Probably one of the hardest bands to categorize, Rush is now after enduring years of sneer especially from Rolling Stone and other musical vehicles considered one of the greatest bands ever.
That was due to their fervently loyal fan base and their belief in themselves; wonderfully shown in their documentary Beyond the Lighted Stage. Of course, that wouldn’t mean a thing if the music wasn’t so good the way it is.
Rush is one of the very few bands that has its own sound and it’s really hard to pigeonhole. Is it Progressive? Yes, but it’s much heavier than Pink Floyd, Genesis or Yes. Is it Hard Rock? Yes, but it’s much more complex than Kiss, Grand Funk Railroad or Cheap Trick. Is it Metal? Yes, but depending on their phase, it got huge influences from Reggae and New Wave.
That’s why it’s such a pleasure to explore and choose my Top 5 Rush albums.
Yes, I know I’ll start with polemics right at the beginning. 2112 is the record that gave Rush the artistic independence they so craved ever since their start with their self-titled debut album. That’s why is seen as the most important in their discography by their legions of fans. And it is actually pretty good. The epic title track (the story of a dystopian future in the hands of Red Star planet) is worth a ten out of ten alone. And there’s also the great A Passage to Bangkok and the wonderful and sensible Tears (one of the very few Rush songs from Fly by Night on with no participation of Neil Peart whatsoever on the writing). 2112 is the sound of a spaceship revving up to reach the stars.
And what do you know? Here’s another epic to open a record: the second part of the story of Cygnus X-1 (the song that closed previous album, A Farewell to Kings). It firmly establishes Neil Peart as one of the greatest lyricists ever, telling sci-fi stories. Still in the lyrics department, this is the album with the rocking Circumstances and its verse in French in the chorus. Two of the band’s greatest classics close the album: the left wing leaning The Trees (written in response to the accusations against Neil that he was a fascist, that came up after 2112) and maybe the only long instrumental song in history that doesn’t bother you even if you’re not a musician: La Villa Strangiato.
#3: Permanent Waves
Here’s where the aforementioned New Wave and Reggae influences start to really show in Rush’s music. It was the beginning of the eighties, the band was in awe of The Police and that was clear by what you could hear right in the first track. Destined to become one of the band’s anthems, Spirit of Radio is great rock song with a brilliant Reggae middle-part (and that coming from me, means a lot as I HATE Reggae). Freewill, the ode to freedom of speech comes right after with its catchy riff. Entre Nous (French again!) is one of the most poignant ballads the band would ever write and Natural Science is the traditional epic, showing how Neil already knew about the importance of DNA research way before us, mere mortals.
#2: A Farewell to Kings
After gaining their artistic freedom with 2112 and capitalizing on its success with their first live album (All the World’s A Stage), Rush wrote an album with not only one, but two epic tracks: the first part of the aforementioned Cygnus X-1 and Xanadu. The title of the record is a pun with Hemingway’s classic A Farewell to Arms, showing how literate Neil Peart is (Hemingway would again be used to title an album, in Grace Under Pressure). The title-track is great and the last three verses of the chorus are a feral criticism to the powers that be, but oozing with class (Scheming demons dressed in kingly guise/ Beating down the multitude and/ Scoffing at the wise). One of the band’s most instant hits is also present in this record: Closer to the Heart. Less than three minutes of simple pop genius, albeit from an accomplished band used to complex arrangements and time signatures. And there’s another Peart-less written song: Cinderella Man. And again it’s actually pretty good, with a catchy chorus.
#1: Moving Pictures
Moving Pictures appears first on my list because to me is the album that best bridges two distinct Rush phases: the Hard Rock, Prog, Epic band of the seventies with the experimental, Reggae/New Wave influenced with shades of Pop music band of the eighties. Let’s take a closer look to each of the tracks to get a proof of this: it opens with – probably along Closer to the Heart – Rush’s greatest hit ever: Tom Sawyer. That one is followed by a delicious story about a world where cars are forbidden, but a boy manages to go for a ride in his uncle Red Barchetta. Then it is time for the greatest instrumental track in the history of the world, YYZ and another typical Hard Rock song – although rather tricky – Limelight. Those four songs, in my opinion, symbolize Rush’s pinnacle as songwriters: they are still fairly complex, but they sound simple to our ears. It’s the ultimate goal for a band of such marvelous musicians. And there’s an epic again: The Camera Eye. It is followed by With Hunt and another Reggae-infused beauty, Vital Signs.
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