily fit on the band's debut, with two major differences: a) the guitars sound a bit more subdued, what with Lifeson dropping the Tony Iommi tone and sticking to a more generic guitar intonation a la Page on the Physical Graffiti level; and b) the song structures and melodies become relatively more complex, with the band slowly shedding off blues influences and drawing more on jazz-rock and occasionally even on avantgarde elements. Where the songs on Rush were fluent and smooth, these ones sound broken and jagged. Is this a good thing? Not necessarily.

Besides that, the few lengthy compositions on here are stupid. Not too many people would be willing to stand for 'By-Tor And The Snow Dog', which has the pretentiousness of Yes (the usual comparisons with 'Gates Of Delirium' are apparently justified) and the melody essence of Uriah Heep - too many simplistic power chords, not enough memorability or even atmosphere. I do get amused at the apocalyptic mid-section, though. What are these ridiculous 'grunts' throughout? Is it Geddy processing fart noises through his bass amplifier? 'In The End' also goes kinda... kinda nowhere, and there was no need to reproduce the descending riff off the Beatles' 'Carry That Weight' all the time. And as if that wasn't enough, the only ballad on the album, 'Rivendell', is pitifully cheap. It's the kind of thing that presents itself as beautiful at first, but then you realize that it's the kind of artificial beauty that arises when you play something simple and forgettable and put all kinds of 'beautiful ornaments' - soft, lush acoustic guitar tone, 'heartfelt' vocal intonations and yes, a subdued moody minimalistic electric ping ping in the background. If you want to hear great Tolkien balladeering, please revert to Marc Bolan on Unicorn.

So that's three suckjobs already, when there wasn't a single one on Rush. So much for a 'change of sound'. Fortunately, the rest of the songs are fully acceptable. The introductory three rockers, while not as powerful as the best ones on the preceding album, all rock your boat whenever it is and however much water it contains, with 'Anthem' unquestionably the best of these. Classy riffs and a funny screaming Geddy Lee. (Sometimes I wonder if he actually had a competition with Dennis DeYoung!). My favourite, though, is the title track - it's not a heavy rocker at all, rather an excellently written power pop number a la Badfinger, or, better still, a la Slade, optimistic and relatively unpretentious and oh so cool. The chorus is classy and sticky - and I find myself humming to myself 'fly by night, goodbye my dear, my ship isn't coming and I can't pretend' nearly all the time. Could Styx have written a song like that? Well, yes, Styx could, let's be honest. But Kansas couldn't! Oh no Kansas sure couldn't! These suckers couldn't have written 'Mary Had A Little Lamb'! These bastards! THE SCUM! Eh... sorry. I think I just heard 'Dust In The Wind' on the radio.

Anyway, not to get off topic: 'Fly By Night' is easily the best song written by Rush so far (I mean, they could have had better songs before that, but since most of those have to be credited to Page/Iommi, the statement still stands), and together with the nice acoustic shuffle 'Making Memories' shows that hard lumberin' rock is not the only genre these guys can understand. Which already promises artistic growth and creative happiness. Or does it? 'Rivendell' and 'By-Tor' are awaiting us from the opposite side, grinning fake Tolkien teeth and flashing phoney Ayn Rand medallions. Ah well whatever, by far the best thing about the record is the excellent album cover - gotta love that animal even if I don't quite understand how to call it. A polar bear-footed owl? Go figure. The important thing is - it's blue and snowy and oh so Canadian.

P.S. Why is it that every time Geddy sings 'Lying in the warm grass/Feel the sun upon your face' in 'Rivendell' I get the uncomfortable feeling that they should have made these two lines rhyme? I think I know the answer.



Year Of Release: 1975

Artsiness enters in a BIG WAY here. Big and bad way - if ye wanted for a close link from Rush to Uriah Heep, look no further. Badass pocketbook fantasy fiction and childish pretentions diluted over the course of 20-minute suites? You wanted the best, we've got it!

But wait, this is actually not that bad. First of all, the album opens in a purely traditional, I'd even say' conservative' way, with three solid rockers (okay, two solid rockers and one solid pop-rocker) that actually manage to improve on the lackluster production of Fly By Night. 'Bastille Day' is always glorified as a pinnacle in Rush's 'plain rock' style, while 'I Think I'm Going Bald' is often ridiculized for being laughable, if not the worst song in the Rush canon, but to tell you the truth, I couldn't objectively formulate the musical difference between the two at gunpoint. Good riffs here and there, stupid Geddy screaming that's tremendous fun, and lyrics that are... well, decent. No need to tell you what they are, of course: the titles speak for themselves. I like both, but I'm not head over heels in love with them - but boy, Alex Lifeson is really one hell of a guitar player. As for 'Lakeside Park', am I the only one who sees it as being ripped-off from Led Zep's 'The Wanton Song'? It's a nice rip-off, though, and thoroughly inoffensive. Anyway, you won't find me bashing a decent riff-rocker unless it's really horribly produced or has a riff that I've already encountered in a million other places. Good stuff.

However, next comes trouble. Or does it? First, a twelve-minute multi-part suite, second, a twenty-minute multi-part suite. I suppose Rush's fanbase was simply unprepared for this onslaught of bombast, which is why the album dropped off the charts so quickly (unless it never made them at all) - simply put, they made a rather hasty move with both 'The Necromancer' and 'Fountain Of Lamneth' on the same record. But let's be honest. Seriously now, I like 'The Necromancer' a lot. To me, it seems like everything that Uriah Heep tried to do with 'The Magician's Birthday' but failed - a similar tell-tale epic with a 'dark' and a 'bright' climax (this one combines By-Tor and Tolkien motives with creepy pictures of somebody's enslavement by the Necromancer and subsequent defeat of the Necromancer by, well, by Prince By-Tor. Ring a bell?). Everything is an improvement: the sections are well thought out and atmospheric, Lifeson's guitar wizardry is more inventive and enthralling than the distorted cacophony of Mick Box, and good riffs abound. And the lyrics? Well, first of all, there ain't too many of them - Neil Peart's spoken 'introductions' to the song are by far the most offensive stuff, and Geddy's sung parts sound more like a second introduction of sorts than something to have to really concentrate upon. But I gotta say you this - 'Into The Darkness' is pleasant to the ear and moody, 'Under The Shadow' totally kicks ass (excellent 'double solo' from Lifeson, with a nice 'n' cool 'slower' part and a thunderous 'faster' part linked by another Zeppelinish riff), and 'Return Of The Prince', abstracting from the lyrics again, is actually just a pleasant countryish shuffle with 'heavenly' solos.

Count me happy, then! Dump the lyrics - taken together, they don't occupy more than one minute out of twelve - and concentrate on the cool melodic side. No, it's far from the complexities Rush would be reaching later, but perhaps so much for the better? Who knows.

What I do have my serious doubts about, though, is 'Fountain Of Lamneth', which occupies the entire second side of the album. If 'The Necromancer' had its weak spots but overall was a good composition, then I'd say that 'Lamneth' is the opposite: several parts are extremely pleasant, but overall, there's too much unnecessary wanking around. See here: the acoustic introduction is pretty and moody, 'Didacts And Narpets' has a hilarious drum solo, and that riff that appears in the first part and comes back from time to time is well-established, but... but... but otherwise, the main purpose of the song, unlike 'Necromancer', is to provide Geddy and Neil with a polygon for Geddy chanting Peart's silly blurbs about searching the source of eternal whatever (youth? knowledge? meaning of life? I'm not even going to bother with decyphering the lyrics). Basically, what I do with twenty-minute compositions is judge them on the basis of the number of different musical ideas therein. Well, 'Lamneth' doesn't have any more musical ideas than 'Necromancer', even if it's twice as long - the length is due to endless, repetitive sections that don't really develop, but are too un-hypnotic to be considered 'ambient'. Overall, it's a failure, and one major obstacle for the album to get four stars or higher.

That said, I'm still surprised that 'Necromancer' came out as good as it came out: Rush didn't have much of a 'training period' in their recording career, and their almost immediate immersion into the world of "hard prog" (so far, mainly represented by disastrous crooks Uriah Heep) certainly could have been a nightmare - and yet, it isn't. Of course, most Rush fans underrate this record in a big way, claiming that the real Rush didn't arrive until 2112, but remember, I'm not a Rush fan! Ha! Ha! I can say anything I like! I can say Roll The Bones is the best Rush album and I won't be banned from any Rush mailing list because I don't subscribe to 'em! Ha! Ha, I say!


2112 ***

Year Of Release: 1976

If I didn't start this review with a disclaimer, I'd suck. Therefore, disclaimer: I'm perfectly aware that 2112 is often hailed by fans as the absolute pinnacle of Rush, at least, when we deal with their pre-"keyboard-oriented" period. I'm also aware that this was the album that threw them into the spotlight, made them rich 'n' famous and all that goes with it. End of disclaimer. Now I can breathe with ease and say that, for a large part, this album just bores me to death.And I got some very good reasons to say that, too.

The entire first side is dedicated to the "epic" title track, which certainly has its moments, but if I were to fish out these moments and put them in a fruit bowl, not only would it be half-empty, but it would also look kinda queer. The lyrical/atmospheric concept of the suite (or, rather, 'mini-rock-opera', as it even has an overture) is typical for Rush: a sci-fi tale of a guy living in the year 2112 under the rule of the Solar Federation, ruled by the priests from the Temple of Syrinx (a good hybrid between "syringe" and "larynx", isn't it? Maybe that's why in the 'Temple Of Syrinx' part Geddy just shrieks his head off as if he's got some stimulating injection in his throat). The guy lives his happy life, then suddenly - lo and behold! - discovers a guitar, finds out all about its beauty and strangeness, offers his discovery to the Priests, gets scolded and expelled, his entire life is changed and in the end he just dies of desperation or something. However, apart from the fact that the suite is dedicated to Ayn Rand and a large part of it is also ripped off Pete Townshend's Lifehouse project, I don't really mind - Peart's lyrics are well-written, in the good old tradition of quality pocketbook fantasy.

What does bother me is that the music is so boring. By far the only section that offers me something is the 'Overture', where Lifeson tears through all of the more 'energetic' melodies of the suite as an overture is supposed to. Not that any of these riffs actually say something, but at least, you know, it's, like, vintage Rush riffage if that's supposed to say something to somebody. And for the first few minutes of 'Temple Of Syrinx' it's actually interesting to listen to these guys going. But that's about it; I'm pained to state how most of these other "melodies" are actually so dang primitive, mainly producing a background for Lee's character impersonation. If I wanna hear pedestrian hard rock melodies, I can have Uriah Heep; I look to Rush to find blazing musicianship and interesting things going on, not just a guy screaming and another guy pounding out leaden brainless three-chord riffs to no particular purpose. Add to this that the production and arrangements really suck: twenty minutes of music that all sounds exactly the same without any breaks, where you can concentrate only on the overblown vocals and simplistic riffage, is a bit too much for me. Compare this wall of mediocrity to, say, a live performance of Tommy and see what happens.

In the "and now here's something for all you simpler guys" tradition of Rush, though, the second side merely consists of five short, relatively unpretentious hard rock or acoustic-driven numbers that are better if only for the fact that they're shorter. 'A Passage To Bangkok' is probably the high point here, although apart from the fact that it's a professionally written hard rocker, I couldn't say anything else - well, the chorus is moderately catchy, but the exact purpose of the song still escapes me. As for the other songs... hmm... well, 'Twilight Zone' has always struck me as a quirky crossing of a traditional folk ballad with yet another pseudo-philosophic sci-fi concept. If such an idea seems offensive to you, steer clear! Steer clear!

'Lessons' actually returns us to that high-powered optimistic atmosphere of 'Fly By Night', which is perhaps Rush's greatest achievement in the prog-rock camp, so count me happy. And it's penned by Mr Lifeson, too, imagine that, lyrics and all. What a surprise. 'Tears' has a pleasant balladeering atmosphere around it, and 'Something For Nothing' ends the album on a raunchy hard-rocking pretentious overblown sci-fi wacky fruity (have I forgotten something?) note as expected. Any signs of greatness? Nope. But at least most of this stuff works, whatever that is supposed to mean.

Overall, 2112 is like Tarkus for ELP: the first side is this lengthy bombastic progressive fantasy tale, the second side is this bunch of short songs that all sound like outtakes from the sessions for the first side. Only where ELP were on a groundbreaking innovative trail and had boatloads of catchy melodies and immaculate musicianship and production, Rush are just following in everybody's footsteps and have boatloads of mediocre melodies and a homebrewed, boring production. It's true that we have to add that 2112 is not really a 'progressive' album: it's heavy metal disguised as prog. But unless you make great, innovative and catchy heavy metal (which these guys obviously weren't doing - not even on their first album, solid as it is), disguising it as 'progressive rock' will only do you a disservice. Yes, 2112 is better than most of those sordid Uriah Heep "hard-art" excesses, but then again, what wouldn't be?

Oh well, I suppose as far as "hard-prog" hybrids go, 2112 is one of the 'pinnacles'. Unless we're talking Queensryche, of course.



Year Of Release: 1976

Apparently, Rush is one of those bands that's supposed to kick great ass live, and, well, that's more or less what they do on their first live album. Of course, it came out at the right time: with four studio records behind their back and newly-found commercial success, the band had to capitalize on that - not to mention that if you were an ass-kicking progressive band, you had to have a double or triple live album out. It was, like you know, a kind of initiation. Whatever.

In any case, All The World's A Stage is a pretty good listen. True, the Rushers don't deviate that much from the studio formula; but seeing as there's only three of them, it's only natural that they would mainly concentrate on the "power" aspect of their music (well... on second thought, up to that point their music didn't really have any other aspects) and compensate for lack of overdubbing with a real live crrrunch. Do we get the real live crunch? Sure, boss, we got da real live crunch! Lots of it. Therefore, if you're like me and you like live albums because it's easier to review them than studio ones, you'll like it, too.

The track selection is really nice. First, it makes me happy that they don't forget their earliest, 'proto' period, like, say, Genesis had completely forgot it. An entire side - the fourth one - is dedicated to lengthy and mighty renditions of 'Working Man' (with a 'Finding My Way' in the middle) and 'What You're Doing', the two rockers that I really liked; 'Working Man' is significantly extended due to Neil Peart's obligatory drum solo, but for the most part it's a rhythmic solo, and that's the kind of drum solos that are more tolerable than just incoherent messes of cymbal crashes and snare bursts. Plus, the lively rendition of 'Fly By Night' is joined in a medley with 'In The Mood' (yeah, that's the most barroom-like rocker on Rush, if you remember that). How cool is that?

Next, while I would definitely like to hear 'The Necromancer' rather than another version of '2112', I far prefer this live version to the studio original. And not only because it's shorter (naturally, they eliminate all the keyboardy wank-wank sci-fi childish noises in the beginning because they're not guitar-reproductible); also because Mr Alex demonstrates a far more interesting take on his guitar pyrotechnics - at times - than he did in the studio. I'm particularly speaking of 'Grand Finale', where Lifeson's speedy runs and Geddy's fuzzy bass completely eliminate the weaker studio version.

Likewise, 'By-Tor And The Snow Dog' also demonstrates a vitality that was completely missing on Fly By Night. For about six or seven minutes, Lifeson is simply let loose, like he's never yet been - able to do anything he likes, and he sure does a lot. In parts, he comes dangerously close to generic hair metal wanking (in fact, generic hair metal wanking owes a lot to the guy, I mean, really, he should be revered as Patron Saint of hair metal), but more often, he just produces all kinds of atmospheric sonic landscapes, while Neil is tinkling his little cowbells and whatnot in the background for help. This then develops into total all-out metallic chaos, cool 'scraping' echoey riffs of the Brian May/Dave Gilmour/the Edge type, and explodes in some more melodic, well-controlled solos. In my eyes, this track alone totally justifies the existence of this record, and explains why Mr Lifeson should be respected as a guitar virtuoso and not despised as a pretentious speedy wanker. (Okay, so he is a pretentious speedy wanker, but he's an INVENTIVE pretentious speedy wanker! Take that, you protesting scum!).

And yeah... I've almost forgotten to mention that the album opens with magnificent live versions of 'Bastille Day' and 'Anthem'. The former sounds just like the studio version, but the latter... wow. You see now why good heavy metal should be imbibed live? More distortion! More energy! More adrenaline! A vicious 'COME ON' from Geddy as the band rips into the song. A vicious '...wonders of the world they WRO-O-O-O-O-O-OUGHT' from Geddy as the band rips into the mid section. Wall-rattling solos from Alex that sounded as if they were coming from an underground cellar in the studio version. And so on, and so on.

Final verdict: while not free from filler like 'Something By Nothing', All The World's A Stage is the one Seventies' Rush album to own if you only own one. Ugh, I agree, it sounds kinda predictable, but what can I do? At least if you only wanna own one Gabriel-era Genesis album (and you're an idiot if you want only ONE Gabriel-era Genesis album), I will certainly not recommend Genesis Live. So you can't catch me on that one.



Year Of Release: 1977

Fate had been kind to punks: the year of the Sex Pistols and the Clash saw most progressive rockers, bar maybe Yes, fall flat on their face, choking themselves under the heavy burden of pretentiousness combined with lack of ideas. Genesis had the poisonous-synth-heavy Wind & Wuthering, ELP had the sprawling Works, Jethro Tull had the ridiculous Songs From The Wood (and no, I'm not changing my overall opinion on that one), Van Der Graaf Generator had Quiet Zone, and I'm not even mentioning Styx or Kansas.

Along came Rush, and delivered A Farewell To Kings - a typical representative of "progressive rock turning into self-parody". Even if we take 2112 as the band's first-era high point (which I'm not really sure of), there's no denying the fact that this here record is a serious letdown in quality. Unfortunately, for a brief period Rush fell victim to its own success: the appraisal of 2112 made them relax and decide that as long as their style was being preserved, there was no need to worry about the actual quality of the produced music. In other words, as long as you have the trademark Geddy scream, the trademark Peart sci-fi lyrics and professional drumming, and the trademark heavy Lifeson riffage, everything is alright. It doesn't matter what kind of gibberish Peart is giving to Geddy to scream out, or whether Geddy is actually screaming or singing, or whether Lifeson's riffs have more than two chords for them. Nice fans are going to eat it up anyway.

Well... whatever. As a result, this whole record is boring to the extreme. Not that it makes me particularly pissed off; some previous reviewers have pointed out that the album runs the gamut between beautiful ('Xanadu') and horrible ('Cygnus X-1'), with everything else falling somewhere in between, where all the swampy ground is located, but frankly, I don't even find 'Xanadu' to be that perfect prog epic it's often described as. It is undoubtedly the best song on the album, but at eleven minutes, with the vocals not even coming in until the fifth minute or so, it's overlong, and could have boasted more interesting production and arrangement. Granted, it is perhaps the closest Rush ever came to imitating the approach of Yes: atmospheric sonic collages interchanging with passages of 'beauty' and rocking parts, with Geddy often sounding just like Jon Anderson and the synthesizers often sounding just like Rick Wakeman. But why not go straight to the source, then? That said, the song certainly boasts enough catchy riffs and real musical passages to deserve at least a significant part of the usual praises.

Which I certainly couldn't say about 'Cygnus X-1'. Is it even music? And if it is, is this Rush I really hear? When I finally get out of the sci-fi chaos, all I find is a bunch of primitive robotic riffs that had already been previously long exploited by Uriah Heep, and a bunch of atrocious screams from Mr Lee who doesn't even bother to sing. No, I have nothing against another sci-fi tale (this time revolving around being drawn into a black hole or something like that... greetings from Mr Roger Wilco), but when I have my sci-fi tales, I'd rather they be set to, like, this nasty little background we poor pretentious slobs call "music", not a pile of soundtrackish noises and riffs that sound like they were played by a 5-year old, not by a guitar wiz like Alex Lifeson. And ten and a half minutes? Isn't this, like you know, a long time? Why, during those ten minutes you could have planted a tree! You could have milked a cow! You could have voted for your senator! You could have checked a whole bunch of sweaty porn links! Instead, you just wasted these ten minutes. I have no choice but to sue Mr Lee, Mr Lifeson and Mr Peart for all the moral damage.

Particularly since it's not at all compensated by the other songs. All of them have their moments: the title track has a beautiful classical guitar intro, 'Closer To The Heart' has an excellent build-up (which, unfortunately, takes up the whole song, so just as you finished waiting, it's already over!), 'Cinderella Man' is so gleefully dumb it probably inspired the band Cinderella for its name, and 'Madrigal' starts with the immortal lines 'when the dragons grow too mighty to slay with pen or sword...'. Nice acoustic guitars abound, Alex Lifeson plays like a demon, and Geddy Lee stays away from overexaggerated deliveries, but all of those things is still pure style. For the life of me, I cannot remember how even a single line out of these four songs goes, and I sat through them three times in a row. Sheez, they aren't even complex. Genesis songs are complex. 'Farewell To Kings' and 'Closer To The Heart' have nothing complex about them - on the contrary, they're way too primitive to be memorable.

Obviously, this whole Caress Of Steel/2112 road just proved to be a dead end. I'll be generous and not punish the record with a too low rating, because apart from 'Cygnus X-1', there's nothing disgusting on here, and hardcore Rush fans will certainly dig all this tripe; but clearly, it was time to move on, and perhaps the most amazing part of the story - which proves that the band actually had some merits - is that they were able to move on.



Year Of Release: 1978

A slight - but only slight - improvement. I can't say that I dug this album on any particular listen. Essentially, it's still boring, and it's also transitive: the completely different Eighties' style of Rush can only be predicted through, like, maybe a couple of short moments. BUT, the big improvement is that after the flaming chariot of 2112 suddenly started crashing into the deep precipice of Farewell To Kings, the band suddenly came to its senses and pulled itself out of the precipice at the last moment - and Hemispheres illustrates that process brilliantly.

The precipice, of course, was symbolized by 'Cygnus X-1', its childish sonic collages and pedestrian muzak effects. Hemispheres opens with the long-awaited 'sequel' - 'Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres'. Considering that it's eighteen minutes long, one could only imagine the depths of perversity achieved therein... instead it turns out to be an actual Progressive Rock Musical Composition. Trust me, it's entirely listenable. It's a different thing, though, whether you'll be able to enjoy it or not. Me? I was bored throughout. It's music, yes, and never particularly offensive, but the first ten minutes of the suite just pass me by and that's that. The basslines are strong and funky, but the vocal melody is as cliched and generic as possible - apparently, Geddy concentrates on Peart's lyrics once again and doesn't actually worry about arranging the flurry of tell-tale sequences into an eyebrow-raising vocal delivery. (The lyrics are better left untouched - I wrote better fantasy tales and Greek mythology reworkings when I was six years old). And the guitars? Hmm... From time to time a solid riff appears, like the last struggles of a drowning man in a storm, but only to disappear again, replaced by an onset of distorted power chords and fuzzy, flurry pseudo-riffage that has nothing to do with memorability. In other words, you have to rely on atmospherics, and I don't go much for Rush atmospherics, sorry.

Well, I suppose I can go for Rush atmospherics somewhere around the twelfth minute... the loud guitars disappear there, replaced by echoey 'heavenly' synths and an almost ambient landscape, at time interrupted by hellish outbursts of noise in the background. I agree, that was an interesting idea (although a particularly bitter person could say that they ripped this concept off Genesis' Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, and you know what? This particularly bitter person could even have been George Starostin on a particularly bad day!). But nothing lasts forever, and the ugly riffage returns again, only to subside in a pretty and heart-warming acoustic section at the very end, when it's already too late.

Still, after 'Cygnus X-1' this 'sequel' doesn't look half bad! Which illustrates the basic principle - if you want to record a shitty song, record a double shitty song and then record the shitty song as its sequel. That's called 'psychologic warfare', and it usually works.

In any case, the second side is much, much better. 'Circumstances' is less monotonous than the endless pseudo-Greek suite, with a half-catchy chorus and a riff that's actually distinct - not great by any means, but distinct. 'The Trees' should be considered a Rush classic - it left me absolutely shocked when I heard that opening acoustic section and witnessed Rush transforming into Clannad/Steeleye Span for a short moment. Ah, if only they'd gone on ahead with that Celtic ballad sound... but no, the song is transformed into a rocker again. Is this a problem? No, it's not, because they actually preserved the melody of the intro, just replaced the acoustic with phased electric and added the full band production. Amusing lyrics, too. Neil Peart tries to be Aesopus for once.

But in the end, what makes the album get a higher rating than its predecessor is not the fables of Peart, nor the rockin' riffs of 'Circumstance', nor the bombast of 'Cygnus X-1 Book II'. It's the nine-and-a-half-minute extravaganza, 'La Villa Strangiato', cleverly subtitled 'An Exercise In Self-Indulgence'. It's fully instrumental, which makes all the Geddy haters out there breathe a sign of relief, and you know what? I breathe that sign of relief, too, but not because I'm sick of Geddy's vocals but rather because as soon as Geddy starts chanting some long pretentious tale, he doesn't think of anything but the lyrics and the song goes to shit. 'Villa Strangiato' does not. It's not Rush's best song, nor is it among the best prog instrumentals ever written (well... I guess. I can't recall that many great prog instrumentals at the time. Maybe something in ELP's catalog). But it's atmospheric, imaginative, and diverse, not to mention professionally performed and produced, and that's what pleases my heart. Lifeson displays his long-time hidden Latin/Spanish fetish on here, inserting a few acoustic flamenco lines in the beginning, and even playing some typically Santana-like solos in the middle. Plus, where there are riffs, they are never hidden behind a silly wall of distortion - everything is crystal clear. It's a bit hard to identify with the track, but if rumours about ot being based on a weird Alex Lifeson dream he had one night, I suppose a little bit of dreaming on the listener's part might do the trick. Whaddaya think?

All in all, Hemispheres is just like a transitional album for Rush should look like. There's the "minimalistic fantasy prog" side, which is on the wane, and the "synth based avantgarde prog" side, which is on the rise. The fact that the album begins with 'Hemispheres', which is clearly a throwaway into the past, apart from the synthy mid-section, and ends with 'Villa Strangiato', much of which points to the future, is quite demonstrative.



Year Of Release: 1980

A lot of people seem to think Permanent Waves was the album where it all came together for Rush. Well... hopefully, even if you are one of those people, you'll understand my point of view when I dare to state that no previous album in their catalog is better able to showcase the absolute mediocrity of this band, which lies deep down in their essence. Every once in a while, they manage to break out of that mediocrity (and every once in a while, they sink still deeper into complete horror), but this is their quintessential mediocre album, want it or not.

Rush started seriously getting into the synthesizers here, but that's not the main problem - in fact, the synths are used very sparingly, and Lifeson's guitar sound still comprises about 90% of the album's musical merits. The main problem is how amazingly inadequate this album is. For one thing, the sound is pretty minimalistic compared to Rush's usual brand of experimentation. The songs are short and pack just a minimum of riffs, some of them recycled from previous albums. The guitar tones are the same throughout the record, and the tempos and production are equally the same. The riffs themselves are pretty much an exercise in good playing technique; Lifeson is good throughout, never missing a cue, but subjectively I get a feeling he's kinda scraping the bottom of the barrel this time.

But worse than that, Permanent Waves, as every previous Rush album, takes itself dead seriously. Peart's lyrics get preachier with every new song, whether it be the anti-determinist rant 'Freewill' or the cosmic philosophy epic 'Natural Science'. Geddy does drop some of his most shrill "chipmunk" intonations, mainly because his extravagant hyper-high pitch was certainly better suited for direct sci-fi impersonation of the 2112 kind - imagine him shrieking 'I will choose free will!' in the same way as 'We are the priests of the temple of Syrinx!' - but he still sounds like he's hoping to change the world or something.

And what do we get in the way of music? A bunch of well-written, but not particularly exciting, riffs that all sound the same and an incoherent set of synthesizer overdubs, more so as to say "Hey, we've entered the Eighties!" than to actually introduce some kind of atmospherics. Any of these songs could have easily been penned by Kansas. A typical example is 'Jacob's Ladder', which is actually a song about a thunderstorm. A thunderstorm, got it? Then why is it mid-tempo all the time? Why do we have to be entertained with a set of leaden repetitive riffs? If it is a song about a thunderstorm, I want a thunderstorm, not just a morose-looking guy pumping out the same chord sequence for minutes on end to a lazy drum pattern. If you're still not convinced, just take, I dunno, Yes' 'Gates Of Delirium' and play it next to 'Jacob's Ladder'. Which one is more snooze-inducing?

Equally unimpressive is 'Natural Science', the nine-minute yawnfest that closes the album. The opening acoustic section sounds - stylistically - exactly like about fifty thousand acoustic intros I've already heard (some of them written by Rush themselves), and it's hardly done any better by featuring an uncatchy vocal melody. "Hey, guys, put an echo effect on the vocals, that'll help us to get the universalist effect across better". Okay, no problem. And you know, I'll easily say that Lifeson's and Lee's efforts on this track actually undermine each other. Lifeson occasionally gets a few good riffs across, but they're all sabotaged by Geddy's ridiculously self important vocal gymnastics. And the most important of all: the hideous slickness. God, we sure came a long way from 1974. These riffs are heavy all right, but the band sounds comatose, almost cruising on autopilot when they're playing them. When Lifeson breaks out of the coma at the beginning of the fifth minute to deliver a terrific solo (easily the best moment on the whole record - but only one moment), this difference becomes even more visible - but then the band slips back into the coma, never to get out of it again.

At least the shorter songs are slightly more reasonable. The lyrics to the album's big hit 'Spirit Of Radio' may be dumb ("All this machinery/Making modern music/ Can still be open-hearted/Not so coldly charted/It's really just a question/Of your honesty" - oh come on, we all know they're just promoting a Toronto radio station), but at least the guitar tone is different on the song, and there's almost as many riffs on here as there are on the twice as long 'Natural Science', and a short reggae section towards the end. 'Freewill' is cliched and manages to be more naive lyrically than 'The Necromancer', but it's kinda catchy, particularly the chorus. Get some different lyrics and it will be an okayish hard rock tune. And the acoustic ballad 'Different Strings' at least has a little atmosphere.

In any case, two and a half stars is an absolute maximum I can squeeze out. Maybe I just don't get something about this record, considering so many people love it, but you know, to guarantee a fanatic L-O-V-E, an album must, well, er, I dunno, "stand out" in a certain way. And what is so outstanding about a record chock full of re-used riffs, cliched lyrics and extreme monotonousness? Beats me.



Year Of Release: 1981

Heh heh. We're through with the radio (Permanent Waves), now's the time to handle some cinema (Moving Pictures). 20th century rocks, baby.

Now the nagging question every Rush fan would like to ask me is: why the hell do I trace this huge difference in quality between Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures? There are several reasons, all of which combine to make this 1981 album a real highlight in the Rush catalog. First reason: the guys have finally learned to master the synthesizers. There's much more keyboard work here than before; it is better incorporated into the mix, so that the synths feel like partners rather like, uh, roadies or something; and at the same time, they never sound cheesy or overwhelming. So Moving Pictures manage to get a modernistic look without actually sounding dated twenty years on, and at the same time the sound is made less monotonous than on Waves.

Second reason - this album, apart from maybe 'Red Barchetta' which is almost as obnoxious lyrically as that radio promotion was a year before (err, Neil, it doesn't matter how many epithets and romantic allegories you cram into your lines, this band was not designed to continue the line of '409' and 'Little Honda'), has easily the best lyrics of the entire Rush career. Every now and then, you still fall upon a line that seems directly taken from a manual on psychoanalitics (like the 'everybody got to deviate from the norm!' chorus of 'Vital Signs'), and the 'all the world's indeed a stage' line in 'Limelight' may seem icky when you're in a particularly sarcastic mood, but there are actually songs that conceal their messages through cleverly selected analogies ('Tom Sawyer', 'Witch Hunt'), make good use of parallelisms ('Camera Eye') or have no lyrics at all, heh heh ('YYZ').

But, of course, the best thing is that the songs are simply better. 'Red Barchetta' may be dumb lyrically, but the main riff of the tune, which sounds like it was copied from Led Zeppelin's 'Misty Mountain Hop' and then worked on and improved, can't be beat! Don't tell me it doesn't prompt you to get out your air guitars or madly tap your foot. There's some goddamn energy, which seemed so lacking on Permanent Waves, and even some unfaked excitement... heck, maybe these guys were into simple automotive joys, after all. But even better is the instrumental 'YYZ', where Lifeson unleashes his full power in a series of crunchy, fast-flowing, and inventive riffs - the wonderful thing is how he picks upon all the styles imaginable, from dissonant New Wave to basic hard rock to free-form jazz to fusion to even straightahead funk (check the maniac chuggin' at the end of the second minute, for instance), plus there's a weird Eastern-flavoured solo for a dozen seconds or so. And Geddy and Neil shine on the tune as well, although they're more supportive of the guitar here than showing off their individual skills (in concert, though, 'YYZ' would become a vehicle for Neil's.... uh... drum solo. Looord!).

The other two songs on the first side are excellent, thus combining to make arguably the best album side in Rush history. 'Tom Sawyer''s lyrics have a mystical tinge to them, and this is perfectly translated to the music, with a good power chord/sci-fi synth interplay and a couple catchy vocal melodies to boot. And 'Limelight' is the best power-pop number Rush ever did; here, Mr Geddy is the main hero, weaving his voice around the guitar lines in a particularly friendly and romantic manner. It's really uncanny how a well-placed vocal note can turn a potentially mediocre song into a highlight - but this is exactly how the charm of the 'living in the limelight, the universal dream, for those who wish to seem...' appears to me. Unless you're one of those smelly metal fans who are certain the Beach Boys used to sing that way due to an injured manlihood, 'Limelight' can certainly demonstrate how Geddy Lee is actually a very good singer who knows that proper modulation is the proper key to success. (Too bad he forgets that so goddamn often).

Unfortunately, the second side can't really sustain the success of the first one, because the lads couldn't resist the temptation of having an epic. 'The Camera Eye' is eleven minutes long and eleven minutes boring. The riffs don't stick in my head, the singing lacks catchiness, the lyrical thematics is all right but the song just never goes anywhere in particular. Only a brief solo from Lifeson in the end brings some refreshment, but essentially this is just a waste of time - same "loud meaningless riff" approach as on much of Permanent Waves, lacking either the mystical tinge of 'Tom Sawyer' or the rough metallic punch of 'Barchetta' or the diversity and technical wizardry of 'YYZ'.

A star off for that one - thankfully, the tension is then restored for 'Witch Hunt', which concentrates on building up a monstruous, menacing atmosphere, and does that all right, with a no-holds-barred metal riff from Alex and Geddy spooking you as best as he can (which isn't really that good, but at least it's fun). And 'Vital Signs' shows vital signs, indeed, namely, that Rush have certainly been spending time absorbing the New Wave sound - Lifeson plays some reggae licks on here that he probably copped from the Clash or Andy Summers. Not a great song, but a decently constructed one if you disregard the 'everybody got to deviate from the norm!' chorus. Er, I like deviating from the norm, but got to? Geez, what a fascistic approach. Maybe I want to conform, is that a problem with you, Mr Peart? You freedom-of-choice-lovin' no-goodnik!

All in all in all in all, a cool album somewhat marred by the inconsistency of the second side, but still, it's one of those rare cases when Rush manage to lift the lid off their cauldron of mediocrity and for a brief shining moment combine pop, prog, metal, and New Wave elements in an exciting synthesis. That's what everybody usually says about Permanent Waves, but there's so few actual pop and New Wave elements on that record I really don't understand that approach. This record, all right. I gotcha, Mr General Critical Opinion.



Year Of Release: 1981

Ooh, an album. Ooh, it's double. Ooh, it's live. Ooh, it's by Rush. Ooh, it's from the Eighties. WHAT THE HELL AM I SUPPOSED TO WRITE?

Okay, let's begin with the fact that some people think it's a great live Rush album, in fact, some are even proclaiming it to be the best Rush album ever. Mmm... it's a bit tricky. Put it this way: the song selection on here is generally excellent. About the only gripe about the entire tracklisting I have is 'Jacob's Ladder', which I never cared for in the original version and still don't like in its - presumably more "powerful" - live performance. Leaden boring hookless riffs can't be revived no matter how much pressure you put on your fingers. (Yeah yeah, Alex Lifeson is a solid guitarist. Yeah he rocks. Leave me alone now.).

But the rest almost seems to have been chosen according to my tastes, you know, just as if Geddy Lee said, 'you know, twenty years later we will be reviewed by this George Starostin guy, and although he'll be a fuckin' asshole because he will not recognize 'Jacob's Ladder' for the immaculate atmospheric chef-d'oeuvre I intended it to be, we'll still cater to his tastes just this one time'. And sure enough they do! They play the three best tunes from Moving Pictures (all except for 'Limelight', which is a pity); they play the two best tunes from Permanent Waves, leaving out basically all the generic crap like 'Camera Eye' or 'Natural Science'; they go back to Farewell To Kings and Hemispheres and play 'La Villa Strangiato', 'The Trees', and 'Xanadu'; they go even further back and play 'A Passage To Bangkok' and even the forgotten 'Beneath, Between & Behind' from Fly By Night. But they're also careful enough not to make any overlaps at all with All The World's A Stage, and that's cute.

However, the problem is I just can't see what makes any of these performances better than the originals. They're really played in a very strict by-the-book manner, apart from moments of dubious improvisation - such as the obligatory drum solo in the middle of 'YYZ'. Yeah, great instrumental, but Neil Peart's drum solo is just like any other drum solo in this world, why bother? And without the solo, the tune is just reproduced like a carbon copy. At least on their first live album, the band used to let their hair down a little bit; they were still heavily relying on their hard rock roots, and no respectable hard rock band in the Seventies ever played their studio stuff on stage in the same way. So you got yourself more energetic guitar solos and more energy and adrenaline in general and maybe even an occasional mistake or two. Exit... Stage Left just revs up the band's perfectionism to an absurd extreme, and rumours also have it that it suffers from heavy studio overdubs to fully polish everything. (A pretty dumb tactic - after all, one of the main aims of live prog albums is supposed to be proving that the musicians can reproduce their complex stuff on stage without any additional trickery, and once you start messing with the tapes, you kinda blow it.)

Seriously now, I guess a dozen more listens might bring out some minor differences, but my tactics with live albums is, if these differences do not come out sur le champ, immediately, that is, it's not worth my time waiting for ages until they do come out. Maybe a couple of the tracks do seem more energetic, mm, 'La Villa Strangiato', perhaps. But the tunes from the last two albums are just twin brothers - freshly recorded and rehearsed, and the band couldn't have had the time to mess around with them even if they wanted to. Oh yeah, Geddy welcomes some audience participation in 'Closer To The Heart', but I'm not sure if it's a wonderful idea. He also announces 'Jacob's Ladder' as 'like to do an old song for you right now, this one was written a long time ago, it's called... Jacob's Ladder'. False introductions are a cheap trick, Geddy.

So I guess Exit... Stage Left is merely good as a terrific compilation in the end. At the very worst, none of the tunes on here are inferior to the studio originals, and that is also to be considered; in the end, it's probably a better introduction to Rush's post-2112 1977-81 period than any given compilation. But I always feel a little bad giving out the highest ratings to live albums if all these live albums really have to offer is a 'compilation substitute'; after all, I don't rate compilations as such. I'm gonna compromise and give this one four stars, but the rating is highly approximate and really not very much dependent on song quality here.


SIGNALS ***1/2

Year Of Release: 1982

On a good day, you can count this as a weak four stars as opposed to Moving Pictures' four stronger ones, but who the heck really cares. Important thing is, Rush changed. This time, changes in their usual musical texture went far beyond a modest use of synthesizers to provide some atmospheric effects; keyboards are now at the very very heart of the band's sound, so much, in fact, that the importance of Lifeson's participation on the album starts being questionable. Well, not really, not yet; keyboards would go on to really destroy Rush's credibility among the fans, but on Signals the balance between guitar riffs and synthesizer textures is just about perfect. Clearly they're trying to navigate into the modern age, and anyway, name me a band that did not extensively use keyboards at the time. Only the most hardcore, the most self-assured anti-commercial roots-rock purists like Rory Gallagher, I guess.

The main problem, I think, is that even when Rush change, all their songs still sound the same. This is such a catastrophically non-diverse album, in terms of overall production and arranging, at least, it took some time (well, the usual period of time) to start telling the songs apart. Of course, some tracks here are bluesier and some are artsier and some even use reggae rhythms, but when the guitar gets the same tone throughout it takes you some time to get used to everything. And this is particularly important when the main melodic emphasis is not on guitar riffs but on moody synthesizer patterns, sometimes bordering on ambient.

It's all the more amazing that the songs are actually good. There's not just a solid balance between the guitars and the keyboards reached, there's also a balance between the songs' melodic potential and the songs' pretentions. Signals, overall, has a very 'foggy', introspective, slightly melancholic feel to it. There are no songs here like 'Free Will', no cheer-raising anthems that force you into perceiving them as spiritual revelations when they're actually just dull rehashings of ideas formerly expressed in a more appropriate context (okay, so 'Free Will' was the better one of these, but you get my meaning, doncha?). In fact, even Geddy's voice starts getting a little bit more grey and 'dull' - the latter word in quotes because that's actually for the better. That takes off a huge load of that "spirit" that always wanted to possess you on the earlier records (and I had to fight it just as I have to fight your average religious channel on TV, you know).

The lyrics are still typical Peart, but typical inoffensive Peart at that, and seem to feature the man in a disillusioned state. 'Digital Man' talks about the evils of a sci-fi world, 'The Weapon' speaks for itself in the title, and 'Subdivisions' is kind of like an antithesis to 'Free Will' - showing how goddamn hard it actually is to exercise free will in the modern world, where you have to 'conform or be cast out'. He still wonders about the marvelous nature of world processes ('Chemistry') and sings an occasional paeon to technology ('Countdown'), but that's almost lost in a sea of emotional states that are pretty dark for your typical Rush.

And then one has to consider that the actual quality of the vocal (and sometimes instrumental) hooks is perfectly at the Moving Pictures level: in that department, Rush were still going fairly strong. 'Subdivisions' starts the album on the most pessimistic note of all, as there's visible sorrow in Geddy's voice when he intones 'in the high school halls, in the shopping malls, confirm or be cast out', and Lifeson's minor chords and desperately wailing guitar solo are sadder and more acute than most of the classic Rush tunes on previous records. 'Analog Kid', in contrast to that, begins with a fairly energetic and uplifting guitar riff, but it's pretty deceptive - the song itself features a creepy lyrical tale and a sorrowful Yes-like chorus.

It's pretty useless to discuss the rest of the songs, I guess, because they're all variations on the same pattern - although, true to Peart's recommendations, I will choose free will and not conform to the majority who claim that 'Subdivisions' is the best song on here; for me, the best song is clearly 'The Weapon', with its circular joint synth/guitar riff and a very untrivial vocal development of the chorus. In fact, the 'he's a little bit afraid of dying, but he's a lot more afraid of your lying' bit is the catchiest bit on the entire album! Isn't it? And no, that's not the only thing I like about the song. That's as far as memorability goes; as for sonic textures, I guess I'd have to go along with 'Losing It' and its complex overlays of guitars, guitar-sounding synths, synth-sounding guitars and violin-sounding everything, and especially along with the solo - the most unique solo in the whole Rush catalog, I guess.

Still, it's a fairly ungrateful deal to dissect the record. If you want my rant cut short, this is it: Rush have changed and do a different kind of music that they didn't do before (and neither actually did anybody else, I guess). What else needs to be said? Minimalism rules.



Year Of Release: 1984

Uh, I don't know exactly whether I like this album or not. It's easily the most "accessible" record Rush ever put out since their debut, at least. Not that it sounds anything like the debut - it sounds like Signals, but with even more synthesizer rhythms than before and with a somewhat more simplistic approach to melody. It's not really synth-pop because Lifeson is still taking an active part in the proceedings... ya know, what it kinda sounds like the Police circa Synchronicity - all of those more rocking tracks like 'Synchronicity I' and 'II'. As if Lifeson was really busy lifting all of Andy Summers' parts off that album and reinterpreting them a bit to fit his own bombastic style of playing better.

In the meantime, Neil Peart tones down the pretentiousness of his lyrics while Geddy tones down the pretentiousness of his vocal delivery - to the effect that the album occasionally seems like just a collection of harmless New Wave pop-oriented compositions with a bit of an icy, detached atmosphere to them. No grinding sparkling 'YYZ'-style instrumental battling on here; all the instruments seem as if they're arriving at your ears from Alpha Centauri or something. Lifeson might be playing up a storm there in the studio, but the mix tends to evade marking these details. So accessible this might be, but it's also "impersonal" and way, way too cold, but not necessarily lifeless. "Congealed", yes, but not "lifeless".

Not that the songs are very good or anything, but they're creative enough to sit through them without cringing. Most people select the first side of the album as the more consistent one, but maybe I'm just trapped by the synth stylings or something, I think the record is moderately consistent throughout. Heck, it's all the same style throughout exactly, and more or less the same wimpy hooks throughout, so why complain? If you've heard 'Distant Early Warning', with its echoey power chords a la Andy Summers, chuggin' New Wave rhythms a la Andy Summers, and chimy synths a la... uh... Nick Rhodes, you've pretty much heard the entire album, so how can you choose highlights and lowlights?

Anyway, the style is established on the anti-nuclear 'Distant Early Warning', with Geddy pronouncing 'red alert, red alert' in a very funny way (I have no idea why it seems to me like a "very funny way", but with your kind permission, I will save my deepest analytical capacities for something, uhm, more timeless than this album). The dirgey 'Afterimage', supposedly dedicated to the memory of a dead friend, shows that Rush have not yet lost their magic command over rhythm by magically transforming the song from a New Wave stomper into a reggae composition halfway through and then back - another interesting moment is Lifeson's inspired "transcendental" guitar line in the chorus (right after 'I feel the way you would'). 'Red Sector A' is about survival in a concentration camp (a highly unusual lyrical theme for Neil Peart, eh? Nah, just kidding), and again, there are good moments like the joint synth-guitar riff underpinning the verses, or the general catchiness of the lyrics. No really, it's kind of a good song. Don't call me cruel or heartless for poking a lil' fun at old Neil there, I know he means well. I know concentration camps are nothing to poke fun at, either, but that's not what I was doing anyway.

Then the first side ends with a raving bass-heavy rocker 'The Enemy Inside', which isn't very good hook-wise, but it's easily the most energetic band performance on the entire album - listen to Geddy and Neil really getting it on in the faster part, for instance. From there it plunges on into the hilarious 'Body Electric' - if there's anything to really complain about on the second side of the album, it's that the hooks are getting really, really, uuuuhhh-really dumb. Chorus: 'one zero zero one zero zero one S.O.S one zero zero one zero zero one in distress', repeat as many times as necessary to complete the "data overload" process. In other words, more of that sci-fi garbage... but that doesn't mean the hooks are inexistent! It's a hook! It's a stupid goofy song! I don't care if Rush themselves understand how hilarious they sound with this stuff - I have my own right to evaluate this work as I see it, full stop.

Another example of similar hilariousness is 'Red Lenses' (to get to it, you need to delve your way through the semi-catchy 'Kid Gloves', but since that song is more or less adequate, it's no fun discussing it!). 'I see red, it hurts my head', Geddy initiates the song, and whether it's about myopia, schizophrenia, or McCarthyism isn't as important as the goofiness factor. I love the goddamn thing, even if I might be the only one in this world. I like how the loud parts of the song seamlessly segue into the 'I see red' quieter parts, where Geddy wields his bass like no mortal can, and yells out something really obvious and straightforward, like 'you see black and white - I see RED! RED!'. So after all's been said and done, only the way too synth-heavy 'Between The Wheels' kinda jerks me in the wrong direction, but I can always turn it off, after all, now can't I?

Goofy. Dumb. Derivative. Monotonous. Forty minutes of a guilty pleasure - let 'em boyos rock you with their individualistic concepts and modernistic riffage! Well I'm through with it anyway. I end up feeling kinda bizarre about all this.



Year Of Release: 1985

If Grace Under Pressure was a guilty pleasure, then Power Windows, by all means, is a guilty nightmare. Rush's fourth take on the style of Moving Pictures sees the formula becoming even more formulaic, and this time around it seems like the guys only care for the kind of the sound they are making, not for actual melodies or anything. Oh yeah, I forgot about Neil Peart's lyrics. Sure thing, they're important. I just don't want to read them at all. Mr Peart got stuck with his vision in the same permanent spot, much like, say, Ray Davies, whose Eighties lyrics are just mild rehashments of everything he already said earlier. I just glance at the song titles like 'Big Money' or 'Mystic Rhythms' or 'Manhattan Project' and that's enough for me.

Now here's the scheme for every single Power Windows song, with few, or no, exceptions. Establish a solid mid-tempo (actually, somewhere in between pure mid tempo and "allegro ma non troppo") rhythm. Make sure that Geddy Lee plays some very good basslines over each rhythm - he really does - but never dare to focus any attention on these basslines, because a prominent powerful bassline would make the songs in question "rock out", and that, in turn, might make them less boring, which is not an option. Then pour generic synth loops and embellishments all over the place. Atmospheric 'heavenly' layers will do nice, but don't overdo the trick, because this might make the songs "adult contemporary", and we don't want our enemies to be able to dismiss the album in one sentence by means of that overflogged cliche. Better put the emphasis on loops (most of which sound like 'Baba O'Riley' outtakes), and on those mah-velous "SWOOSH! SWOOSH!" powerful chords (as in 'Marathon', for instance) that act like trusty little guardians indicating to the unexperienced listener where and when exactly he is supposed to bow down to the unprecedented Rush majesty.

If you want a guitar riff, I guess this can be easily done... just make your guitars sound like the synthesizers, or at least, so that they don't make much contrast (we don't want the album to be a load of contrasts, we want it to sound even), and preferably bury them in the mix so that this doesn't sound like guitar-driven rock at all. Of course, there should be no improvisation allowed, because this is supposed to sound lifeless and robotic. Not in a Kraftwerk way, of course, because we don't want to scare our fans away by the cold mechanic terror, but in our own Rush way! Which means "very much influenced by generic synth-pop but sounding much dumber by being much more pretentious". And if you want a guitar solo, make it sound like a hair metal one with all the 'metal' taken out. Just leave the hair. How's we supposed to do a typical Eighties album without HAIR?

Now it's true that the same formula is very much applicable to Signals and Grace Under Pressure - it's merely taken to an extreme on this album. More synths, less guitar, more atmospherics, less melody. Speaking of melody, there ain't a single vocal hook on the entire album as far as I'm concerned. (Not after six listens almost in a row, there wasn't. That's pretty desperate, if you ask me). Sure, Geddy sings something that remotely reminds me of verses and choruses, but unless I'm sitting right there with a pen and pencil in hand tracing all the developments, it seems more like isolated outbursts of vocal information rather than a set of consistent vocal melodies. And then, of course, there's the problem of diversity. Every song on here sets the same mood. Every song on here sounds absolutely the same. Every song on here is entirely dismissable.

Well, okay, to be frank with you, just because this sound is a 'modification' of the Grace Under Pressure sound, I can sorta live with the opening track, 'Big Money'. It's the first song, after all, and it's rather fun how Geddy screams 'biiig moneyyy... goes AROUND the world!'. I can live with that chuggin' bass and these huge drums and these endless hi-tech synthesizers. But I certainly cannot live with seven more takes on the same stuff. I can't. So just kill me. I don't know what kind of a hideous nerd you have to be to actually enjoy this album. I did like the previous two records - for all the wrong reasons, of course. I was supposed to venerate Geddy's inspired singing and Pearl's "profound" lyrics, instead I just kinda dug the catchy melodies. Now that the catchy melodies are gone, while Geddy's inspired singing and Pearl's "profound" lyrics still remain, I confess - yes, I am exposed for the true enemy of the Rush spirit I actually am. Yes! YES! You have found the FIEND! The monster who was actually responsible for the fact that Different Stages came out as a 3-CD set and not a 6-CD one! Yes! It is ME who conducted the secret FBI-covered operation to restore Geddy Lee's masculinity, which explains the surprising lowering of his pitch in the early Eighties! Yes! I've done all that and more, and now I'm giving Power Windows, a fan favourite, a negative review! And I didn't even mention any songs but ONE!

Hope I have enough time to live to review Hold Your Fire now.



Year Of Release: 1987

Hey, this is the album that finally and ultimately proves that Rush is essentially a band for dorks. Yeah! We got it! Check out the lyrics to 'Tai Shan', the song that tells us of the - naturally - spiritually uplifting results of Peart's travels to China. Chockful of stale cliches ('there was magic in the air, the clouds surrounded the summit, the wild blew cold and strong...'), trying to communicate something really deep but failing, it is the typical reaction of an ecstatic, but dumb geek tourist. "China? Uh-huh, man, China, like, means mountains, summits, clouds, landscapes, uh, temples, uh, like, forty centuries, wow, man, that's cool!" Next thing we know, Neil Peart will start writing some of those sleazy generic tourist guides that do nothing but rip off each other. Right.

The song itself sucks too. As does this whole album, but we've been through that already - in terms of style and substance, there's really nothing I can add to my Power Windows review. It's just more of the same. For some reason, it's become sort of a tradition among Rush fans to hold the record in high esteem; why, I really can't figure out, because by this time, the band's clinging to formula has reached almost AC/DC-esque proportions. The only reasonable argument in favour of the songs I could find was how well Geddy Lee plays bass on this record. Well, if you listen real hard, you'll find that he does indeed; but first of all, does he really play it that better than on Power Windows? and second, I wouldn't really like even a John Entwistle-powered song if it had nothing but an exceptionally nimble example of bass playing in its favour. I mean, sometimes the bass guitar really carries the melody - like The Move's 'Brontosaurus' - but not in the case of Rush, no it really doesn't. It does maybe save some of the songs from being totally unlistenable, I'll give you that.

Once again, the opening track is good: the Lifeson-penned 'Force Ten' is a pretty powerful, even ass-kickin' rocker that proudly stands out from all the muck. There are several cool guitar overdubs on here (and actually a gritty hard-rockin' riff that carries the proceedings), and Geddy's 'tough times demand tough talk!' chanting is kinda catchy. And I suppose that had this been a three-song EP with nothing but the three first tracks, I could even call this a "rebound" from the sluggish neurosis of Power Windows. Because, while 'Time Stands Still' and 'Open Secrets' are, again, produced in the most Rush-generic style possible, they have solid melodic potential! Art-rock this is not, but 'Time Stands Still' is a fun little synth-pop song with a catchy vocal melody that would actually fit nicely in on Top 40 Radio or something. There's something of a quirky guilty pleasure in hearing Geddy go 'the innocence sli-i-i-ips away', and for some reason they got that obscure feminist icon, Aimee Mann, singing on the chorus, which is at least a witty deviation from the formula.

And speaking of the formula, I think 'Open Secrets' is the kind of one-hundred-percent-generic Rush song I would select from a list of similars if I were pressed to listen to a generic Rush song every day of my life (at least I'd last a little bit longer that way). Exclusively because of that Lifeson guitar riff that bursts out in between the verses. It's really well constructed, and it's one of those cases when some sonic pattern actually stands out of the general lulling murmur of these synth-infested sound textures. Well, maybe not the only case, but just about the only case when this sonic pattern also manages to be good - i.e. emotionally satisfying. Oh yeah, the guitar solo also starts out well with those "crying" notes, before degenerating into generic Eighties metal soloing.

The rest is the rest. The chorus to 'Lock And Key' is catchy, and there's a decent drive to 'Mission' (the one song where you don't really have to strain to hear Geddy's bass, as it's so upfront and all); that's not to say that either of the songs would rate more than a "B"-mark with me. 'Tai Shan', as I've already mentioned, is absolutely, totally laughable - trust me, as somebody who's actually had some experience with Chinese culture, that if you really want to admire the beauty of the Middle Kingdom, you'd better watch a documentary with a real Chinese music soundtrack than absorb it through the medium of Neil Peart and his gang. As for the other songs, I can't even remember if they were any different from each other.

So don't hold your fire, my friend. If you wanna listen to really innovative, complex, and mind-blowing "ethereal" synth-based music of the Eighties, you'd better check out some of the 4AD projects. At the very worst, there's always Depeche Mode, who could be "commercial" and "lightweight" for sure (don't tell me these Rush albums aren't "commercial", though), but at least they weren't singing pedestrian odes to Chinese mountains or pretending to be that self-important. 'No one is blameless but we're all without shame'. Uhm, how true, Mr Peart.


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