Poll Shows Rush is No Nostalgia Act 40 Years Into Career
Rolling Stone’s latest Rush poll, which asks readers to name their Top 10 Rush albums, had a lot of the albums you’d expect, including 2112 and Moving Pictures. What’s interesting is the inclusion of Clockwork Angels, because it’s rare that a band or artist 40 years into a career is still creating music that is fresh and vital. For so many acts at this stage of their career, it’s all about yesterday, and for fans, the shows are trips down memory lane. Musically, the new stuff is quickly forgotten, certainly by the fans and maybe even by the artists
What was striking about last year’s Clockwork Angels tour is how the energy level soared in the audience when Rush turned to playing Clockwork Angels in the second half.
It goes against the laws of entropy to see that. When was the last time you went to see a band whose heyday was in the 1970s and 1980s and the stuff they had just written was as fresh and vital as the stuff they had written decades ago? Hats off to Alex, Geddy, and Neil for defying the laws of time by putting out compelling and relevant music for today and not resting on the creative energy of their youth.
In any case, the Rolling Stone list was interesting for another reason: Permanent Waves didn’t make the cut. There were about 35 people who commented on the poll results and by far the album most on their minds was Permanent Waves.
“How can Permanent Waves not be in the top ten?” asks a reader who goes by the handle Lerxst.
“No Permanent Waves?!? Who are these ‘readers’ anyway?” says Heli0tr0pe.
“What a baffling list! No ‘Permanent Waves’? Impossible,” says Cowtools.
And on and on. In all, about a third of the commenters questioned why that album wan’t included.
The ones that were included, in no particular order, along with Rolling Stone commentary, are below.—Rob Freedman, Rush Vault
A Farewell to Kings
Grace Under Pressure
Rush’s final album with producer Terry Brown was one of their biggest commercial successes: “New World Man” became the band’s first single to reach Number One on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart, and the LP itself would become their last Canadian chart-topper until 2012’s Clockwork Angels. And while the record may have been uncool at the time (Rolling Stone only gave it two stars), it was hard not to think of it when another Canadian band, Arcade Fire, received near unanimous critical praise for their 2010 LP The Suburbs, its portrayal of suburban alienation recalling that of Signals opener “Subdivisons.”
One doesn’t have to read an old interview with the band or any of the handful of books written about them to know that Rush were listening to plenty of Led Zeppelin when they recorded their debut. If Geddy Lee’s soaring vocals suggest Robert Plant, Alex Lifeson’s hard guitar riffs are pure Page. Neil Peart’s drumming, meanwhile, doesn’t appear until follow-up Fly by Night, as John Rutsey remained the band’s third member until some combination of diabetes and creative differences forced him out.
Five years in the making, Rush built upon the success of Snakes & Arrows with Clockwork Angels, an LP generally regarded by both critics and fans as the band’s best since Neil Peart’s late-Nineties sabbatical. If the trio’s once again frenetic arrangements distract – in a good way – from Peart’s steampunk sci-fi saga, go deeper with Kevin J. Anderson’s novelization, also available as an instrument-free audiobook. Wrote Jon Dolan in his Rolling Stone review: “Even the seven-minute tripartite title track burns rubber, and Neil Peart’s dragon-tailed paradiddles and Alex Lifeson’s helix solos make the koanic hokum of Peart’s lyrics feel like a sermon from the peak of Mount Nerd.”
Around the time Presto became the band’s fifth consecutive album unable to reach single digit placing on the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart, it seemed unlikely that their first stateside Number Two was still to come. Nevertheless, in 1993, two years after punk went mainstream, Rush returned with one of the heaviest albums of their career, lead single “Spit It Out” featuring some of Alex Lifeson’s grittiest guitar playing since the band’s 1974’s debut. Even Beavis and Butt-head had to admit that it sounded, in the words of the former, “pretty cool,” although neither could decide whether the man strapped to a chair in the song’s music video was more likely to be Lenny Kravitz or Jesus.
A Farewell to Kings
Rush’s first studio album after 2112’s breakthrough found the band juggling various aspects of their sound. “Xanadu” and “Cygnus X-1,” the beginning of a narrative that would be concluded on the first side of Hemispheres, were the long story songs, but “Closer to the Heart” and “Madrigal” were their first sub-three-minute recordings in years. And where “Xanadu,” for instance, saw Rush adding the synthesizers that over the next few years they would use more and more, other tracks featured instruments as analog as bells, acoustic guitar and wind chimes.
Grace Under Pressure
No track on Grace Under Pressure tops six minutes, but the record’s Cold War-era vision of persecution and nuclear fallout was as haunting and dystopian as any of the side-length sci-fi epics that appeared on earlier albums. Produced with Peter Henderson, who had previously worked with Paul McCartney and Supertramp, the record’s sound went in the other direction, warming up with more of the reggae and funk influences that had begun to creep into Signals two years earlier. More synths, too: With “Kid Gloves” providing a notable exception, Alex Lifeson’s guitar here began to share space with Geddy’s keys.
With Fly by Night and Caress of Steel selling less than expected, Mercury Records pushed Rush to make their fourth LP their most commercial. The resulting album may not have been pop in the sense that it opens with a 20-minute suite referencing obscure Greek gods and telling a story resembling that of a dystopian Ayn Rand novel, but it was popular in the sense that it became band’s first album to go platinum multiple times over. In the Rolling Stone review of the recent deluxe reissue, Rob Sheffield called 2112 Rush’s “most extreme, grandiose and Rush-like record, and thus their greatest.”
Whether you’re looking to hear the story of the atomic bomb, a metaphoric account of running a marathon, a “Subdivisions”-like recollection of suburban malaise, an account of pop music’s superficiality or just some good old fashioned shredding, Power Windows has a track for you. Suggesting that the record “may well be the missing link between Yes and the Sex Pistols,” David Fricke, in his 1986 Rolling Stone review, wrote that the band had here “tightened up their sidelong suites and rhythmic abstractions into balled-up song fists, art-pop blasts of angular, slashing guitar, spatial keyboards and hyperpercussion, all resolved with forthright melodic sense.”
Rush have released 20 albums, but none introduced itself with lead and second singles better than “Tom Sawyer” and “Limelight,” both of which not only remain in rotation at classic rock stations across the country but also continue to appear in films as recent as Fanboys, Adventureland , and of course, I Love You, Man. “YYZ,” meanwhile, earned the trio the first of their seven Grammy nominations, this one for Best Rock Instrumental Performance. Perhaps this was the record those Mercury executives had in mind when they asked the band to release something more commercial.
Like 2112, Hemispheres opens with a side-length mini opera, this one continuing A Farewell to Kings’ story of black hole Cygnus X-1 and the explorer who dares enter it. A pair of shorter tracks lead off Side Two before the album closes with nine-and-a-half minute instrumental, “La Villa Strangiato,” which proved that the band could tell a story even without Neil Peart’s lyrics and Geddy Lee’s vocals. Upon its release, Rolling Stone gave the record a mixed review, writing that “these guys have the chops and drive to break out of the largely artificial bounds of the format, and they constantly threaten to do so but never quite manage.”