Rush- 2112 (1976): 3 February 2020

Rush – 2112 (1976)

Welcome back to Your Dad’s Car Stereo. I’ve been saving this week’s album for a while now, unsure of when the best time to review it would be. With the recent passing of Rush drummer and lyricist Neil Peart, I can’t think of a better way to pay tribute to him as a person, his artistic contributions, or the band than to review their seminal work, 2112. Written at a low point for the band after the commercial flop that was Caress of Steel, Rush doubled down on creating the kind of music that they wanted to make, knowing that their fourth album may be their last if sales didn’t pick up. The resulting album ended up featuring a 20-minute long masterpiece of Ayn Rand-inspired, collectivist lyrics known simply as “2112.” 2112 was massive success and enabled the band to release more albums, like their most popular release Moving Pictures, and experimenting with just how far you can push rock through the 80s with the heavy incorporation of synthesizers.

2112 is my favorite album, hand down, no exceptions. This album was released during the peak of what we now define as classic rock and incorporates the best elements of albums leading up to this point. The traditional blues rock-inspired classic rock sound was well-established by 1976 and 2112 was Rush’s first earnest attempt to expand on what we can call rock music by incorporating classical and Asian influences, literary lyrics, and playing around with basic strong construction. Songs like “The Necromancer” from Caress of Steel and “By Tor and the Snow Dog” from Fly By Night were some of the band’s earlier attempts at grandiose stories, but everything came into full view on this album. By this point, the band had established their sound and I really appreciate their confidence to release an album this ambitious after the sales issues with Caress of Steel. I think that speaks multitudes about them as artists, their musical abilities, and knowing their audience. 2112 has gone down as one of the most influential albums in the development of prog rock and could be considered the peak of prog. Please enjoy this masterpiece of rock music.

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

2112: Overture/The Temples Of Syrinx/Discovery/Presentation/Oracle/Soliloquy/Grand Finale-Medley: “2112” is probably the best classic rock track ever written. It’s hard to know where to start with a 10-minute song like this so let’s start with influences. Lyrically, the song is inspired by the works of Ayn Rand, particularly Atlas Shrugged and Anthem. Neil Peart was always reading and during this period he was particularly focused on the idea of collectivism. Musically, this song pulls influences from across the musical spectrum, sampling William Tell’s 1812 Overture, art rock, and more traditional blues rock with frequent time signature, tempo, and thematic changes. Lyrically, the song tells the story of a man living a in an oppressive society where all knowledge is held by the Priests of the Temple of Syrinx in their vast libraries. When the main character finds a guitar in a cave (new knowledge), the priests deride him and fear the fact that others may find out that the seemingly all-knowing priests are just that, seemingly all-knowing. The song finishes with a planetary invasion by the Solar Federation. This ending is a poignant way to end a song that focuses largely on who has control in a society, the people or the people that govern them, by twisting that and showing that neither of them were really in control in the first place. There’s so much to love about “2112” and I find something new to like every time I listen to it, and I’ve probably listened to it more than a hundred times now. For me, it doesn’t get better than this. Dad’s Rating 10/10

A Passage To Bangkok: I always thought it was hard to stand up to a song like “2112” and be the song to follow it up, but “A Passage To Bangkok” is about as good as you’re going to be able to do. On any other album this might be one of the best songs on the album too! It’s a great classic rocker. The intro with the stereotypical Asian chord progression has aged a little poorly in my opinion, but after a gigantic song like “2112,” what better to do than to follow it up with a song filled with drug innuendo. This is a substantially lighter-toned song than the one that precedes it, but that helps in my opinion. If every song were as thought-provoking as “2112” then the album would have been really heavy. Dad’s Rating 7/10

The Twilight Zone: The opening to “The Twilight Zone” is one of my favorite openings to a song as Lifeson adds depth by increasing the size of the chords. The guitar work stands out the most on this track. It’s iconic and ever-changing. Initially you think this will be a hard rocker with the intro being as powerful as it is, but then the band surprises you with soft vocals and guitar through the chorus to turn this into a howling power ballad. Dad’s Rating 8/10

Lessons: “Lessons” is just a solid rock song. Of course it has typical cryptic Rush lyrics, but the highlights on this song are Lee’s vocal performance and Lifeson’s guitar performance. I think “Lessons” gets overlooked with everything else going on with this record, but Lee manages to deliver an incredible vocal performance that ranges from restrained to wailing and Lifeson creates a superb shred on the axe. This one’s more of a hidden gem and definitely worth checking out if you normally just listen to 2112 for the title track. Dad’s Rating 6/10

Tears: “Tears” is the only proper ballad on 2112. Oftentimes a band will choose to do a power ballad to keep the energy up but still create a ‘down tempo feeling.’ Rush knew that this was a high-energy album and they needed to actually cool things off, and the decision to include a proper ballad to do that was the right decision in my mind. I’ve often commented on how ballads have a tendency to bore me, but there’s something about Lee’s voice that is so hypnotizing that it keeps you listening and hanging on to each word.  Dad’s Rating 6/10

Something For Nothing: The transition between “Tears” and “Something For Nothing” is really smooth, and listening to them back-to-back, you wouldn’t even realize that they’re two different songs. It’s also a really strong finish to the album. The sound of “Something For Nothing” is very consistent with that of “2112” and helps to tie the album together. In a way, it feels like ‘2112 Pt. 2,’ and that’s why I like it so much. As a whole, the album has lots of musical influences, but coming finishing with a song that sound like this feels like re-centering. Dad’s Rating 7/10

The opinion above is protected under the Fair Use provision of United States Copyright Law, 17 U.S.C §107 which allows for the fair use of a copyrighted work for criticism without infringement on the copyright.

Rush- Caress of Steel (1975): 16 December 2019

Rush – Caress of Steel (1975)

Welcome back to YDCS! This week I have an album from my favorite band on deck, Rush! Caress of Steel was the band’s third studio album. Critically and commercially, this was the band’s least successful album, but I actually think there’s a lot to like about this record. First, there’s actually a few songs like “Bastille Day” and “The Necromancer” that are solid tracks and were staples of the band during their touring days, even on later tours. Second, the juxtaposition between goofy tracks like “I Think I’m Going Bald” and over-pretentious tracks like “The Fountain of Lamneth” shows me that the band were still learning. Third, this is the most progressive album that the band produced to date, so there was a lot of growing into their new progressive sound to be done. The first time we heard inklings of this was on their previous release with the fantasy elements in “By Tor and Snow Dog,” but they started to really push boundaries with longer format tracks like “The Necromancer” and the side-long song “The Fountain of Lamneth” (their first of three full side-long songs, the others being “2112” and “Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres”).

Caress of Steel was almost the final nail in the coffin for the band. Fly By Night initially undersold and Caress of Steel continued that theme. They had one more chance on their next album and Rush doubled down on the prog rock sound creating one of the seminal works of the genre, 2112. After that, the rest was history. I don’t think we would have been able to experience 2112 without the experimentation of Caress of Steel. It’s one of my favorite albums by the band because of its rawness and because you can really see where the band was going to be in the future. Enjoy the album!

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

Bastille Day: “Bastille Day” is a rocking way to start an album, and no other band would be able to pull off a rock song about the French Revolution! There’s really not much to say about this song. Do you like great rock songs with stratospheric vocals and expert musicianship? Do you like lyrics about historical events and the use of the guillotine to bring down the bourgeoisie? If so, this is the song for you! Dad’s Rating 8/10

I Think I’m Going Bald: We started on such a high note and now we have what is arguably one of the worst songs in Rush’s collection “I Think I’m Going Bald.” I see what they were trying to go for. They tried making a statement on ageing and how getting old isn’t the end of the world but they were so off the mark with it. It’s really a shame that the lyrics let this one down because the instrumentals are pretty good! Every time this song comes on though, I shake my head a little bit and sigh. Dad’s Rating 4/10

Lakeside Park: We got a recovery from “I Think I’m Going Bald” with “Lakeside Park.” This is a good song and gives the band a chance to show off their softer side. What interests me on this song is that the band had to run multiple tracks and splice them together to get the full sound. Remember, there’s only the three band members attributed to this song, but during the chorus you can hear drums, bass, a lead electric guitar, and a backing acoustic. I know that they’re all multi-instrumentalists, but two guitars at the same seems to be a little too much to handle. This is a good softer rock song to calm you down before launching into some more progressive elements. Dad’s Rating 6/10

The Necromancer: “The Necromancer” is a rocking track that features some of the best of ‘Old Rush’ and ‘New Rush.’ The solos are straight out of their self-titled debut, but they manage to tie it together with the same guitar riff from “Bastille Day” and some prog elements with the over-tracked vocals leading into different sections of the song. This is one of those tracks where you can see the struggle between old and new play out most clearly. It’s a 12-minute long song featuring fantasy lyrics but with a decidedly harder sound than they would come to put with those lyrics in the future. It’s a great mashup of a song. Lifeson’s guitar skills are on display front and center on this track and somebody needs to arrest Lee during the instrumental because he lit up that guitar! Make sure to check out this oddity of a track from Rush’s deeper cuts. Dad’s Rating 9/10

The Fountain of Lamneth: “The Fountain of Lamneth.” Rush fans either love or hate this track, there’s really not a lot of indifference towards it. This stems from the fact that the lyrics are ‘pretentious,’ but the music is what fans think about when they think about classic Rush. Fortunately, I’m more of a music than lyrics kind of guy, so I fall on the favorable side of the fence. I’ll admit, the lyrics are overdone, but the instrumental portion is the Rush that I love. It’s ever-changing, interesting to listen to, shows a high degree of musicianship, and above all else, it’s progressive. Peart has a banging solo at the four-minute mark that may have been the inspiration for his longer solos on tour. Fun fact, during the first few minutes of the song you can actually hear a guitar riff that would be re-used at the end of “2112” to launch the second round of solos after the main character is disgraced for finding the guitar and showing it to the High Priests. “The Fountain of Lamneth” has areas where it comes up short, but it was the band’s first attempt at a 20-minute long song and ended up being a great launching ground for their next one. Top notch stuff. Dad’s Rating 8/10

The opinion above is protected under the Fair Use provision of United States Copyright Law, 17 U.S.C §107 which allows for the fair use of a copyrighted work for criticism without infringement on the copyright.

Rush- Moving Pictures (1981): 20 May 2019

Rush – Moving Pictures (1981)

Welcome back to Your Dad’s Car Stereo where we’re returning to one of my favorite bands this week, Rush. Before we get into the review, stay tuned for Led Zeppelin Month in June where I’m covering Led Zeppelin I-IV back-to-back-to-back-to-back. Listen along and let me know what you think as we cover a legendary series of albums. I’m also working on a couple of specials and longform albums right now, so if you’re interested in lists of favorite and least favorite albums, tracks, then stay tuned!

Moving Pictures is the eighth album from the Canadian trio and, to this day, is the band’s best-selling album. The record solidifies a shift in the band’s sound that was first heard on their previous album, Permanent Waves, towards a more radio-friendly sound with shorter songs and fewer abstract lyrics and instruments. Along with a radio-friendly sound, the instrumentation the band used started changing on this album too; increasing their reliance on the trendy synthesizers and moving away from the three-piece they were known for before this. This marked change would continue for the next decade until the band got back to their roots on 1993’s Counterparts. With all of this, Moving Pictures is often my go-to album when introducing people to Rush before bombarding them with long-form concept albums like 2112 or the Hemispheres series. Moving Pictures features some of Rush’s most popular songs like “Tom Sawyer,” “YYZ” (Pronounced why-why-zed), and “Limelight.” This is a top-notch album from a top-notch band, and I hope you enjoy it!

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

Tom Sawyer: When someone mentions Rush, this is probably the first song that comes to mind because of its commercial success. “Tom Sawyer” really brings together everything that the band has been up to this album, a hard rocking trio, and melds it with what they’re going to become for the next decade, a more synth-driven band influenced by the New Wave movement out of England. The trio is so in-sync on this track and the instrumentation is flawless. Highlights are Neil Peart’s mega-colossal drum fill during the bridge that gets the whole crowd air drumming in concerts and Lifeson’s shredding guitar solo about halfway through the song. Dad’s Rating 10/10

Red Barchetta: A song about a sports car, yeah you might have heard it before, but have you ever heard it done this well before? “Red Barchetta” is a perfect example of how the lyrics and the music can combine to create a true experience for the listener. The idea is that the song is a story about a time where someone can only drive certain types of cars, the Red Barchetta not being one of them, and the main character racing cars that are trying to chase him. The song builds up to that race from the beginning that starts as a ballad before ending with that same soft beginning. Dad’s Rating 8/10

YYZ: “YYZ” is one of the best instrumental rock pieces ever written. I could end this track there but I’ll continue. Taken from the airport code for Rush’s hometown of Toronto, the first thing you notice is that the intro doesn’t sound normal, and that’s because it’s in an unusual time signature, 10/8. We don’t talk much about music theory on this blog, but the idea is that the top number represents how many beats are in a measure of music and the bottom number represents what type of note receives a full beat (in this case an eighth note is worth one beat, so 10 eighth notes can fill a measure, as can 5 quarter notes, 20 sixteenth notes, etc.). For reference, most songs you hear on the radio are written in 4/4 time. The reason the intro was written was like that was actually so that the notes repeat “Y-Y-Z” in Morse Code! Now for the rest of the song, it’s an absolute masterpiece of guitars, drum work, and appropriate melding of synthesizers to give the track an otherworldly feeling. Dad’s Rating 9/10

Limelight: Who would have thought that a song about the tribulations of fame would end up becoming a massive hit? The band really should have expected that considering their luck with statement pieces. For reference, “The Spirit of Radio” on their previous album was a critique of radio culture and was their biggest hit up to that point. Peart was the primary author on this song and it speaks mostly to his troubles coping with newfound fame. This track embodies everything that makes Rush, Rush. There are classic literary references in the lyrics, what I think is some of Geddy’s best vocal work, and masterful mélange between the instruments. The band is incredibly in sync on this song and I think it shines through. Dad’s Rating 8/10

The Camera Eye: Remember what I said about this album being more radio friendly and shortening the average track length? Well the band couldn’t give it up entirely and we end up with this 10:59 long piece. Much of the song is instrumental and we don’t get any lyrics until almost four minutes into the song. “The Camera Eye” isn’t my favorite Rush song and my biggest issue with it is the organization. I love the music and the instrumentation is dynamic, shifting sounds seamlessly between the verses and the solos, but I feel like this song wants to be one of the big stories in their repertoire and just never got there. If you look at a 2112”or a “Hemispheres”, those tracks tell definable stories that are enhanced by the music. “The Camera Eye” relies too much on the music to make an impact and not on its story, and I think that’s a detriment to the song. Dad’s Rating 5/10

Witch Hunt: I really like “Witch Hunt!” This is one of the songs in the back catalog that gets forgotten about a lot, mostly because it’s sandwiched between “Limelight” and “Vital Signs” on an album with more fantastic songs. This is a great deep cut though, that has an interesting mix between the old rock sound of the band and the emerging New Wave sound, starting with the former and shifting to the latter. The guitar stands out to me on this track, particularly because it sounds a lot like what the band ended up evolving into after the New Wave sound, kind of as a little teaser of what’s coming. Dad’s Rating 7/10

Vital Signs: “Vital Signs” is just a fantastic all-round rock track. The song has a poppier sound to it, not in a Top 40 way, but in a staccato way. Although it’s not the case, it almost sounds like Lee’s vocals are the cause for this during the chorus, but if you listen closely, his vocals are smooth. Credit really goes to Lifeson and Peart for altering the way we perceive the vocals. This is another one of those back-catalog songs that gets pulled out and is really good, it just never got the traction of some of the other songs on the album. Despite that, give it a listen and see what you think! Dad’s Rating 7/10

The opinion above is protected under the Fair Use provision of United States Copyright Law, 17 U.S.C §107 which allows for the fair use of a copyrighted work for criticism without infringement on the copyright.

Rush- Rush (1974): 25 February 2019

Rush – Rush (1974)

Rush over to whatever you use to play your music, because this week we’re going to take a look at the first entry in my favorite band’s discography, the self-titled debut, Rush. Formed in Toronto in the early 1970s, Rush was one of the leaders of the progressive rock genre and became well known for their epic, extended length songs, lyrics rooted in classic literature, and musicianship. Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart have all been recognized many times over for their mastery of their respective instruments; bass, lead guitar, and drums. The lineup of the band has only changed once, and it was after this album. John Rutsey was the first drummer for the band and was replaced with Peart due to his inability to sustain the grueling tour schedule that Lee and Lifeson wanted to continue with.

This first entry is arguably Rush trying to find their sound. Listening to the album you’ll hear strong influences from Led Zeppelin in the sound and fewer esoteric literary references in the lyrics. On their second album, Fly By Night, the band really finds their own sound and starts exploring story telling in their lyrics. By the time they reached their fourth album (and one of the most important albums in rock history), 2112, they had become leaders in the progressive rock genre, incorporating unusual time signatures and borrowing heavily from science fiction, dystopian, and collectivist literature to critique in their music. This first album is very similar to a Led Zeppelin I or more recently Anthem of the Peaceful Army by Greta Van Fleet. Both of those albums are from young bands that are borrowing heavily from their source material, and in the case of Greta Van Fleet, I believe that in time that they will take their source material and create their own path from it. This album is a rocker full of shredding guitar solos from Lifeson that were never as numerous as they were here, and it produced a hit single for the band, Working Man. Enjoy the album!

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

Finding My Way: What a way to open the album! Rush wanted to make an impactful start and they accomplished that. This is just pure early 1970s rock. The swell in the beginning towards the first verse is really impactful. The guitar riff that carries the song gets stuck in my head every time I listen to this song and solo before the final verse definitely rocks hard. This only gets a 9 because there’s other songs that hold up better than this song. Finding My Way never had the staying power of Working Man, but it definitely rocked! Let this help you find your way through Rush’s discography! Dad’s Rating 9/10

Need Some Love: Need Some Love is the shortest track on the album, but that doesn’t diminish its excellence at all. Dynamically, this song is less impressive than Finding My Way, and the instrumentals are less complex than on the former track too. This song actually reminds me of some of AC/DC’s work at the time, both were producing similar styles of hard rock before Rush moved in a different direction to produce more experimental music. Not much more to be said other than this is another rocking Rush track! Dad’s Rating 8/10

Take A Friend: This is what would become the “Rush sound” all the way through their album Caress of Steel. Because this is what I would describe as the origin “Rush sound,” it’s not as polished as some of their later work and doesn’t hold up when you look at it in that light. The crescendo at the beginning of the song is where it all starts, that particular mix with an even amount of Geddy’s bass and Alex’s lead guitar working together with support from John on drums can be heard on albums for the next 15 years of Rush releases. On the rest of the song, Alex’s guitar is too turned up and it sounds like they’re just playing their own instruments and not a cohesive act like we hear later. Now, having said all of that, this is still a fantastic song, and it’s one of those deep cuts that never gets played on classic rock radio. Share this with a friend and give it a listen! Dad’s Rating 8/10

Here Again: I would call this a power ballad before power ballads had a name. After speeding through the first three tracks, this song is a welcome break. The slowed tempo actually allows the band’s musicianship to shine through. Geddy sounds much more restrained and passionate in his singing here than on any other track on the album. This is also the longest track on the album, which to make a slow song the longest song is a bold move. Fortunately, the song doesn’t drag at all; it’s dynamic in the way it develops from a soft start towards the emotional, two-minute long guitar solo at around the halfway mark. This is one of the longest Alex Lifeson solos in Rush’s discography and he made sure to not waste it. Its passion and musical complexity make it worth more than one listen. Dad’s Rating 9/10

What You’re Doing: Led Zeppelin’s influence on Rush comes through strongly on What You’re Doing. It’s probably the least interesting song on the album. There’s nothing to make it stand out from the earlier songs that are more musically complex and rock harder. There’s also no hint of the developing “Rush sound,” which places this song as one of the ones lost in the early discography. One of the saving graces is John Rutsey’s drum rolls during Alex’s solo. Neil Peart was more restrained on their later albums and I can’t recall a song where he did anything similar. That uniqueness of Rutsey gives the song a little more sticking power. Dad’s Rating 7/10

In The Mood: This song shows another hint of the developing “Rush sound.” Compare this song to, what is arguably one of the worst Rush songs, I’m Going Bald from the band’s third album and you’;ll hear how the band shifted towards a more vocal forward sound and guitar to support the vocals. That’s a stark difference to what we hear on most of this album where many songs are guitar forward. This song put me in the mood to give it a 7/10, not because it’s a great song, but because we can hear the band’s potential.  Dad’s Rating 7/10

Before and After: “This is only the second slower tempo song on the album and it’s a welcome break from the frenetic energy that we’ve experienced up until now,” is what I’m sure you’re thinking. Just wait. Rush is always full of surprises and this song is the earliest example of the band experimenting with their music. The transition between the down-tempo and up-tempo parts of the song is really smooth and it builds into a song with great energy and fantastic instrumentation from all the members. Rutsey’s drum work on this song is particularly good and Lifeson’s dual solos are both memorable. Don’t let this one fool you, there’s definitely a before and after part of this song. I think you’ll find them pretty quickly too! Dad’s Rating 8/10

Working Man: When you hear the opening chords to Working Man there’s no mistaking what song it is. This was Rush’s first hit single and the one that let the band grow. Initially the song was played on the radio in Cleveland, Ohio, and every time it played, the radio station received calls asking where people can buy the new Led Zeppelin album. The song resonated strongly in Cleveland at the time because the city was still a mostly working class, factory city. Now to the song itself, the instrumentation is par none. Lifeson shreds in his solo on this album and the band is one complete unit throughout the song. We even hear hints of the “Rush sound” after the guitar solos where the lead and bass guitars are supporting each other by playing the same riffs. We’ll hear the on more Rush track like Tom Sawyer and YYZ. I can’t say enough good things about this legendary classic rock track. This is the perfect way to closeout a debut album and leave people wanting more. This song is one of the few thus far to receive a “They Don’t Make Songs Like This Anymore Award” for a 10/10 rating. Well played lads. Dad’s Rating 10/10

The opinion above is protected under the Fair Use provision of United States Copyright Law, 17 U.S.C §107 which allows for the fair use of a copyrighted work for criticism without infringement on the copyright.