Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Monday, June 12, 2006

Getting Caught Up in (the) Rush

I really love having a hard-drive music player in my BLUE RAV4. Actually, it's included with my car navigation system (love that, too). Esentially, it's like having a built-in iPod in my car. It has just a little more capacity than my wife's iPod mini (though not as much as my 20GB iPod, if I could ever fill that thing!), which, together with a CD player, MD player, AM/FM radio, and an SD card slot for playing mp3 files (or copying them onto the hard drive), is plenty for my driving music demands.

Usually I have a ball flipping around on the menu, indulging my widely varied music tastes (like, new age and hard-core alternative on the same list?!?). This past week, however, has been both very busy and very stressful, so I've just been letting it play through and taking it as it comes. Well, the week is finally over. Yes, it has been a left-hand-in-the-meat-grinder sort of week, but it has also been a successful one in many ways. I got a lot of things done and, despite some nagging sore spots, I'm satisfied with most of it. Now I just feel good. Good and relieved.

How appropriate that the music menu has arrived at my Rush collection. It's somehow even more relieving to know that, despite all these years and the many events (and switches in my direction in life) in between, that trio from Toronto still figures heavily in my musical favorites.

I first heard about Rush in my late elementary/early junior high school days. At the time I was a rabid KISS fan, but people kept telling me I would especially appreciate Rush since I was known to be an equally rabid sci-fi/fantasy sort. I wasn't convinced, possibly out of loyalty to KISS. When someone finally played a Rush album for me, (their first live album, All The World's A Stage,) my verdict was something like this:
a. The songs are too rhythmically chaotic...too hard to follow.
b. What's with that loud, raucous-sounding bass?
c. That screeching singer has got to go!

Needless to say, I wasn't really impressed, but then again I hadn't really given it a fair and impartial listening. Fortunately, the people around me were persistent, and though I went from being a KISS fan to a Judas Priest/Iron Maiden fan in my early high school days, I used to sneak listenings of my sister's vinyl-disk copy of All The World's A Stage, mainly because I had fallen madly in love with two long rock-opera numbers, "By-Tor and the Snow Dog" (appealed to my fantasy addiction) and "2112" (appealed to my sci-fi addiction). It was only inevitable that I wound up hearing the other songs on the album, and I soon found myself coming to like the band a lot. I was also forced to learn the early Rush songs "Working Man" and "What You're Doing" as I was playing lead guitar (or trying to, anyway) for a (poor, short-lived excuse for a) rock band. When my older sister finally moved out...taking her records with her..., I was forced to get my own, first Rush album. That was Signals, which was in many ways a pivotal work. Others were soon to follow, because by then I was a fully declared Rush fan.

My only complaint about this hard-drive player is that you can't change the order of the songs (or at least I haven't figured out how yet). They go on in the order that you record them. That means that, because of an oversight on my part, most of my Rush albums wound up going on in alphabetical rather than chronological order. In a way it's interesting, though, because I'm getting a good comparison of the different stages the band has gone through. Yes, they evolved, but not in a very straight line. They went through many twists and turns. They even came close to falling apart more than once, but like the proverbial DuracellTM rabbit, they're still going and going and going...

The first album, called simply Rush, makes no bones as to the band's roots. One could almost call it "Led Zeppelin with a more dominant (raucous?) bass", though there are some other influences as well. The second album, Fly By Night, marked the arrival of drummer extraordinaire Neil Peart, still considered one of the best in the genre if not the best. However, Neil's contribution wasn't limited to his fancy rhythmical work. He quickly became the band's chief lyricist, and his devotion to literature led to the songs suddenly changing from "baby, ooh yeah" to works based on philosophy, fantasy, and occasionally politics. Fly By Night also featured Rush's first rock-opera, the aforementioned "By-Tor and the Snow Dog". The next album, Caress of Steel, had the first rock-opera that took up one full side of the record, "The Fountain of Lamneth" (actually one of two rock-operas on this album). It was a bold undertaking, and it very nearly wiped out the band's career as people found it a bit over their heads. How ironic that the next album, 2112, also featuring a long rock-opera, actually boosted the band's popularity to a higher level than ever before. Concept albums and long, complex, multi-movement works remained standard fare for the band for a while, but then Rush suddenly switched to arena rock and from there to an even more progressive turn.

On 2112 a synthesizer was introduced for the purpose of noise effects. On the next album, A Farewell to Kings, bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee's Minimoog was first used as a melody instrument, and Taurus synth pedals were used for accompaniment (not to mention orchestral bells, chimes, and a lot of other things). Three albums later (after Hemispheres and Permanent Waves), on Moving Pictures, a polyphonic synth was first used as an ensemble instrument, and a sequencer was first used for rhythm. Signals, which followed, was even more permeated if not dominated by synths, a trend which was to continue and increase over the next decade.

Guitarist Alex Lifeson's style became ever more progressive and ever more inundated with effects, but he found himself being pushed to the side by Geddy's keyboard work. He features strongly in 1984's Grace Under Pressure, but on the next three albums (Power Windows, Hold Your Fire, Presto) he seems almost more like a guest or session artist than a full-fledged member of the group. He reasserted himself a bit more on the album that followed, Roll The Bones, but by then the band had gotten in a bit of a rut, and the album lacked the spirit and emotional depth of the earlier works (i.e there are shining moments, but it's kinda flat overall). There were many reports that Alex was frustrated. There were also plenty of rumors that he was threatening to leave the band. His release of a (kind of cathartic) solo album, entitled Victor, during a lull in Rush's career added further weight to that theory. Hardly surprising, then, that the next Rush album, entitled Counterparts, was a very intense, guitar-driven work with little if any synth to be heard. (It is also interesting to note that, in the picture of the band included in the liner notes, Alex is sitting on a throne-like chair with Geddy and Neil kneeling beside him!)

The next crisis in the band's career came soon after the release of the next (sophisticated but kind of weak) album, Test for Echo. Drummer/lyricist Neil Peart lost his 19-year-old daughter to a car accident followed by his common-law wife to cancer. Understandably devastated, he officially retired from the band and went on an extended solo excursion to try to rediscover and come to grips with himself, a journey detailed very well in his autobiographical novel, Ghost Rider (which I recommend even if you aren't a fan of the band). He surprised everyone by returning to the band, newly rejuvenated, and they put out the powerful, guitar/bass/drums(in excellent balance)-driven Vapor Trails, arguably their best in a long time (though many complain about the mix, which to me sounds just brilliant on a car stereo!). That was a couple of years ago. Since then, they have only put out a single studio work, an EP entitled Feedback which features covers of songs that Rush used to play in pub gigs during their formative years. After all those eventful and tumultuous years, the band has finally come full circle.

Yes, they stuck it out through and through, and I guess I'll do the same. It's a bumpy ride at times, but if the end result is satisfying, I guess it's all worth it.

I think My Bloody Valentine is next...


  • I only have a MP3 player with digital radio..

    and Christmas is not near yet!

    By Blogger Robin, at 7:06 PM  

  • Oh, you kids now-a-days. what's a body to think?

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 9:24 PM  

  • I was wrong! After Roll the Bones ended it went into my Jethro Tull collection starting with Aqualung ! just keeps getting better!

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 7:29 PM  

  • I think both Rush and Amazon owe me even if I didn't include any of the live albums or compilations...

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 8:30 PM  

  • Be careful what you wish for, their predatory lawyers may be reading this now. However, even if they steal your last few ducats, please know that I really enjoyed this article.

    foimvw - What happens when your Passat's fuel injector springs a leak on the manifold.

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 11:34 PM  

  • My truck is equipped with the latest in cassette tape technology.

    I also have am and fm radio to listen to, but most of the time I listen to the engine, on account of the fact its so loud.

    By Blogger Pa've, at 6:33 AM  

  • your car,your pod. nano?

    By Blogger agus, at 4:36 PM  

  • I've sampled Rush's earlier works. I must say it's very much signs of the times. I like the wavy and dreamy sound of Tears.

    An educational musical journey through early times. I would have loved it too.

    And my journey will continue to their most recent works.

    By Blogger agus, at 11:40 AM  

  • Agus, most people consider Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures to be their best albums overall. I'm probably inclined to agree. Generally speaking, my personal ratings for their studio albums would be as follows:

    Rush - B- (It's fun, but I really have to be in the right mood.)
    Fly By Night - A/A+
    Caress of Steel - B+ (Some great songs, but it's a weak album overall.)
    2112 - A+
    A Farewell to Kings - A+
    Hemispheres - A+
    Permanent Waves - A++
    Moving Pictures - A++
    Signals - A- (Some great songs, good overall sound, but not one of their best.)
    Grace Under Pressure - A+/A++
    Power Windows - A/A+
    Hold Your Fire - A+
    Presto - A/A+
    Roll the Bones - B (Slick production and great musicianship, some good songs, but there is also some obvious space filler. Also a bit too blatantly commercial for my liking. Kind of a "let's make the label happy" album...)
    Counterparts - A+
    Test for Echo - B+/A- (Good sound, excellent musicianship, some shining moments, but there's also some surprisingly weak songwriting in the middle (space filler again?).)
    Vapor Trails - A++
    Feedback - A+

    Again, these are my personal opinions. I'm sure many would disagree.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 3:58 PM  

  • Never liked Rush. Went to a concert of theirs in high school with a friend and hated it. It was too hard core for me. I do like Jethro Tull though! Did you ever see Kiss in concert? I liked Def Leppard when I was in high school... loved some other rock bands in junior high and high school... but never Rush.

    I want an iPod mini... supposed to be getting one.

    By Blogger tooners, at 5:18 PM  

  • No...I never did get to see KISS. My older sister went to see them several times with her friends, but she wouldn't take me along. (Sibling rivalry...) By the time I was old enough to buy my own ticket and get myself to the Memorial Coliseum downtown I ceased to be a KISS fan.

    I've seen Rush and Jethro Tull twice each.

    I like many different artists and many different kinds of music, but Rush, Jethro Tull, and Tangerine Dream will probably remain my "big three" for a long time.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 12:09 PM  

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