Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Year in Rush Part 1: "My" Band Takes a Quantum Leap

Of all of the bands to have adopted as my favorite, I certainly could have done worse than Rush. When I first discovered them, their music opened my ears to a kind of precision, creativity, and energy that, even today, fuels my own creative drives. I have unwaveringly followed them for decades, and their amazing longevity has produced an equally amazing catalog.

As amazing as it might be, however, it is not without its imperfections. Rush is, indeed, “my” band, but I admit that, with the same lineup producing nearly twenty albums worth of material, some albums shine brighter than others. My original idea for this long-term background project was to travel through their catalog chronologically. The downside of this approach is that I have to begin with what is perhaps some of the more infamous entries in their canon.

Their 1974 debut album, simply titled Rush, is bit of a curiosity, but for the completist it is, of course, essential.  Rush has the distinction of being the only album with original drummer John Rutsey. Rutsey, who played in the band from 69-74, was capable enough, and played an essential role in the formation of the band, but certainly did not have the ambitious technique that Rush came to be known for.  Even so, it has its place.  The foundations for every subsequent album can be heard on Rush, and the band still plays selections from this album live.  This video recently surfaced, however, showing a glimpse of what this lineup of the band was like.

I haven’t listened to Rush all the way through in many years. Early on, I saw them as a Led Zeppelin clone on this first album, but now I hear a much wider set of influences. The relationship that they have with The Who on this first album is, I think, glaringly perceptible. Geddy Lee’s admiration for John Entwhistle's aggressive bass approach is quite pronounced at this point. Also, for a band that is known for their precision, they play surprisingly loose. Especially on the psudeo-blues track Here Again, Lee and Rutsey play with a rather stilted shuffle feel while guitarist Alex Lifeson keeps it stubbornly straight.

Here Again by Rush on Grooveshark

Now, I accept that there are people that just can't get behind Rush, and for many of them the primary reason is Geddy Lee's vocal approach. Even later in their career, it can be an acquired taste. If you are one of those people, their sophomore release Fly by Night from 1975 will not win you over. Geddy's voice explodes out of the gate on the lead track Anthem, and it’s quite apparent that he's pushing his voice to, and maybe even past, its limits.  Still, the song, like the whole album, is impressively muscular and covers a respectable dynamic range.  Most noticeable is the invigorating influence of Neil Peart as he hybridizes Buddy Rich's flair, Keith Moon's kinetic energy, and John Bonham's precision into a style that would send an entire generation of drummers to the practice room.

Fly by Night is when the Rush sound that fans know and love really began to emerge. It’s a quantum leap forward from their debut in terms of composition, precision, and sound quality. In addition to pushing the band’s musicianship, Neil Peart's lyric contributions gave the band a more serious, intellectual, and, from a certain perspective, personal tone. The album also featured By-Tor and the Snow Dog, Lifeson and Lee's first multi-movement composition, a progressive rock influence that they would continue to experiment with for the rest of the 70s.

By-Tor & The Snow Dog: I. At The Tobes of Hades / II. Across The Styx / III. Of The Battle / IV. Epilogue by Rush on Grooveshark

I did not jump on board the Rush bandwagon for nearly a decade after these albums were released, so they don't really represent the version of the band that initially won me over.  Regardless, I still think that both albums are great in their own ways.  Fly by Night, in particular, has become a representative favorite of these early albums, and one that set a high standard that the band would initially have some difficulty surpassing.

To jump to the next post in the series, click here.
Forget this, I'm jumping to the end!

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