If you’ve been paying attention to the Rush album countdown thus far, you’ll notice that with one exception, the remaining albums were released between 1976-1984, a period most fans consider the Golden Age of Rush (although some would stop at about ’81 or ’82). This is typical of many bands, I think. After finding their way (no pun intended) for a few albums, great bands tend to hit their stride by no later than the 3rd or 4th release. Then it’s smooth sailing for awhile. Most bands experience a decline after some time, and it’s just a matter of how much that decline is. I think Rush is in a select group that can claim a very soft landing, with some occasional spots of greatness in later years. But I digress…
Here’s the rundown of things so far:
#8 – Counterparts (1993)
If Roll the Bones was the likable but skinny and geeky freshman in your biology class, Counterparts is that same kid as a sophomore – after spending the summer lifting weights and getting rid of his acne. He can still quote Star Trek episodes at will, but now he can kick your ass for making fun of that talent (how’s that for a tortured analogy?!).
Oh yeah, the album. With the help of producer Peter Collins, Rush put out their most uncomplicated and aggressive record since…well since ever really. Counterparts is hard, but never plods. It’s aggressive, but not so much that it seems out of character. Geddy, Alex, and Neil all sound energized and that attitude is infectious.
There are two reasons why this album doesn’t rank higher – it’s a tad too long (“Alien Shore” and “Speed of Love” could have been cut) and the whole man/woman duality lyrical theme is trotted out a little too often. Apparently men are different than women – thanks for the update Neil.
Highlights? There are lots, but the real gems are “Cut to the Chase,” “Double Agent,” and “Everyday Glory.”
#7 – Hemispheres (1978)
Hemispheres turned out to be Rush’s last foray into olde tyme progressive rock, and they left the genre on a high note. Even though the 18-minute album opener is titled “Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres,” any connection to the similarly titled song on A Farewell to Kings is tenuous at best. That said, it represents the most fully realized and accomplished extended suite Rush has ever recorded. Each section flows effortlessly into the next, and there are no weak spots to be found.
That leaves just three songs. “Circumstances” is one of the best straight-ahead hard rock songs the band released during the ’70s. I do find “The Trees” to be a bit overrated, but mostly because the lyrics are a bit hokey. Still, it’s a great song that is even better live (particularly the more subtle and moody bridge section).
Then there is “La Villa Strangiato.” Quite simply, it is one of the best rock instrumentals ever committed to vinyl (or CD for you young’ns). With no vocals to listen, the sheer virtuosity and skill of Rush is on full display – with a dollop of humor as well. This track and this album were a damn good way for Rush to exit the prog rock theater.
#6 – 2112 (1976)
This is the album that saved Rush, and for that alone 2112 merits a high ranking. Despite the commercial failure of Caress of Steel, the group not only didn’t abandon their ambitious musical approach, they kicked it up a notch (bam!) for this record. The title suite, clocking in at just over 20 minutes, never feels that long. The scatter shot approach that plagued the longer tracks on Caress of Steel is replaced on 2112 by a much more confident approach. Maybe Rush felt they had nothing to lose, so they acted like it?
The heavy handed sci-fi lyrics may not hold the same appeal for some fans as they did when they were teenagers, but musically “2112″ is extremely strong. A series of more traditional hard rock songs follows, led off by “A Passage to Bangkok,” a song that is unique both lyrically and musically in the Rush canon.
“The Twilight Zone” is a quirky nod to Rod Serling, the then recently deceased creator of the classic television series of the same name. “Lessons” doesn’t really do it for me, but the album finishes strong with two very different songs. “Tears” is the first ballad the band really pulled off well, while “Something for Nothing” is yet another in a long line of memorable Rush hard rock numbers.
#5 – A Farewell to Kings (1977)
Besides being a classic album, A Farewell to Kings is the record where I finally “got” Rush. With 2112, Rush found a great musical formula, and they perfected it on this album. The title track alone is worth the purchase price, but then there is my all-time favorite Rush song – “Xanadu.” For me, this song represents everything great about Rush.
Then there is the unofficial Rush anthem, “Closer to the Heart.” I can go either way on this song, having heard it so many times on record and in concert. But looking at it objectively, it is a damn good tune. “Cinderella Man” is probably the best Rush song where the lyrics weren’t written by Neil. I’ve always dug the synth-heavy “Madrigal,” even though it sounds so ethereal it risks floating away into nothingness.
“Cygnus X-1″ ends AFTK on a rather disturbing note, and is my candidate for the heaviest Rush song ever. No matter how many times I hear it, the furious last few minutes never fail to raise my blood pressure. In summation, A Farewell to Kings finds Rush hitting on all cylinders, and it is positively glorious.
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