8/27/2009

Milestones: Rush

[Our series of posts on albums, movies, etc that celebrate significant anniversaries this year continues.
- KJ
]
When it comes to veteran Canadian power trio Rush,
rock fans seem to actively reject the middle ground and invariably love or hate them, largely due to the band’s notorious instrumental dexterity, lengthy song suites, and lyrical content. We must confess that much of their early music was a formative influence on us as musicians. But while that music still holds sway with us, in recent times, and upon further scrutiny, many of the words written by long-time drummer and band lyricist Neil Peart have left a bad taste; their heavy-handed, Ayn Rand-influenced, humanist propaganda a bit much to bear.

It wasn’t always this way. On their self-titled debut [Mercury-1974]—with original drummer, the late John Rutsey—vocalist/bassist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson started things off with a non-pretentious slab of hard rocking Zeppelin-Sabbath-Cream-influenced tunes that would continue on follow up disc Fly By Night [Mercury-1975], which marks the arrival of the aforementioned Peart. With third album Caress of Steel [Mercury-1975], the band started augmenting their hard rock with prog rock tendencies and defining the sound by which they are best known, giving way to a trio of solid releases: the concept album 2112 [Mercury-1976], A Farewell to Kings [Mercury-1977] (home of fan favorite and concert staple “Closer to the Heart”), and Hemispheres [Mercury-1978].

The ‘80s were interesting times for Rush, as they found themselves influenced by many of the sounds and production techniques of the era. At the dawn of the decade they streamlined their approach a bit by incorporating shorter, radio-friendly songs (perennial favorite “The Spirit of Radio”, as well as Freewill” and “Entre Nous”) to 1980’s Permanent Waves [Mercury] and 1981’s Moving Pictures [Mercury], the latter catapulting them to the top of the US charts courtesy of “Tom Sawyer”, “Limelight”, “Red Barchetta” and the instrumental “YYZ”. (It remains their biggest selling album here in the States.)

Soaking up a more contemporary vibe, Signals [Mercury-1982] bore a distinct Police influence—most noticeably on the tracks “New World Man” and “Digital Man”—along with Lee’s more prominent use of keyboards, developments which ended up severing their ties with long-time producer Terry Brown, who was opposed to Rush’s shift from more progressive-leaning pastures. This approach was continued and expanded upon with 1984’s Grace Under Pressure [Mercury], which went Top 10 along with its predecessor.

Not that they were wrong to want to experiment but perhaps the boys should’ve listened to Brown a bit: their next two albums—Power Windows [Mercury-1985], and Hold Your Fire [Mercury-1987], respectively—while housing a few solid tunes, lacked the consistency of past records and featured sounds and production that have clearly dated them. For 1989’s Presto—their first for new label Atlantic Records, after 15 years recording for Mercury Records—Rush shifted back to a more aggressive, guitar-based approach. By this time, however, the band’s mainstream appeal had started to diminish, and over the last 20 years its sonic allure has been of interest almost exclusively to its legion of hardcore fans.

Aside from a 5 year hiatus beginning in 1997—mostly due to the tragic death of Peart’s daughter, and later, his wife succumbing to cancer—Rush have continued to tour and record, and in 2008 made their first American television appearance in over 30 years
on The Colbert Report, as well as a cameo in the comedy film I Love You, Man.

Seemingly maligned and beloved in almost equal measure—their fans have been referred to as “the Trekkies/Trekkers of rock”—Rush have managed to sell more than 40 million albums worldwide, 25 million of those in the US alone. Although eligible for induction in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame since 1999 they have yet to be honored in this manner, in spite of their longevity, sales, and influence on such diverse bands as Metallica, Smashing Pumpkins, Primus, King's X, Audioslave, Porcupine Tree, and Dream Theatre. One thing is certain: fans of adventurous, instrumentally dexterous, progressive hard rock are sure to find much within the band’s massive catalog that rings close to their hearts.

Recommended:

Fly By Night [Mercury-1975]
2112 [Mercury-1976]
Permanent Waves [Mercury-1980]
Moving Pictures [Mercury-1980]
Signals [Mercury-1982]

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