Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Year in Rush Part 4: A Pivot from the Wide to the Deep

And with one very loud tick of the clock, the 70s became the 80s. Rush traded their robes for skinny ties and streamlined their sound, but still maintained an incredibly high level of musicianship and artistic integrity. Their work during the early days of this period features the last of their extended length output, although these compositions are so tightly structured and executed that they seem to suspend time. Natural Science, from their 1980 album Permanent Waves, is an enduring Rush favorite that, once initiated, cruises effortlessly from beginning to end, all the while revealing Peart's increasing success in addressing poignant, philosophically inspired concepts.

Oddly, there is very little footage of Rush specifically from 1980, but in the process of looking, I ran across this imperfect and incomplete clip of The Spirit of Radio during a soundcheck on the Permanant Waves tour. It shows the massive keyboard rig that Geddy was dragging onstage to execute what was, in retrospect, a relatively rudimentary sequence. Still, employing a sequence at all in 1980 was pretty innovative.

Listening back to The Spirit of Radio in its entirety, however, is an entirely different matter.  I am still amazed at how many ideas are folded into its relatively concise running time.

The Spirit of Radio by Rush on Grooveshark

It was characteristic of Rush’s approach in the 80s to refine their sound by simultaneously expanding and contracting. Shorter songs became more prevalent, but they also became deeper in terms of composition, texture, and concept. The creativity and energy of this particular era of their work inexorably drew me into Rush's dedicated fanbase.

I was not alone.  I remember walking into the band hall as a freshman during lunch to be met by a swirling, menacing tapestry of guitar and bass, woven by a couple of upper classmen. Mesmerized, I stopped in my tracks until they sputtered to a stop, laughing. The song they were playing was Tom Sawyer, and to this day, that kaleidoscopic first exposure to the song still hangs in the air for me. Having only a small taste of Rush's catalog at the time, I was convinced that I needed to dig deeper.  Within a year, I had my own bass, and I was wearing out copy after copy of Moving Pictures, vainly attempting to learn this tune and every other bass lick Lee could throw out. Their classic no-nonsense instrumental YYZ became a two-year project.

YYZ by Rush on Grooveshark

Needless to say, I know the songs from Moving Pictures very, very well, so much so that it is difficult to free them from the layers of experience that have settled on top and listen to the album “as is” rather than “as was.” I will spare you the tempting but probably exhaustive track-by-track review.  Suffice it to say that it was awesome back then and its still awesome today.  One track that stlll seems particularly fresh, however, is Limelight. In addition to being an amazing song with a brilliantly structured instrumental section, it also contains some of Peart’s most personally revealing lyrics.

Although still defiantly experimental, by 1981 Rush had refined their sound into something relatively accessible for those who were willing to listen. Moving Pictures was the axis upon which their sprawling experimental past turned into a more succinct approach, and it represents the period of Rush’s career that I wholeheartedly bought into. While it is probably Rush’s most popular and essential album, it most certainly defined who I was and who I would become in my teenage years.  It is in a class all its own.

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

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