Sunday, February 21, 2016

Rush- A Farewell to Kings

Rush- A Farewell to Kings- Released in 1977 for Mercury Records.
Best Song: Xanadu or Cygnus X-1.
After 2112's smash success, Rush had their major breakthrough. They toured relentlessly between 1976 and 1977, going from support act to headliner, and releasing the successful ostensibly live album All The World's A Stage. (And by ostensibly live, I really mean it, most of the vocals were re-recorded in the studio). After the nonstop touring was done, Rush went to work on their fifth album, A Farewell To Kings. This album would be recorded in England's Rockfield Studios, with Rush being inspired by the British progressive rock scene of artists like Yes and Pink Floyd. This resulted in a very new sound for the band...

On this album, Rush dives headfirst into progressive rock. Though there were influences before, ("By-Tor And the Snow Dog", "The Necromancer", "The Fountain of Lamneth", "2112") most of their songs were pretty standard. However, here, Rush goes full-prog, filled with complex tunes, intricate and tight instrumental breaks, and constant abuse of the "Verse-chorus-verse" structure. Synths were starting to creep into the bands sound, appearing on every track on this album. Alex Lifeson was starting to incorporate more classical guitars into his sound, while Neil Peart expanded his drum kit to include diverse instruments like tubular bells, wind chimes, and wood blocks. The band also started experimenting much more with contrast, frequently balancing light acoustic and harder rocking sections against themselves. 

Thankfully, these heavy changes are ones for the better, and the album is another Rush masterpiece. Not only are the bands instrumental skills as good as ever, but so are the vocals, and the songs themselves, which range from good to absolute masterpieces.

The album starts off with the title track, and it's a great one. "A Farewell to Kings" starts off with a nice, pleasant acoustic intro, which leads into a fast-paced rock section. And this segment is great too, with a solid melody, more great guitar work, great  singing, and good drumming. The instrumental break is great too, with nice bass guitar lines, and a good transition back to the "main" song. It's also cool that the lyrics end with the words "Closer to the Heart" which is a title for another song.

The next song, however, knocks it on it's back, being one of Rush's greatest songs ever. The 11 minute "Xanadu" opens with a incredible, astral intro of synths, and birds chirping in the background. This section does an AMAZING job of building tension, and by the time Lifeson's arpeggio guitar line enters at the 2 minute mark, backed by wooshing synth noises, the epicness of this section can't be described in words. It almost feels cinematic, like the intro to a huge, climactic action scene at the end of a movie. This chunk is easily one of the most epic, spine-chilling, mind-blowing, and incredible musical moments I've EVER heard, and definitely Rush's defining moment. The tension is finally released with a driving, hard rock section, which keeps up the greatness. The synth lines are solid, the guitar riff is great, and so is the drumming (the woodblock fill around the 3 and a half minute mark is one of my favorite Neil moments). Continuing with the action movie scene, this feels like the part where the group goes off to kick some ass.  After this 5 minute intro, we finally get into the vocal section, which is about some bloke's quest to find immortality, but at the price of never leaving the titular, erm, "pleasuredome". The melody of this section is great, with solid vocal/guitar interplay. This section alternates between a hard driving rock section, and pleasant section featuring nice synth lines, with a reprisal of the driving instrumental in between the two verses. As a whole, this section isn't as good as the mind-blowing intro, but it's great as a whole, with great melodies, and great singing. (I love the way Geddy sings OOOOOOOOOHHHH! PARADISSSSSSSSSE!) We then go into the intrumental finale of the song, which has the same themes as before, but with wicked soloing on top. It then finally ends with a bit of the opening chunk, before closing with a pleasant coda. Overall, "Xanadu" is a magnificent prog epic. The only things keeping it from being above 2112 is the fact that it's shorter (2112 is 20 minutes long, compared to this song's 11, and has even more great musical themes) and how Xanadu isn't quite as epic after the 4 minute mark, while 2112 stays epic 'till the end. Overall, still an amazing song. 

We then go into the mega-hit "Closer to the Heart", which i'm sure you've heard if you've listened to enough classic rock. This song is a nice poppy song, with a great uplifting melody, a great use of tubular bells, and a nice instrumental break to complement a great riff. This song would easily become one of Rush's signature songs, and has been played live since 1977 or so, with the only tours since where the song hasn't been played being the R30 tour, Snakes and Arrows tour, and Clockwork Angels tour. 

The fourth song on the album is the Lee-penned "Cinderella Man" (Definitely not to be confused with the Eminem song of the same name). This song tells the story of a normal guy who became rich, and while it's not near the top, it's still a good song, featuring an almost "Pinball Wizard"-esque acoustic guitar line which alternates with a harder section, and a sing-along chorus which has an excellent riff. This song is, overall, quite underrated. The instrumental section is also nice, with great bass lines. (Geddy's bass playing really gets more presence on this album, and it's great!) 

Afterwards, we go into a calm acoustic ballad, entitled "Madrigal". Most people don't really like this song, but I like it just fine. It's not the best on the album, but it's still good. It has nice, pleasant synth lines, good guitar strumming, and a nice, soft vocal performance. The bass playing in the background is also good, and the song picks up nicely with the addition of a drum beat in the background. The lyrics are really stupid ("When the dragons become too mighty to slay with pen or sword") but I don't care about lyrics, so...

The album closes with another 10-minute masterpiece, "Cygnus X-1", which is easily one of the best songs on the album (it's hard to choose between Xanadu and this. I say it's the former, but it's really close), a story of a man who travels into a black hole. It opens with an ominous synth intro, with bell sounds on top, as well as someone (Terry Brown) saying an ominous narration. This section of the song is a bit overlong, but it does a great job of building up tension. Afterwards, a melody starts building, as over this atmospheric sound collage, Geddy starts putting a WICKED funk bass groove on top inserted sporadically. This section gets even better as Neil and Alex join in, playing the riff. Similar to the Overture of 2112, the song then shifts through various musical themes, that are reprised throughout, and all of them are great, with assorted drum breaks scattered throughout. The rest of this "prologue" section consists of a great, menacing riff (Almost reminds me of the Imperial March from Star Wars) repeated, that builds more tension as it repeats, and Lee's bass and synths enter the mix. 

Once this 5 minute instrumental intro comes to an end, we go to "Part 1" (Very bland part naming in this song), the first vocal section. This part is short, but good, with good interplay between Geddy's screeching vocals and Alex's guitar. The effects on his voice at the beginning also sound really cool, and the way this section ends (with the words "to soar" repeating again and again, with a cool spacey effect on top) is excellent. "Part 2" consists of a more upbeat, but also great, melody, with Geddy singing more insanely high pitched vocals, which then slows up into a KILLER wah-wah guitar solo, with great bass lines underneath. (If you're wondering why the descriptions of these parts sound so short, that's because they are. Part 1 is only 45 seconds long, and part 2 isn't much longer, at one and a half minutes) 

 "Part 3", however, is my absolute favorite part of the song, and one of my favorite passages in Rush's musical oeuvre. All of the instruments cut out, with only a quiet, but tense guitar line remaining, as well as wind sounds in the background, with occasional drum pounds. The tension to an absolutely mind-numbing level, which Rush never had and never did approach again. As the riff repeats, again and again, the tention builds... and builds... and builds,  and then EXPLODES with a VERY heavy guitar line just BURSTING out of nowhere, topped by Neil bashing the drum kit with insane force,  which is easily one of the most incredible passages in the ENTIRE Rush catalog, and demonstrates that no band was better at emulating chaos and destruction in their music. It seriously sounds like the music i'd play as the world crumbles all around me. The tension builds BACK up, however, as we shift to another repeating guitar line, over which Geddy's vocals return. The riff keeps repeating, again and again, which continues to build up the tension, which finally releases with  Geddy screaming out "Every nerve is... TORN APAAAAAAAAAAART!" (Hitting the highest note in his career on "TORN APAAAAAAAAAAAART!", the Bb below Soprano C), which leaves nothing more than an ominous guitar line fading out. I'd be hard pressed to find a better use of tension in music. The musical merits are stunning by themselves, but what really makes the song great is how PERFECTLY the atmosphere of the song fits with the lyrics. The tense opening riff sounds just like the tension right before the launch. What's inside the black hole? Will I make it out alive? The upbeat, fast mood of part 2 makes it easy to picture the explorer speeding through space, and when it slows down, it perfectly matches him shutting off the engines as the black hole gains control. And the chaos in Part 3 definitely describes the chaos of the individual spiraling down towards the black hole.  Overall, "Cygnus X-1" is an incredible epic, and definitely in my top 5 Rush songs of all time. 

Overall, A Farewell To Kings is a masterpiece album, and a great intro to the band's new sound. If you haven't got this album yet, buy it now. You''ll be satisfied. 5/5. 

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Rush- 2112

2112- Released in 1976 for Mercury Records 
Best Song- 2112 (Particularly the Overture, Temples of Syrinx, or Grand Finale sections)

After the flop of Caress of Steel, it looked like Rush was done. Their live shows were flops (Only 1 bootleg exists from the tour!), their album was a flop, and the experience was miserable for their "Down The Tubes" Tour. Mercury Records urged them to switch to more hit singles. While they would eventually do that, now was not the time. Instead, Rush recorded 2112 at Toronto Sound Studios, opening with a 20 minute title track. Of course, this gamble paid off, giving them a hit.

As for me, I absolutely love this album. In terms of sound, this continues the "Hard rock with progressive influences" formula of the past two albums, but that is in no way a bad thing. Geddy's singing is just as great as ever, Lifeson's guitar work is just as stellar, and Neil's drumming still packs a mean punch. And the songs themselves are also excellent, with one particular 20-minute song leading the way. 

The first song on the album is the 20 minute epic of the title track. And forgive me if I gush too much, but this is not only the best song in the Rush catalog, but one of my three favorite songs of ALL TIME (The others are The Show Must Go On and Shine On You Crazy Diamond) and that says a lot, right there. 

The story goes as follows. In a world where all the music in the world is made by the government, one man finds a guitar, and thinks that it would be nice to allow people to make their own music. He shows it to the Priests of the Temples of Syrinx, but they say it's a waste of time, and smash it in front of him. The man has a 

dream of when people could make their own music, realizes that life was better then, and commits suicide.

Sound stupid? It is. But the song itself is a different story entirely. 

The song starts off with whooshing synth noises (The first time synths were used in Rush, but provided by guest Hugh Syme), before guitar riffing enters at 1 minute in, bringing you into the first part, "Overture". The synth part drops out soon after, and then we reach IT. The part where Lifeson delivers one of the most stunningly epic guitar riffs i've ever heard, backed with Neil's pounding drums and a heavenly ascending vocal part by Lee... This moment is not only the best part of the song, but one of my favorites in the Rush catalog. The song continues shifting through many musical themes, all of them outstanding, led by Lifeson's duel acoustic and electric guitar, and Neil's great drumming. (The 1812 Overture is quoted at one point) After about 3 incredible minutes of this, an explosion sound drowns everything out, with Lee delivering the words "and the meek, shall inherit the earth". And that's just the first 4 and a half minutes! This then leads into the second part of the song, and easily the most famous, "Temples of Syrinx", with Lee delivering quite possibly the highest vocal part he would ever do (And that's saying something!) backed by another excellent melody (The backing guitar in the chorus especially) and yet more great drumming. This section of the song deserves all the praise it gets, and the guitar breaks in between the verses are stunning. These first 7 minutes would essentially define the song in the minds of most, and Rush has performed at least this section on almost every tour. 

However, it's only the beginning. After some gentle acoustic playing, we go into the third part, "Discovery". This section features a waterfall sound effect, over which we get some GORGEOUS, gentle guitar work, which gradually gets more complex. What makes this part so great is not just that, or the soft, gentle performance by Lee. (For a guy known for screaming his head off, he can pull off some BEAUTIFUL emotion!)  What does is the little things. As the protagonist in the story discovers the guitar, the guitar part grows from single notes to chords, and eventually, a melody. The beginning even sounds like someone tuning a guitar! If i can find a song that has a better way of describing this kind of thing, you win something or other! After this soothing section, we get much harder as we go into the next section, "Presentation".  Just like Discovery, it's all about the ideas they put into this. The song shifts between soft parts (The protagonist) and hard parts (The priests). After listening enough, It's easy to picture the guy walking up to the temple, presenting his guitar, only to be pushed away by the Priests. The transition works naturally, and part is Lee's singing. I always love it when one minute, he's doing some nice soft crooning, then the next we get "YES WE KNOOOOOOOOOOW, IT'S NOTHING NEW". The guitar solo is also some incredible shredding. 

Afterwards, things calm down again, as we go into the fifth section, "Oracle: The Dream". This part of the song starts with a softer, calm part, before weird guitar noises lead us into a heavier part, supposed to represent the protagonist's dream or something. Though it's probably the weakest part of the song (Doesn't grab me as much as the other few) it is still great, (What a great song) with great vocal/guitar interplay. Plus, I really like the way Lee sings "I'VE SEEN THE HAND, OF MAN ARISE. WITH HUUUUNGRY MIND! AND OPEN EYES! 

It then calms down yet again (What a crazy song! Rush really knew their mood shifts) and goes into the next section, "Soliloquy". As with before, this part starts out quiet, but turns louder near the end. But while "Oracle" was just great, this part is AWESOME. It is a slow, ballad section with a great guitar solo, a wonderful melody, and AMAZING emotional singing by Geddy Lee. This section perfectly illustrates the feeling of someone who is in despair, and doesn't feel he can carry on with life. After the protagonists "Lifeblood... Spills over..." We go into the final part of the song, Grand Finale. And BOY, is that a perfect term to describe this section! The song starts out with an upbeat (Why so upbeat? The protagonist just killed himself!) section driven by guitar, with some cool feedback noises in the background. This part is not to last, as we then go into a much more intense section, with Lifeson playing a repeating downwards scale over pounding drums. This section is wonderfully intense, and Lifeson's beyond incredible, extremely distorted lines which play over the scale are something to behold. But that's not all! The tension keeps building, and building, until the song breaks down into INSANE chaos, and I tell you, words can not describe how the very ending of this song (The part with the "ATTENTION ALL PLANETS..." voiceover) is. This section is the absolute best use of the "big rock ending" in a song, and i'm sure this is the music that plays while you're defeating the final enemy in your epic quest, with the world falling apart around you. Yes, it's THAT good. The song finally ends with a eerie, robotic voice repeating the words "ATTENTION ALL PLANETS OF THE SOLAR FEDERATION" and "WE HAVE ASSUMED CONTROL" three times each. (Amazing math bonus. 7 words X 3 is 21, 4 words times 3 is 12. 2112!) 

So that's 2112, Rush's absolute greatest song ever (Most would probably give that title to "Xanadu", however). But wait, there's more! As hard as it may believe, there are *gasp!* other songs on here! The songs are more conventional rock then the monstrous title track, but while they can't compare to that masterpiece, they're good songs in their own right. "A Passage to Bangkok" is quite possibly Rush's only "drug song" with lyrics about going to various drug producing locations in the world. And it's a great drug song at that, driven by a WICKED oriental sounding riff, great singing, a nice chorus, and good soloing. 

We then go into the next song, "The Twilight Zone", which has lyrics inspired by the (great) TV show of the same name. (Most people have probably seen it, but if you've somehow been living under a rock and haven't, you should, it's a stellar piece of classic sci-fi, sorry for the digression). And the song itself is good too! Geddy's singing is stellar, with a very low-key and dreamy feel in the choruses which sounds great (though the "nay nay nay nay" parts are a bit stupid), the riffing is nice, the soloing is good (Reaching some really high pitches at times!) and the whole song matches the show perfectly. 

We then go into one of the few songs in the Rush catalog penned by Alex Lifeson, "Lessons". It's a nice, upbeat, laid back number with a acoustic driven melody in the verses which gets much harder (but still awesome) in the choruses. Geddy's singing is also crazy high-pitched here (NO! You didn't listen A-gain!) and the instrumental break is good. What more do you want?

We then go into Rush's first true ballad (Rivendell was also very soft and gentle, but I don't think a song about Lord of the Rings counts as a "ballad"), the Lee-penned "Tears". And while "Rivendell" was overlong and boring, "Tears" is simply BEAUTIFUL. Geddy's singing is extremely pretty, showing beautiful, soft delicacy that he rarely showed before, and it sounds breathtaking. The melody is also pretty, the mellotron strings in the chorus (Provided by Hugh Syme) add nice depth to the sound, and the chorus is nice. And there's also the harmonizing at the end... simply heavenly. Absolutely lovely. 

We then go into another Lee-penned (But with Peart writing the lyrics) song, "Something For Nothing". And while "Tears" is soft and beautiful, "Something For Nothing" is pure heavy RAWK. And it's great. The bass part at the beginning is wonderful, one of the few times the bass is brought up to the forefront like this. We then go into the heavy pre-chorus section, which has a great melody, wonderfully aggressive singing by Geddy (It would be even better live!), and it leads into the nice sing-along chorus. A incredible scream by Lee leads into yet another killer guitar solo, which really rocks out loud. The rest of the song also features great melodies and riffing. A great closer to a great album.

Overall, an absolute classic album. Definitely Rush's best, and probably somewhere in the overall best as well. I can't give this anything less than a 5/5.