[Note: For those of you who weren’t here a couple of weeks ago — or just have very short memories — this here is Part Two of the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Rush, guest-blogged by my good pal Ted. The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of yours truly; in fact, though I’ve managed to acquire a level of tolerance for Geddy Lee over the past few years, I continue to maintain a near-absolute ignorance of Rush and its music. But these guides are all about expanding your mind, man. Download! Enjoy! –j]

The commentary from my first Rush Guide was, for me, instructive in terms of reader likes and dislikes, and how a completely inane comment posted by some troll can rally folks to the defense of a band that’s not really a favorite of the core Jefito readership. It’s a kind of confirmation of my view that Rush is a band that is “reviled or worshiped:loved/loathed:praised/pissed on.â€?

With that said, let’s continue with part 2 of our “now and then” Guide to Rush!


A Farewell to Kings (1977)
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If “2112â€? was the anthem of choice for early Rush fans, and a big “Fuck You!â€? from Rush to their record company, then the “Kings” album was the band maturing from its “angry young menâ€? phase.

From the opening chords of the title track (download), to the crowd pleasing “Closer to the Heartâ€? (download), Kings is noted for a number of musical changes. The first is Alex Lifeson’s work on the acoustic guitar. His classical flourishes, juxtaposed with his electric guitar, signalled that the band had thought more deeply about exploring the pre-modern/modern critique that many of their peers (that would be the ’60s generation) were undertaking on many levels. But The Boys were also mature enough to recognize that neither the dominant nor the counter culture had the answers to the problem of modernism — which is evident in Peart’s lyrics. A desire for utopia (and the contradictory nature of that kind of Faustian bargain) is cleverly explored in “Xanaduâ€? — lyrically, a reworking of Coledrige’s “Kubla Khan.â€? “Cygnus X-1″ makes it clear that the band was going to continue the saga of an individual who decides to pilot his ship (the “Rocinanteâ€? — which was Don Quixote’s faithful horse in Miguel de Cervantes’ novel of noble deeds and unreachable goals) into a black hole to find out what’s on the other side. The band was clearly creating more “headyâ€? music, and were doing so at a time when much of the younger culture was becoming enamored of disco (a clear expression of carnal escapism) or the kind of mellow rock that propelled Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors to the top of the charts.


Roll The Bones (1991)
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This album comes at another cultural crossroads; its release came after the fall of the Berlin wall and the end of Soviet Union, and like the post-Cold War political landscape, the musical landscape was also fracturing. With the rise of hip-hop, rap, country, and grunge as genres that were both popular and insular, Rush was again looking like an odd duck on the musical terrain. But Roll the Bones, while not one of their best albums, has some very strong songs that examine how luck, random chance, and circumstance are determining factors in how we live our lives. “Dreamlineâ€? (download) is a favorite of mine for the chorus. “Ghost of a Chanceâ€? (download) is another example of Rush in top form. “Roll the Bonesâ€? (download) is noted for the inclusion of a tongue-in-cheek rap section.


Hemispheres (1978)
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When Neil Peart was a kid, he wrote a poem for a school assignment, and after reading it, his mother remarked: “What are you trying to do, write poems for college professors?â€? Well, ahem, I guess in a way he was, because until recently, I was in the category of “college professorâ€? (That’s how Jefito and I met. He took a class I taught and later we found that we had a mutual love of music). Maybe that’s why for me, of all the long-form Rush compositions, “Cygnus X-1 Book IIâ€? (download) is at the apex of Rush’s musical explorations. The song introduces the listener to the archetypes of Reason and Passion in the Greek gods of Apollo and Dionysus, and how those two spheres of influence were at war with one another in the culture. We find out that the individual who set sail to Cygnus X-1 in the Kings album did so to escape the cultural conflict in his society in order to find balance between the two warring hemispheres on earth. His physical being is obliterated after going through the black hole, but his “spiritâ€? remains to commune with the Greek gods about humanity’s plight. In the process, he himself becomes a god (named Cygnus) who brings balance to the hemispheres of the heart and mind.

It’s that kind of egg-head/bookishness that makes “Cygnus” such an enjoyable song. The playing on that album progressed in complexity, and the lyrical explorations were much deeper. For better or worse, as the ’70s were drawing to close, this type of rock music had also run its course. Rush was correct in not wanting to push this long-form song thing any further — lest they collapse under the weight of their own pomposity. Plus, punk was rearing its anarchic head, challenging prog and disco (Johnny Rotten from the Sex Pistols used to wear a Pink Floyd t-shirt that had the words “I Hateâ€? painted on top). Rush saw the writing on the wall, and knew they had to change or die.


Presto (1989)
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At this point in the Guide, I should drop the “now and thenâ€? comparisons in favor of a more linear approach since it would make sense in a sequential narrative sort of way. But since I’m locked into this thing, I guess I’m “In for a Penny, in for a Pound.â€?

Presto was their first album for Atlantic Records, and while it’s not one of my faves, it has some wonderful playing that both grooves and has some cool stop-time moments like on “Show Don’t Tellâ€? (download). Rupert Hine produced this album, and while it’s brave of a band to work with new folks to explore new sounds, it was an odd choice to pick Hine — who had worked with the Thompson Twins, Howard Jones, and Tina Turner in the ’80s. The “soundâ€? on this album is thin, compressed, and metallic, but the compositions have quite a few pop hooks that significantly increase the finger-snapping-sing-along factor. However, for some reason, I have a difficult time connecting with them. “Chain Lightningâ€? (download), “Red Tideâ€? (download), and “The Passâ€? are well crafted and have moments of passion “mostly on “The Passâ€?), but Rush’s musical ideas for the ’90s had not coalesced like they did on “Roll the Bones.â€?


Permanent Waves (1980)
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In the 30+ years Rush has been recording, their transition from ’70s prog to an ’80s rock sound with a new wave twist was most evident on the brilliant Permanent Waves (Oddly, the title of the album was in defiance of the type of “new waveâ€? music coming mostly from Britain). From the “insta-classicâ€? vibe of “The Spirit of Radio” (download) and “Freewillâ€? (download), to the tightly produced “Entre Nousâ€? (download), these songs exemplify a band where time, circumstance, and talent converged in such a way that Rush was clearly in command of their craft. They were also able to say a great deal in a more compact song structure — the exception being “Natural Science.” Overall, this album has a timeless quality to it. Some albums really reflect the era in which they were recorded, but Permanent Waves has such a wonderful melding of styles that it still sounds as fresh as it did when it was recorded in 1980.


Hold Your Fire (1987)
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This is a midlife crisis album. The songs are much mellower, and the elevation of keyboards and synth sounds had reached a zenith at this point in Rush’s career. Lyrically, Peart’s exploration of the limits of idealism in “Second Natureâ€? (download), aging in “Time Stand Stillâ€? (download), and a kind of secular spiritualism in “Tai Shanâ€? point to a kind of “taking stockâ€? of one’s place in the world. Sonically, the album is very clean. Peter Collins did some nice production work on this one, and each instrument — while lacking warmth — is brought out with the right amount of brightness (when needed) or muted tones (when needed). Geddy’s singing had also smoothed out and lost the lingering shrieking that previously would pop up every now and then. Neil Peart said that of all the albums Rush recorded, this was one of his favorites. Without explaining why, one can guess that it was because the lyrics he wrote were much more personal than they were in the past, and they had finally recorded an album where all the instruments had the intended sounds. This may sound strange, but in the past, Peart was never really pleased with the way his drums sounded on the records. I have to say that I’m more of a fan of the drum sound Peart had in the mid ’70s to early ’80s, but hey, that’s just me.


Moving Pictures (1981)
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For many Rush fans, their intense love affair with the band began in 1981. Moving Pictures is Rush’s most successful album. The songwriting, the music, and Terry Brown’s excellent production all combined on the band’s Tour de Force. “Tom Sawyerâ€? (download), you may be surprised to learn, was a song that was viewed as no more special than the other songs on the album. But once the song was released, it took off with such intensity that it has become one of their signature songs — and one that they will probably never omit from their live sets. “Red Barchettaâ€? (download), and the wonderfully manic “YYZâ€? (download) complete the musical trifecta. The rest of the album is also an aural feast that is best appreciated when listening with good headphones. So much has been written about this album, that it’s best if you just get a copy and listen to the whole thing. Oh, and remember to play it loud!


Power Windows (1985)
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This album was a kind of return to form for the band. The two albums preceding Power Windows weren’t all that strong in terms of material, and with the band venturing into the world of synthesizers, electric drums, and a more muted guitar sound, Rush had started to piss off their older fans. Be that as it may, the songs on Power Windows are quite good — if not great! “The Big Moneyâ€? (download) is a very busy song with quite a few studio tricks to spice things up. For this album, the band brought in producer Peter Collins, who had worked with both pop and new wave bands. Collins was able to bring a much cleaner sound to the recording and brighten the arrangements by working with The Boys to add percussive samples, synth punches, and other aural dynamics that signaled this was a band progressing beyond its hard rock roots. With the keyboard lead in songs like “Grand Designsâ€? (download) or “Emotion Detector,â€? the album certainly felt lighter in terms of musical orchestration, but with “Marathonâ€? (download), Rush didn’t entirely abandon its base. Rather, they enhanced their sound with keyboards, strings, and even a choir supplying an angelic finale to a song whose humanistic lyrics of never-ending struggle contrast with the spiritual underpinnings in the music. This is one Rush album you need to have in your collection!


Signals (1982)
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After the success of Moving Pictures, Rush felt they had gone as far as they could with the musical styles that characterized that era. With new wave bands using a good amount of keyboards, Rush decided to incorporate some new wavy sounds into their own music — and did so with mixed results.

The opening track, “Subdivisions” (download), is so heavy with keyboards, it isn’t entirely clear you are listening to a Rush song until you hear Geddy’s voice. The tale of suburban alienation among “misfitsâ€? in their high school years mirrors Peart’s own awkward adolescences as that “weird kidâ€? in school who didn’t seem to fit in with the other cliques.

“New World Manâ€? (download) has the distinction of being the only Rush song to ever chart in the top 40 “it reached #21 in 1982). It’s not a bad song, but it has a certain oddness that I can’t quite explain. Perhaps it’s the dorky keyboard underneath the reggae sound. Maybe it’s the fact that here was a band that wasn’t known for being Top 40 and charting with a radio-friendly hit. Maybe it’s because it sounds so:1982! Whatever the case, “New World Manâ€? can be seen as a testament to the band’s ability to reach new listeners by creating a song that has a Rush sound, but with a healthy dose of pop sensibility.

My favorite tracks on Signals are “The Analog Kidâ€? and “Digital Manâ€? (download), two songs that found the “balanceâ€? between keyboard, guitar, bass, and drums. With “Digital Man,â€? The Boys were certainly paying tribute to another power trio that was at the top of their game: The Police. Listen to the middle section of “Digital Manâ€? “go to 3:22) and see if you can hear The Police homage/influence. Try it, kids! It’s fun!


Grace Under Pressure (1984)
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In a way, I wish I didn’t have to end on this album, mostly because in their entire catalogue, Grace Under Pressure is one of the weaker entries. This was the first album where Rush didn’t have Terry Brown guiding them through the recording process, and after getting dumped by Steve Lillywhite as a producer “he went on to work with Simple Minds), the band struggled to find someone new. Rush chose Peter Henderson “who was mostly known for his engineering abilities) to produce the album, but he turned out to be a “nice guyâ€? who couldn’t make any decisions when it came to the choices a producer needs to make when recording a project. What happened was Rush essentially produced the record — and did not have a good time doing it. While “Distant Early Warningâ€? (download), “Red Sector A (Part one of Fear)â€? (download), and “The Enemy Withinâ€? were pretty solid songs, the rest of the album has some very weak material. For example, the lyrics of “Red Lensesâ€? include this embarrassment:

I see red
It hurts my head
Guess it must be something
That I read

Wow! Now it’s clear why they needed a producer with greater abilities than Henderson.

Mp3 Extras
When Rush took a break after the Counterparts tour, the band members decided to pursue “other projects.â€? Neil Peart organized a tribute to Buddy Rich and recorded two CDs featuring some of the finest drummers in rock and jazz to play with the Buddy Rich Big Band. The result was a touching tribute by one of the best drummers in rock to one of the best drummers:ever! Peart plays on Duke Ellington’s “Cotton Tailâ€? (download).

Alex Lifeson, the comedian of the band, released an album entitled Victor which featured music equally dark in tone and substance. The title track (download) adapts the poem “Victorâ€? by W.H. Auden with creepy results. “Strip and Go Nakedâ€? (download) and the annoying but funny “Shut Up Shuttin’ Upâ€? (download) demonstrate Alex’s musical versatility as a guitar player, and his sense of humor.

Geddy Lee’s My Favorite Headache came out in 2000, and had some good songs on it, but it was clear he missed Rush. The songs on the album have such a Rush-like sound that this can be seen as the warm-up for Vapor Trails. “Grace to Graceâ€? (download), and “Home On The Strangeâ€? (download) are the stronger tracks on the album and are noted for Matt Cameron “Soundgarden) and Jeremy Taggart “Our Lady Peace) as featured drummers.

And there you have it kids! The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Rush (Live albums excluded. Void where prohibited. See no one in particular for details.)

About the Author

Jeff Giles

Jeff Giles is the founder and editor-in-chief of Popdose and Dadnabbit, as well as an entertainment writer whose work can be seen at Rotten Tomatoes and a number of other sites. Hey, why not follow him at Twitter while you're at it?

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