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. 

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