Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Year in Rush Part 2: Evolution of the Suite

The artistic success of Fly by Night bought Rush some degree of notoriety, earning them touring collaborations with big name 70s acts like Kiss and Blue Oyster Cult. They also earned the expectation of a distinctive and challenging follow-up. Their third album, Caress of Steel, was a particularly ambitious effort, and reveals the band navigating extreme tensions. Influenced by the commercial success of their touring partners, the album features three short-form songs.  Judging by their placement at the beginning of the album, these tracks were most likely intended for the masses as "singles."

Alternatively, the band's increasing interest in progressive rock generated two long, multi-movement suites. Long-form songs are necessarily formed of multiple musical ideas, and the best ones seamlessly flow from one to another. At this point, Rush had arguably not quite mastered the compositional nuance to feature suites so prominently. For example, the side-spanning six-movement epic Fountain of Lamneth shows its seams.  It seems more like a collection of ideas than a single composition.  However, it also contains some of the most amazing performances and poignant moments on Caress of Steel. Rush’s more emotive side emerges on Movement III: No One at the Bridge when the lyrics and music converge on a particularly despondent moment in the storyline.

The Fountain Of Lamneth by Rush on Grooveshark

As adventurous as Caress of Steel was, it is probably most infamous for nearly sinking Rush's career before it really started. It did not go over well commercially, but I don’t think that it is a bad album by any means. It is probably fairly judged as one of the less cohesive entries in Rush’s catalog, and was definitely a necessary experiment in the band’s development.

The band was under record company pressure to produce a major hit or lose their backing, so 2112 was a particularly bold statement for Rush. The album opened with whooshing synthesizers, announcing a side-long, seven movement suite - a decidedly uncommercial move!   Although the Fountain of Lamneth was its equal in terms of length, the compositional strengths of 2112 made it far more coherent and masterful than its predecessor.

Movement I: Overture was a key component to this cohesion (and another manifestation of the influence of The Who - Tommy, anyone?),  It included and expanded on themes that arise throughout the long-form composition, tying them together into a truly incredible self-contained instrumental journey that also happens to introduce the listener to the entire long-form piece. The 2112 Overture also seemed to be where Rush realized the power hidden in their instrumental voice.

There are also several short-form songs after 2112, and they are all vast improvements on Caress of Steel’s “singles.” They are, admittedly, difficult to take in after 2112. Listening back to the album after quite awhile, I forgot about a couple of them. One that I did remember, however, was the song Tears, which has a mellotron-drenched texture that is unique in Rush’s catalog.

Tears by Rush on Grooveshark

2112 was released in 1976, a mere two years after their debut, and Rush’s progress in this short time was nothing short of staggering. The band's momentum during this time generated a desire to explore and innovate that would continue throughout their career. Most fans will agree that 2112 marks the beginning of Rush’s “Golden Age.” The issue that is a matter of some debate is - when did their “Golden Age” end?

The previous post in this series is here.
The next post in this series is here.

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