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A Farewell To Kings - 40th Anniversary Edition

Review by Greg Olma

In 1977, Rush were flying high with the success of their last studio release 2112.  That was a “make or break” record, and when fortune finally hit, it gave the band a sense that the direction they were heading was the right one.  While A Farewell To Kings didn’t contain a side long track made of different suites, it did still conform to the prog metal template they started on their two previous albums.   One of the new elements that the band brought in was a heavier use of synthesizers, which expanded their sound tremendously.  Also, I felt that the group was moving more into intricate compositions that showed off their musical prowess and songwriting capabilities.  Although Rush did release some singles prior to A Farewell To Kings, this record gave them their first legit hit with "Closer to the Heart," cementing this tune into their set list for decades to come.  I know a lot of Rush fans who would pick Moving Pictures as the shining star  in the Rush catalogue but for my money, A Farewell To Kings is a much better collection of tunes and showcased Rush at the height of their prog metal era.

This version to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the original release adds some material that is essential to any Rush collection.  Aside from the original disc, you get a full live show from the tour recorded at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1978.  While we were given part of this show on the Different Stages live record, this is the full concert, and being a mega fan, I want the full show in all releases.  And to round things off, we get some cover versions of A Farewell To Kings tracks done by other bands.  The extra two discs make this release and version essential.

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Track by Track Review
CD 1:
A Farewell To Kings
The album starts off very mellow with an acoustic guitar intro with keyboards slowly making their way in.  After the short intro, the bombastic nature of this title track kicks in and it remains a rocking piece for the rest of the song.  The music and the original cover artwork fit perfectly, and when listening to the tune, you can’t help but picture the cover in your mind.
If someone who has never heard the music of Rush were to ask me to recommend a song, this is the track I would say is the pinnacle of their prog metal era.  It starts off extremely mellow with almost nature sounds.  After a couple of minutes, guitars slowly fade in and, like a switch being turned on, the whole band join in in every way.  There are many twists and turns to the song based on a poem titled “Kubla Khan."  This track has been a fan favorite since and ushered in countless pictures of the guys sporting double neck guitars.
Closer To The Heart
Rush scored a bit of a hit with this radio-friendly rock tune.  It starts off with acoustic guitars again, but this time Geddy Lee’s vocals start before the rocking part of the track really kicks in.  At a little less than three-minutes, the song is over before you know it, but it gave them the radio play they needed.
Cinderella Man
This track was the second single released from A Farewell To Kings, but it really didn’t chart.  It does have that "hit single" song structure that Rush wasn’t really know for, but something just don’t resonate with audiences.  It is a good rock tune that has some prog elements, but the best part of the whole piece is the middle bridge with its funky bass and cool solo from Alex Lifeson.
There are a number of ballad-y track on Rush albums and like “Tears” from 2112 and “Different Strings” on Permanent Waves. This one is a very mellow song.  The music is very light and whimsical and Lee is almost crooning the lyrics.  It is a very short tune, and I would consider this one of the “deep cuts” in the Rush canon.
Cygnus X – 1
Closing out the record (and side two on the original vinyl), the band goes full on sci-fi prog metal.  It starts off with spacey sound effects, and musically it is probably some of the heaviest playing on the album.  Cygnus X-1 is  the name of the black hole that swallows a space ship called the "Rocinante."  This piece goes in many directions but still feels cohesive and is really a prog masterpiece.
CD 2:
Bastille Day

There is a brief intro of music playing and the band warming up (remember this was back in the 70s when concerts started like that) before Rush launch into this fast rocker that coincidently was their opener on the previous tour, as well.  From the Caress Of Steel album, this was some of the fastest and heaviest Rush material to that point.

Lakeside Park
Sticking with the Caress Of Steel record, the band play a slower more reminiscent piece about enjoying summers at the lake.  Neil Peart shines on this track with his inventive drum rolls and masterful lyrics.
By-Tor & The Snowdog
This is a shorter version than the one that appeared on All the World's A Stage but it still captures all the glory of this prog metal masterpiece.  I always felt the studio version was lacking a bit but when performed on stage with the additional rawness, the song really came alive.  There are a few sections to this piece, but they flow seamlessly unlike “2112” which really does sound like a collection of individual songs.
It is hard to believe that when this concert was performed, “Xanadu” was just another new song and not the classic showpiece that it later became.  I have never heard a bad recording of this track, but if I had to choose, this is the definitive version.  Many would argue that the one on Exit... Stage Left is the best take, but here there is a youthful energy and a rawness added to the majesty of this track.  When a song is performed for many years, the track loses some of its spontaneity. That freshness is present during this show.
A Farewell To Kings
I am so happy that this track was a part of their set list and a part of this release.  “A Farewell To Kings” is a forgotten gem from the same album, and they play it pretty close to the studio version.  It still contains the subtle acoustic guitar intro and the bombast of the original.
Something For Nothing
Lyrically and musically, this is one of my favorite moments from 2112.  It is great that rocker that follows a typical song structure but somehow still sounds like prog.
Cygnus X – 1
This one is played exactly like the studio version, which includes the whole spacey intro which probably helped give the band a little bit of a breather.  The science fiction nature of this track really struck a chord with my younger self, and musically it was heavy and menacing.
CD 3:

Going back to the Fly By Night album, this is similar to “Bastille Day” in that it is a heavier track that started the prog metal genre (at least in my young mind).  There is a frantic beginning that makes its way to a chorus that has a bit of swagger to it.  Peart’s drumming is stellar on this tune.

Closer To The Heart
This is their first legit “hit single,” and while I have heard it at least 5,000 times (that is not an exaggeration), it is still a good tune.  This version is slightly heavier with the bass really coming through strong in the mix.
The epic that is side one of 2112 is performed almost in its entirety.  I say "almost" because they omit suite V. "Oracle: The Dream," which wasn’t performed until the Test For Echo tour where they played the complete track.  On this version, Geddy Lee’s vocals show some signs of strain, and he doesn’t quite hit all the notes like he did on All the World's a Stage.  As with the previous track, this one pushes the bass up in the mix, giving the song a heavier feel.
Working Man
Medleys have been a staple in Rush shows starting on the 2112 tour, and this performance is no different.  “Working Man” is the start which flows right into the next two songs including the “Drum Solo."  I love the first record and its Led Zeppelin vibe, and “Working Man” was the star off that release.  It has that lumbering riff at the beginning that slowly gathers steam to culminate in a guitar workout from Alex Lifeson.
Fly By Night
This is a shortened version, but some added rawness and energy really makes these couple of minutes stand out.
In The Mood
Rush certainly turned into a different beast as the albums progressed, but this little ditty is from their debut.  It is a real rock and roll type of track, and while it’s very pedestrian compared to their latter material, it is still a fun song.
Drum Solo
Peart’s solos are songs and they are not to be missed either in person or on record.  This particular solo is very close to the one on All the World's a Stage, which is fine by me.  The band also end their regular set with this drum solo.
Cinderella Man
By this point, Rush  have played every song off of A Farewell To Kings except for “Cinderella Man” and “Madrigal,”  with the latter never being performed live.  This is an odd song to play for an encore because bands usually want to save a “hit” for that coveted space, but this was the 70s and the rules weren’t written yet.  This is one of those Rush tracks that follows in the traditional song structure with verses and choruses, but somehow the band elevate it slightly, giving it a prog sheen.
Xanadu – Dream Theater
I am not a huge fan of cover versions but I have to say that Dream Theater do justice to this epic.  It is performed flawlessly except that the vocals don’t sound like Lee’s.  James LaBrie does a great job on this difficult track, but I have heard the original so many times that the Dream Theater cover sounds “off,” and I can’t really get into it too much.  I’m sure I would have gone nuts if they performed it during one of the times I saw them live, but as a studio exercise, it just doesn’t work for me.
Closer To The Heart – Big Wreck
If you are looking for a metal version of “Closer To The Heart”, look no further.  Big Wreck do a good job of covering this hit and they change enough of it to make it their own.  Unlike the previous Dream Theater cover, which stayed true to the original, this version rocks harder than the Rush standard.
Cinderella Man – The Trews
This Canadian band is unknown to me but they do more than an admirable job of what I would consider a Rush deep cut.  I know that this was a single for Rush, but most people will not remember this song.  The Trews rock it out a little bit from the original but they stay close to the Rush version.  Vocally, again it sounds “off” because Lee has such a distinctive voice that you can’t even come close to copying it.
Madrigal – Alain Johannes
In my opinion, cover songs work best when you deviate enough from the original but still keep the main vibe of the tune.  Alain Johannes does just that with an obscure Rush tune.  It sounds so different, but when his vocals kick in, you totally recognize the song.  Of the covers on offer here, this is the only one I can see myself playing more than once.
Cygnus X - 2 EH
This is just the isolated space sounds from “Cygnus X – 1."  It's not really essential but I’m never going to complain about additional material on any Rush release.
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