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Rush

Chronicles

Review by Gary Hill

Compilations are always tricky business. No matter how you assemble them you’ll miss someone’s favorite number. Well, this was the first compilation of Rush music, and it really is still the best. Sure there are arguments for all of them – and an argument to just get the original discs and be done with it, but I’d have to say that if you are looking for a first introduction to the band you probably won’t do much better than this. Since I’ve already reviewed many of the tracks here in other CD reviews, I’ve used (or modified) the track reviews from those for the sake of consistency.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2009  Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Disc 1
Finding My Way

The Zeppelin influences of early Rush are all over this hard rocking number. It’s one of two on the set to feature original Rush drummer John Rutsey. This is a cool tune and has a few hints of what was to come in the band. Overall it’s a straightforward cruncher, though.

Working Man

This is the earliest track from the band that really got any recognition. If “Finding My Way” had a lot of Zeppelinisms, this one is even more so. It’s very heavy (especially by the standards of the time) and musically is a bit like Zep’s “Whole Lotta Love.” Lyrically this is a story of a typical “working man.” It’s got a killer extended jam in the center and Lee’s bass really gets a workout on it. We also get some extremely tasty guitar work from Alex Lifeson. This is also the last piece on show here featuring John Rutsey.

Fly By Night

The title track to Rush’s second album, this comes in as a somewhat lighter jam that still showcases a rather straight-ahead rock sound. If the chorus of this one wasn’t so catchy it would really be a throwaway piece.

Anthem

Fast and crunchy, this is a killer tune, with a theme that is derived from Ayn Rand’s philosophical views. An interesting side note is that Rand’s book by the same title is not the source of this, but instead serves as the story line for the epic “2112.” This song, though, drops back to a more stripped down mode for the vocal segment, but the instrumental sections are pure hard-edged early Rush masterpieces. This also includes a smoking guitar solo segment. In fact, it’s amazing how much they manage to pack into four and a half minutes.

Bastille Day

This telling of the story of the storming of the Bastille in the French Revolution was a Rush standard for many years. The cut is a stripped down, metallic number performed quite effectively.

Lakeside Park

A song about a place near Rush`s hometown of Toronto, this is a somewhat sedate piece that shows early elements of the prog nature that Rush was beginning to develop.

2112 Overture / The Temples Of Syrinx

On this compilation they’ve combined the first two sections of the 2112 epic into one track. On the original they were tracked as two individual pieces, but run together anyway, so it’s not a big change.  

The first segment, “Overture,” begins with spacey sounds of whooshing keys, which eventually give way to a crunchy melody. This segment goes through quite a few changes before ending to give way to the next movement. During those changes it shifts to a crunchy, oh so tasty riff and contains some of Alex Lifeson's most awesome guitar stylings. This ends with explosions and a gentle Geddy vocal of "and the meek shall inherit the Earth.” Screaming in, “The Temples Of Syrinx,” the first true verse of the epic introduces the villains (hiss) of the piece, the Priests of the Temples of Syrinx. This a strong cruncher.

What You're Doing
I’ve always loved the killer riff that drives this. This one is another that calls to mind Led Zeppelin quite a bit. It’s also a great tune, even if it’s pretty much straight ahead hard rock. While the original version of this featured John Rutsey, this one is a live recording with Neal Peart on board.
A Farewell To Kings

A killer acoustic guitar motif sets the stage for the introductory segments here. This is worked into a prog rock journey that’s pretty and potent. It shifts out to a hard edged jam that’s typical of Rush and yet fresh and new from anything they had done to this point. It’s a great song that fits quite well into the “progressive rock” moniker. That said, it’s probably a bit crunchier than many prog purists would like.

Closer To The Heart
This starts off similarly to the way that the previous number did. It never really moves into the majestic sort of powerhouse approach that made up the core of that piece, though. Instead it stays fairly closer to a ballad approach. They still manage to create plenty of progressive rock power and include some more anthemic treatments. This is another great tune and another fine showing of the band’s more prog rock oriented sound.
The Trees

Starting on acoustic guitar, the first verse is sung in this style. Birds come over top of the end of this verse, then a brief pause gives way to a more metallic reworking of the first verse's themes. They work this in several directions as the song carries forward. They it drops to a mellow segment dominated by keys and percussion. This moves to a gradual build up to a classic Rush jam. Lifeson gets in a very tasteful solo before the main themes return, the group jamming on and reinventing this for a time, then jumping back into the verse.

La Villa Strangiato
Starting with a mellow acoustic guitar solo, Lifeson shows off his ability to play flamenco before keyboards take it to begin a build up. Peart eventually joins, playing louder as it carries forward. Then the guitar tears in, and the band launch into a series of variation on a theme. This fast paced instrumental covers a lot of musical territory and each member of the group puts in an awe-inspiring performance. They drop it back, raise it up and overall continue to astound and explore an ever-expanding musical landscape. Lifeson puts in some very intriguing sounds on this one, and Peart is impeccable as always. This is another that is seamless and organic, while still incredibly dynamic. Seldom will you find a piece of music with as many moods and textures as this one. Geddy Lee throws in an awesome, but brief bass solo, too.
Freewill

This was one of the first tracks from the band to show off the more “pop” oriented direction that was to dominate the next portion of their career. We still get some classic “Rushisms” and the arrangement has its share of quirky sections, though. It’s one that holds up quite well. While it has a bit of that Hemispheres sound it’s perhaps closer to the musical textures that would make up the band’s next release – Moving Pictures. All members of the band get a chance to shine on this.

 

The Spirit Of Radio
With a scorching guitar line opening it up, this is a great track. It really does seem like it would have been quite at home on the previous disc Hemispheres – at least as one of the non-epic offerings. It still manages to be catchy and rather “pop,” though.
Disc 2
Tom Sawyer

For those who don’t really know Rush all that well, this is the one song that will come to mind when they here the name. It’s crunchy and catchy. It represents the more pop oriented sound of the band while still maintaining some of the edge and power that the earlier works had. While in some ways I really want to dislike this track, you just can’t. Overplayed and the start of the change away from the music I really loved, this still works incredibly well.

Red Barchetta
The science fiction oriented themes here are quite cool. The idea of taking a sports car out for a spin in a post combustion engine world, where cars are outlawed is somehow romantic and powerful. The track has a mainstream feel, but still reaches back quite well to the more prog oriented era of the group. It’s another that I think would have been quite at home on Hemispheres. This has quite a tasty instrumental section.
Limelight

Here’s another of the group’s hits. It’s another most people should have heard at one time or another. It’s perhaps the biggest sign of things to come in that it has less of that old-school Rush sound on it of all the Moving Pictures music. Still, it’s a pretty cool track nonetheless. The guitar solo section on this one is extremely tasty.


 

A Passage To Bangkok
This heavily drug influenced cut is a solid rocker that works well. What we have here is a live version of the piece and it’s quite strong.
Subdivisions

What Moving Pictures promised in terms of a more stripped back, keyboard dominated Rush sound is delivered here. There is a definite reggae feeling to this. It was the first huge sign to me that something was seriously wrong with the Rush that I had learned to love. That said, this is still a good song and I really love the processed “Subdivisions” part. Indeed, the whole chorus with the killer bass line is strong.

 

New World Man
If “Subdivisions” was a big sign, “New World Man” was a full on DefCon alert. This is a much more mellow and pop oriented texture. The reggae rhythms are all over this. Perhaps this track more closely resembles the music that would come next from the group than anything else on Signals. It’s an alright song, but really doesn’t hold up well in retrospective.
Distant Early Warning

A keyboard based intro has a science fiction like feel to it, They quickly shift things out to a rather reggae based stripped down sound for the verses. The bridge segment still has enough keyboards to keep it interesting. That keyboard arrangement and Geddy Lee’s vocals are the two things that really hold this track together. The chorus rocks out harder and works remarkably well. The instrumental segment on this ups the ante and the more powerful take on the song proper that follows it delivers.

Red Sector A
With the apocalyptical feeling the lyrics have this has somehow always felt to me like it was related to “Red Barchetta” to me. In many ways it feels musically related, too. I have to say that perhaps the lyrics here deal with the concentration camps of World War II. This cut is another highlight of the CD.
The Big Money

This was the first single from Rush’s Power Windows and for me it seemed to represent a tying together of their older, harder rocking sound with their more pop rock elements. It’s got a good bit of crunch to it and works fairly well, Still, there’s plenty of the more modern trappings, too. While I wouldn’t really think of it as close to the top of the Rush pool of music, it’s definitely a highlight for that period of the band. It’s got some killer funky bass work from Geddy Lee in places. Yes, I said “funky.”

 

Manhattan Project
While this song is firmly entrenched in the modern, more balladic commercial era of Rush – and seriously lives up to this element, it’s still a potent piece. That’s basically due to some cool keyboards and a strong song structure. We do get a few more rocking moments on the cut.
Force Ten

Another that rises above its origins, this track has a killer chorus and some intriguing instrumental elements. It’s very much a standard of the music Rush was producing at the time, but works quite well.

 

Time Stand Still
While the main concept isn’t all that different from the number that preceded it, this track just doesn’t work as well. The duet vocal element is a nice touch, though – and Geddy Lee does gives us some of his most emotional vocal work on record. This just doesn’t really hold up exceptionally well.
Mystic Rhythms

Here is the final live track from the set. This is based heavily on Neil Peart’s rhythmic elements, but isn’t that appropriate given the title of the track. I like this one a lot. In fact, I’d say it’s one of the strongest from the more modern era of the band.

Show Don't Tell
This is an energetic rocker that pretty well shows off the Rush trappings of the time period they were in. Its main focus is on the keyboard arrangement. That said everyone puts in some great performances. The chorus is catchy and we get some cool guitar during the bridge section.
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