Wednesday, January 10, 2018

CD Odyssey Disc 1090: Rush

I’ve gone with a couple obvious New Year’s resolutions this year: work out more and read more books. I read 33 books last year, so that’s on track but I seriously need to hit the gym more often than I did in 2017.

Disc 1090 is…Moving Pictures
Artist: Rush

Year of Release: 1981

What’s up with the Cover? A bunch of guys move pictures – get it? Here we have the very emotional scenes of Joan of Arc being burned at the stake and some dogs playing poker. You decide which one moves you more. I would be a lot more moved by cats playing poker but that would never happen, because any cat whose stack got low would throw the rules to the wind and shiv the chip leader. Cats are like that.

How I Came To Know It: This is one of those seminal albums that has always been a part of my life. I’ve known this album so long I can’t remember where I first heard it, although it’s likely my brother bought it first back when it came out.

How It Stacks Up:  I have 19 Rush albums. Of those I put “Moving Pictures” in at the hallowed spot of #1. Gold! Sorry, 2112 apologists!

Ratings: 5 stars

On “Moving Pictures” Rush hits on all cylinders, coalescing rock riffs from their early albums, add in the progressive complexity of their mid to late seventies stuff, and hinting at the synth sounds that would shortly follow. Not only do they successful pull it off, they make one of rock and roll’s finest albums in the process.

The record starts with “Tom Sawyer” a churning rock anthem blended with an almost New Wave synth undercurrent. It would become arguably their biggest hit – this is Rush’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper”, their “Werewolves of London” – the song that would catapult them full force into the mainstream consciousness and enrage purists who want radio stations to play something else once in a while. According to Wikipedia “Limelight” was a bigger hit (more on that song later) but for me, when you ask a casual Rush fan to name a song they tend to go with “Tom Sawyer.” There is a lot to like about it, too, but on an album like “Moving Pictures” it is just one of many great songs.

Every song on this album speaks to me in a different way, sometimes musically, sometimes through the lyrics and usually a lot of both. Rush are masters at crafting music to evoke complex emotions and concepts, and drummer/lyricist Neal Peart is equally masterful at providing words that match that level of excellence.

Red Barchetta” is a near-future song about the thrill of driving a muscle car in an era where they are outlawed. It tells the story of a young man visiting his uncle, taking the “red barchetta” out for a spin (basically a two-seater open performance car) and leading local authorities on a merry car chase (cars being outlawed since the “motor laws”). The song lifts you through every emotion – the pastoral beauty of the uncle’s rural property, the wild exhilaration of the race, and the eventual return of the car back to its hidden lair.

Every time I take “Moving Pictures” for a drive, “Red Barchetta” has a new set of memories for me. Ten years ago I did a CD Odyssey (which was a lot quicker, because I had a lot fewer albums and didn’t review them). I called my friend and Rush-devotee Kelly from my car to share the moment “Red Barchetta” came on. Last year I had an engaging discussion with indie rocker Trapper Schoepp after a concert about this song and a similarly-themed song that he wrote called "Run, Engine Run". I’ve also been on the look for a dream classic car for about 18 months now. Walking home listening to “Red Barchetta” made me want the search completed so bad it hurt.

The next song, “YYZ” is a lyric-free musical homage to Toronto International Airport. I challenge you to listen to the frenetic, triumphant stop-and-go excitement of this song and not think about a busy airport.

The best song on the record is “Limelight.” I cannot hear this song and not exclaim to someone nearby that it is the “most honest song ever written about the relationship between a band and their fans.” Peart is famously introverted and routinely shies away from the trappings of fame. “Limelight” is his opus to the complex relationship he has with the fans, the music, himself and how it all interacts. He admits that he “can’t pretend a stranger is a long awaited friend” and that “one must put up barriers to keep himself intact” but even amid the hell that Sartre called “other people”, Peart digs deeper and finds a fundamental connection that he can call real. In his words:

“Those who wish to be
Must put aside the alienation
Get on with the fascination
The real relation
The underlying theme.”

There in the music – and nowhere else – there is a real connection. The melody alternates between triumph, wistfulness and a hint of otherworldly guitar solo that borders on the mystical. It also features some of the greatest drum work in the history of rock and roll by a clearly inspired Neal Peart.

The album ends with “Vital Signs,” a song full of complex musical concepts and big words used correctly, mixed with explorations of psychology, philosophy and the complexities of human interaction. This is Rush demonstrating their proggy-brilliance. Best line:

“Everybody got mixed feelings
About the function and the form
Everybody got to elevate
From the norm.”

On “Moving Pictures” Rush doesn’t just elevate us from the norm, they lift their listeners along with them in a complex compelling way that is respectful, thoughtful and powerful as hell.

Best tracks: All tracks, but particularly Red Barchetta, Limelight, Witch Hunt and Vital Signs

1 comment:

Gord Webster said...

I still have not gotten over you putting Hold Your Fire above 2112. :-)

Personally I'd put this one at #2. Certainly the most radio friendly one.