Friday, August 20, 2010

CD Odyssey Disc 169: Rush

Having just finished up one of the busiest work weeks I can remember, getting this next album was a nice Friday payoff.

Disc 169 is...A Farewell To Kings
Artist: Rush

Year of Release: 1977

What’s Up With The Cover?: A fool or jester sits mockingly on a throne (or at least a fancy chair) amidst some ruins. A 'Farewell to Kings' - get it? get it? The ground looks pretty rough around there, and that jester should get himself some better footwear - I don't think a pair of holey socks is gonna cut the mustard on a demolition site. He should also work on his posture.

How I Came To Know It: I've known about this album since it came out, but I didn't really know it until my room-mate Greg bought it in the early nineties. I bought it myself way back when the remaster was first issued in 1997 or maybe a year or two later.

How It Stacks Up: I have all eighteen of Rush' studio albums. "A Farewell To Kings" is a great record, but competition is steep. I'd say it is equal to my last Rush review, "Snakes and Arrows", meaning it is 8th or 9th depending on my mood.

Rating: 4 stars

"A Farewell To Kings" is solidly in the middle of Rush' seriously wack-a-do prog phase, coming right between "2112 and "Hemispheres". And by wack-a-do I mean, of course, awesome. Instead of a twenty minute track like on "2112" they've settled for two tracks of ten minutes plus, "Xanadu" (11:05) and "Cygnus X-1" (10:21). I'm sure radio stations were thrilled with the concession.

I am not a radio producer, however, I am a lover of seventies prog-rock, and I wholeheartedly endorse ridiculously long songs, as long as they are good and they keep my attention. Both the abovenoted tracks do so, particularly "Cygnus X-1".

The album feels like a concept album, but I'm not sure exactly what the concept is. The collapse of civilization is heavily noted throughout, and I imagine the last track, "Cygnus X-1" is humanity taking a space ship through a black hole to colonize a distant world and start again. At least that's what I took from it, but if I'm wrong I'm sure Kelly will correct the record.

Not content with having a single album resolve their themes, Rush's next album starts with "Cygnus X-1, Book II." A single album just couldn't cover it.

I think both long tracks are solid, but I also like the more radio friendly fare on "A Farewell to Kings" particularly the 5 star anthem "Closer To The Heart", a lyric from which I often quote (incorrectly) in my e-mail sign offs. Yes, yes - I'll get that fixed straight away. Here's the correct quote, and it is a message we should never forget:

"And the men who hold high places
Must be the ones who start
To mould a new reality
Closer to the Heart."

Neil Peart rules. However, he doesn't rule alone. I also like "Cinderella Man", another (sort-of) radio friendly track that follows it. The lyrics here are about an incredibly wealthy man who is deemed insane because he wants to use his wealth to help the less fortunate. Surprisingly, the lyrics this time are written by Geddy Lee. The song reminded me strongly of Kurt Vonnegut's book, "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater" which has virtually the same basic story. I wonder if Lee read the book and was inspired.

Incidentally, if you haven't read "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater" do so - it is my favourite Vonnegut novel. But I digress...

Of course, the musicianship on this album is typical for Rush - meaning it is at the highest level imaginable. These guys are masters of their craft at all times.

"A Farewell To Kings" is a classic album from the golden age of classic rock. If you don't have it, it's worth your time, along with the seven Rush albums I like better. What are those albums? Well long time readers will know one of them and as for the other six...they still await the roll of the dice.

Best tracks: Closer to the Heart, Cinderella Man, Cygnus X-1


Kelly said...

Uh yeah, that's a king on the throne there, not a jester (you can see his crown on the ground beside him).

I'm pretty sure this album isn't a concept album. There's no coherent theme connnecting all the tracks that I can see. Well, the title track uses the lyric "closer to the heart" in closing, and both the title track and "Closer to the Heart" are about effecting positive change in society, but other than that, all the tracks are pretty different.

The purpose of the spaceship in "Cygnus X-1" (named Rocinante, incidentally - the same as Don Quixote's horse) is exploration, not colonization. Cygnus X-1 is an actual astronomical entity, a powerful X-Ray source in the constellation of Cygnus discovered by a Candian scientist in the early 70s, and is believed to be one of the most likely canidates for a black hole.

"Xanadu", of course, is based on the poem "Kublai Khan" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and even borrows a couple of lines. This puts Rush in a farily exclusive club, along with Iron Maiden, of rock bands that have set Samuel Taylor Coleridge songs to music. "Xanadu" is also significant in that it is one of the few Rush songs that find Geddy playing rhythm guitar ("A Passage to Bangkok" is another). This meant that both Geddy and Alex would pull out double-necks to play Xanadu live. Sadly, only Alex pulls out the double-neck nowadays, and Geddy just sticks to his '79 Fender Jazz bass. Still, Rush stands as one of the few bands which can field more guitar necks than band members.

"Cinderella Man" is actually based on the film Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, not Kurt Vonnegut's book.

Ironically, Logan, the lyrics you so frequently quote from "Closer to the Heart" weren't written by Neil Peart. A guy named Mark Talbot wrote those first four lines. This puts it in company with "Tom Sawyer" as the only two Rush songs on which Neil collaborated with someone else on the lyrics (Pye Dubois, a former member of the Canadian band Max Webster, was the contributor on that one). Interestingly, these two songs are also by far Rush's biggest hits. I'm sure Mark and Pye are quite happy about that, as they probably make a pretty decent amount on royalties from those two songs alone.

Logan said...

I think you could argue that the crown is abandoned, and in the King's absence, the fool is sitting on the throne. That's how I saw it.

As for all the other stuff - I got nothin' - other than, Kelly really knows his Rush. I bow down unto the knowledge of the Master.


Anonymous said...

GW said... I thought you didn't respond to comments??