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Rush For the Slow

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Okay, in the face of gale force winds of Rush-mania , I address the mighty threesome via The Spirit of Radio: Greatest Hits 1974-87 collection that came out last year.

I realize the very notion of singles and radio and Rush is anathema to devotees, but since I’m not one, it seems like a reasonable place to start. Besides being the purported “hits,” the collection also has the virtue of being in chronological order.

“Working Man” – A Sabbath-like metallic sludge-rocker, this has always been my favorite Rush song, not least because I used to be able to play it on the guitar and I love the mighty Gibson-and-Marshall roar (just guessing, never seen them live or looked into the matter) that guitarist Alex Lifeson – spitter of blood and defenestrator of cops - achieved on their very first album in 1974. The freakout solo is biting and cutting and rocks my melon. Bassist/singer Geddy Lee’s Keebler yelp must be addressed, but sounds kind of cool here.

“Fly By Night” – The title track from their second album – with a sweet rolling arpeggioed rhythm guitar foundation from Lifeson and a nice burbling bass line from Lee, it sounds almost pop-rock, and at just over 3-minutes was actually radio-friendly. Lee’s smurfiness becomes more pronounced, and Neil Peart joins on drums replacing John Rutsey, who didn’t like Ayn Rand and wasn’t very handsome.

“2112 Overture/The Temples of Syrinx” – Much portentious whooshing leading to stop/start unison band chording with busy fills from Peart and generalized overture-like bashing. Ooh, when we get to “The Temple of Syrinx” part, Lee, God love him, shrieks like he caught himself in his zipper, or something similar.

“Closer to the Heart” – very nice acoustic guitar strumming and a more relaxed Lee vocal on a notable melody, (well more relaxed until he gets to the high note of “heart,” but I don’t want to belabor this element of the band’s sound), before it goes electric. I kind of miss the metallic roar, though. Also, Lee’s bass, though intricate and musical, is in the prog-rock picked style of Yes or ELP and has that kind of tinny, trebly sound that says “this instrument isn’t only for booty-shaking thumpers, and who cares if our groupies wear glasses?”

“The Trees” – I am leary of the anthropomorphizing of trees, but there are interesting textures amidst the confabbing timber – something of a sameyness to the band’s sound after a while, however.

“The Spirit of Radio” – I love this one: the great, phased hammer-on and -off riff by Lifeson (notably sampled by St. Etienne, by the way), a palpable sense of outrage (and humor!) at the commercialism and shallowness of commercial radio, a FINE vocal on a terrific melody. Who else in a million years would have come up with the awkward prog bridge into the reggae(!) backing of the “salesman” segment of the song? Bizarre and great, and I actually enjoy Lee’s spirited “salesman!” squeal here. A real step forward, or backward, or somewhere, but I like it.

“Freewill” – virtues similar to “Radio,” and I dig the inspirational self-empowerment message – not born in “Lotus land” were these purposely-striding Canadians! Nice shredding Lifeson solo, too.

“Limelight” – okay, this one is good too, although the “all the world’s a stage” theme is a bit, um obvious. Hey, maybe I like this band. I like in this order: Lifeson’s guitar, the band’s melodic sense, their sense of experimentation, their interplay, Lee’s bass, his vocals, Peart’s drumming (very Carl Palmer), his lyrics. This is blasphemy, I know.

“Tom Sawyer” – More goodness from Moving Pictures: nice synth work by Lee to vary the sound, good tune, interesting phrasing in Lee’s vocal that almost has a sense of groove – watch out James Brown!

“Red Barchetta” – sort of nondescript song about someone’s uncle’s farm, the nobility of well-built equipment, and wind in the hair and stuff. Those shitload-of-drums fills are getting on my nerves. Ugh.

“New World Man” – Lee sings way down low like a big boy – I like it and the reggae-ish backbeat. Peart is cool when he plays like this. Who is this “new world man”?

“Subdivisions” – the “overture” sound returns, with almost a synth-pop feel as the divisions are subbed. Lee seems to like his new lower, yelp-free voice. Maybe the shots were kicking in. I hear something about “halls” and “malls” before a ringing, ethereal solo from Lifeson, who is their Barry Bonds.

“Distant Early Warning” – lots of synthy textures, and that early-’80s off-the-beat, phased and reverbed guitar sound you heard from the Police, the Fixx, or A Flock of Seagulls: new wave Rush – I had no idea! Not much of a melody to speak of, however. I’ll take “Message In a Bottle” or “Stand or Fall,” given my druthers.

“The Big Money” – Pretty standard proggy Rush, except for the bass – I actually heard it POP at one point – maybe it was an accident. No! he did it again. “Big money got no soul”: hard to argue with that, but what if the Big Money was gained through the practice of enlightened indvidualism? A conundrum.

“Force Ten” – good energy, variety of tonal colors, and vocal.

“Time Stand Still” – Aimee Mann on vocals? I guess they were really listening to new wave! Good tune, lovely high vocal from Mann and nice harmonization between she and Lee. I guess I missed this period of Rush – Hold Your Fire from ’87. Maybe I should pick that one up.

So that’s it. I know I have been entreated to check out later Rush – and ’87 WAS a long time ago – but this was an education, a few surprises, a fair amount of change and growth. I’m not sure what all the fuss is about, but they sure don’t suck either.

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About Eric Olsen

  • http://www.unproductivity.com Tom Johnson

    Dude, had I more time and energy I’d get all up in your “I’m not sure what all the fuss is about, but they sure don’t suck either” comment, but I’ll have to let it slide for the moment. ;-) This review is proof, however, that you can “not get” Rush and show some appreciation for the band without resorting to insults. Geddy’s voice really isn’t that high for the most part – Robert Plant routinely hit higher more frequently in his heyday. I would, however, urge you to invest some time in Presto, a truly beautiful album that is quite different for them.

    That said, I will still urge people to skip this best-of and find a used copy of the two-disc Chronicles. More comprehensive and digs a little deeper, of course. If you have to have the remasters (and they are worth it,) then the two Retrospective sets that Polygram put out in 1997 are a better bet.

  • Eric Olsen

    Indeed. Tom, it isn’t the highness alone, it’s the smurfyness, the munchkin-like tonality. It’s a small and constrained voice that is also very high. I don’t dislike it, though, usually, unless he’s really straining and yelping.

    I will investigate further and see what Presto is about – I don’t have it.

  • http://www.foliage.com/~marks Mark Saleski

    Presto has some great rhythm guitar and other riffage on it. it starts with “Show Don’t Tell” and never lets up.

    …and i think you will find the smurfyness toned down (don’t hit me Tom)

    ;-)

  • http://chadwoodland1@comcast.net Chad Woodland

    I have been a big Rush fan for over 20 years now (gad i’ve got old). I don’t listen to rock much anymore except rush occasionally. new albums or tours which I never miss. There are no musicians in music anymore. No one seems to care how well you play or how far you can take it. I listen to electronic. The baby goes out with the bath so to speak. I couldn’t name my favorite Rush album . Like everyone I was VERY angry when they went from Moving Pictures to the synth pop of Signals. Everyone went from loving them to hating them. But I’m glad they changed for had they continued to make the same music they would have long ago broken up.

    cheers

  • Eric Olsen

    So people who don’t much like rock like Rush? Hmm

  • duane

    My Dad hates Rush. And Led Zeppelin sends him into a rage. So, there’s at least one counterexample, E.

  • Chris Wilson

    I used to not get Rush until I saw them in concert (around 1981) – and it was quite the kick ass epic. In fact, at that time, most people didn’t get Rush. But once they were seen live, people immediately converted. It is difficult to convey just how extraordinary it is to see them in concert. One cannot truly appreciate the merit of Rush until viewing them playing their instruments. The growing reputation of their live concerts was really how they became popular initially. Later, when they began producing pop-friendly tunes, did the masses take notice……

  • JohnnyLunchBox

    Alex did not defenestrate anyone, fool. Alex was not doing a Gene Simmons impression either.

  • Eric Olsen

    you got me there – I just like the word “defenestrate”

  • JohnnyLunchBox

    It does have a nice ring to it.

  • http://www.m-rush.org.uk Paul

    I’ve been an avid ‘Rock’ zealot for over 25 years and personally I feel that early ’70’s to late ‘80’s was the culmination of music when speaking in terms of lyrical and melodious creativity. Far too many of today’s so-called “Rock Bands” simply lacks ’what it takes’.

    In short…we need to rejuvenate the British greats such as…sabbeth, zeppelin, the stones and deep purple etc.

  • http://www.xanga.com/home.aspx?user=Kansas08 Kansas

    I’m a 15 year-old kid, so most of y’all will tell me that I’ve no clue what I’m talking about. However, I was raised on the music of my parents (i.e., 80s pop and classic rock), and when, last year, I finally heard more Rush than just Tom Sawyer and Freewill, I fell in love with the band. I now know why my two uncles both have VERY extensive Rush collections in various places in their houses. I think that the style of Neil Peart, that style of absolute precision, it is so complementary to the rest of the music, and actually is a necessity. If it weren’t for the awesome percussion of Neil Peart, Rush would be a fairly average band with a very high-pitched voice bleating out lead vocals. In short, RUSH IS AWESOME!!! THEY ARE MY FAVORITE BAND OFALL TIME!!!

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