Rush’s Clockwork Angels (It Can Get None More Prog!)

rush-clockwork-angels
Rush’s 19th Studio Album.  Six years old today.  Art by Hugh Syme.

Today is the sixth anniversary of the release of the final Rush studio album, CLOCKWORK ANGELS.  It can get “nun more” prog.  

[This piece is dedicated to my great and brave friend, Steve Horwitz, fellow Rush-ian]

Rush’s nineteenth studio album, Clockwork Angels, came out on June 12, 2012.  It was the first album to be distributed by heavy-metal label, Roadrunner, and the second to be produced by Nick Raskulinecz.  As mentioned at this beginning of this book, the story of Clockwork Angelsis such an artistic success—as a story, a concert, a novel, a sequel to the novel, a graphic novel, an audio book, and a series of comic books—that it really overshadows not only the actual album but much of Rush’s other art.  It is, of course, the culmination of forty years of care, of love, and of purpose.  However much the Clockwork universe has dwarfed the album itself, it is very much worth considering the original source material.

Clockwork Angelscame out a full six years after Snakes and Arrows, a break between albums even greater than that between Test for Echoand Vapor Trails.  Still, few worried as hints came out frequently about the forthcoming Rush album during that time, and Rush even released versions of the two opening songs as singles, performing them on the Time Machine Tourof 2011.  As few would disagree, the wait for the final product was well worth it.  While Moving Pictures—because of its time and place in history—might always remain the iconic Rush album, Clockwork Angelsis arguably the best, cohesive piece of art the band has ever made. It reveals a maturity in lyrics and music understandably absent in the first few Rush albums, but it also possesses every explosion of energy those albums expressed.

Continue reading “Rush’s Clockwork Angels (It Can Get None More Prog!)”

Rush’s GRACE UNDER PRESSURE at 34

rush gup
Arrival: April 12, 1984

My favorite Rush album has been, at least going back to April 1984, Grace Under Pressure.  I realize that among Rush fans and among prog fans, this might serve as a contentious choice.  My praise of GUP is not in any way meant to denigrate any other Rush albums.  Frankly, I love them all.  Rush has offered us an outrageous wealth of blessings, and I won’t even pretend objectivity.

I love Rush.  I love Grace Under Pressure.

I still remember opening Grace Under Pressure for the first time.  Gently knifing the cellophane so as not to crease the cardboard, slowly pulling out the vinyl wrapped in a paper sleeve, the hues of gray, pink, blue, and granite and that egg caught in a vicegrip, the distinctive smell of a brand new album. . . . the crackle as the needle hit . . . .

I was sixteen.

Continue reading “Rush’s GRACE UNDER PRESSURE at 34”

SIGNALS (1982): A Song Cycle by Rush

signals
Rush, SIGNALS, 1982.  A New Wave-Prog Song Cycle.

The last album produced by the then fourth-member of Rush, Terry Brown, Signals (September 9, 1982) marked yet again a major progression in the music of Rush as well as in the lyrics of Neil Peart.  The pressure to produce something similar to the previous year’s Moving Pictures naturally proved immense, as they had never encountered such success.  On the Moving Pictures tour alone, fan attendance doubled at concerts, and almost anyone in the American Midwest could hear one of three tracks from the album almost anytime on FM rock radio.  But the three main members of Rush decided that a second Moving Pictures would be too easy.  They had done that album, accomplished what they had sought to accomplish, and they wanted to take their music in new ways.  In particular, Lee had become more and more interested in keyboards and composing on them.  He never planned to become a “Keith Emerson,” but he loved the challenge the keyboards brought him. [1]  Not surprisingly, especially given Lee’s interest and the learning curve he needed to understand and overcome regarding synthesizers, the keys employed on the album had either 1) a deep, booming bass sound or 2) an airy, soaring feel.  Lee remembers:

I was getting bored writing. I felt like we were falling into a pattern of how we were writing on bass, guitar and drums. Adding the keyboards was fascinating for me and I was learning more about writing music from a different angle.[2]

Further, he claimed, the keyboards allowed Rush to expand beyond the trio without actually adding a new member of the band.[3]  With Signals and the following concerts to support it, Lifeson claimed he felt “almost re-born” with the new sound. [4]

Continue reading “SIGNALS (1982): A Song Cycle by Rush”

Gord Downie, 1964-2017

by Rick Krueger

In August of 2016, my wife and I vacationed in Stratford, Ontario — one of our favorite places to visit, due to its internationally acclaimed theater festival and its lovely riverside parks.  Picking up local classic rock stations as we crossed into Canada, I noticed lots of talk about The Tragically Hip’s upcoming concerts in London and Toronto.

I’d heard of The Hip, but never got into them — partially because I’d moved away from metro Detroit, where good Canadian bands could easily score airplay and well-attended shows.   I was surprised at the amount of hubbub around this tour; it was only after we returned to the States that I learned the reason for the buzz.

The Hip’s lead singer and lyricist, Gord Downie, had been diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme, the worst kind of brain cancer, late in 2015.  After finishing the 2016 album Man Machine Poem, the band decided on one last go-round of Canada’s hockey rinks, winding up in their Ontario hometown of Kingston in front of 6,700 fans in the local arena, thousands more on the surrounding streets, and a national audience on CBC.

Honestly, the music of The Tragically Hip is little more than well-executed, basic rock — lots of Rolling Stones and John Mellencamp grooves ranging from competently shambolic to tightly locked in.  The secret sauce was Downie’s surreal, shamanistic lyrics.  Stirring together a underdog outlook, the perspective of Canadians from the “great wide open” and random streams of consciousness (sometimes improvised live as the band rocked on — sperm whales were a recurring theme), they were fascinating precisely because they were sharp yet ambiguous, complex — even openly, defiantly confused.  At their best (in my view, on the album Fully Completely and the compilation Yer Favourites) the group was pretty compelling.

Gord Downie passed away last night at the age of 53.  To say he leaves behind a grateful nation is not an exaggeration.  You can see and hear what Geddy Lee had to say about The Hip last year as the farewell tour wound down here, and read a well-wrought appreciation of Downie’s take on Canadian identity here.  Banger Films (the folks responsible for the Rush documentary Beyond the Lighted Stage) have completed a film about The Hip’s final days, Long Time Running; it’ll be streamed on Netflix starting November 26.  And check out the Yer Favourites compilation below.  I especially recommend “Fiddler’s Green,” Fifty-Mission Cap,” “Courage (for Hugh MacLennan),” “Fireworks” — and if you only have time for one track, the fierce “At the Hundredth Meridian.” 

“If I die of Vanity, promise me, promise me
That if they bury me some place I don’t want to be
That you’ll dig me up and transport me
Unceremoniously away from the swollen city breeze, garbage bag trees
Whispers of disease, and acts of enormity
And lower me slowly, sadly, and properly
Get Ry Cooder to sing my eulogy …”

 

Cygnus X1 on Geddy Lee and YES tonight

Amazing moment in rock history.  From Cygnus X1:

Ever since it was announced that the progressive rock band YES was to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, rumors abound regarding a possible involvement with the members of Rush, who are all self-proclaimed YES fans.

In January, the news many fans were waiting for arrived – both Geddy Lee & Alex Lifeson would induct YES into the Hall. However as of that writing, there was no indication as to whether or not Geddy and/or Alex would actually perform during the evening’s festivities. Fast-forward a few weeks, and a huge story coming out of Billboard was published which all but confirmed that Geddy Lee would, in fact, be performing with YES. Less than a few hours after the story broke, Billboard posted a retraction indicating that Geddy Lee would NOT be performing.

To read the full article at CYGNUS, go here: http://news.cygnus-x1.net/2017/04/geddy-lee-alex-lifeson-set-to-induct.html

geddy-roundabout
Photo taken from Cygnus X1.

Thanks to John at Cygnus and Brian Sullivan!

Rush’s 2112 at 40: The Super Deluxe Edition

Rush, 2112 (40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition).  2CDs, 1DVD, 3LPs, 1 vinyl single, starman turntable mat, three collector buttons, June 1976 handbill, June 1976 ticket stuff, starman sticker, LP-sized photos of the three members of Rush, LP-sized liner notes by Rob Bowman, code for digital download, cd-booklet and liner notes, vinyl single adaptor, and starman sketch.  http://www.rush.com/2112-40th/

pr_image-820x502
So much stuff, I can barely contain my emotions!

***

Is there a greater anthem of individualism and anti-conformity in all rock history than Rush’s 2112?  No folk song of the 1950s or protest song of the 1960s comes close to matching Rush’s power of words and music.  Even more than “Bohemian Rhapsody,” 2112 makes us want to bang our heads and raise our fists.  Sorry, Garth.

Continue reading “Rush’s 2112 at 40: The Super Deluxe Edition”

Ending at the Top: RUSH, TIME STAND STILL, Part I

rush time stand still cover.jpg
2016, available now.

A two-part review of Rush, TIME STAND STILL (2016).

Between May and August, 2015, Rush performed to jam-packed audiences in cities across the United States and Canada.  Rush captured this tour with its own 2015 release, R40 LIVE, a three cd/1-bluray set.  This tour attracted an immense and diverse crowd.  Generations of men in the same family (grandfather, father, and sons) sat together, women attended in larger than usual numbers, and my two oldest kids (Nathaniel and Gretchen) drove with me nearly 10 hours to see the band perform R40 in Lincoln.  That magical show will always remain one of the greatest of my life.  Not just because I was seeing Rush for the umpteenth time, but because I got to share the band with my children for the first time.  They’ve grown up with Rush—listening to the music and watching their concerts over and over again; indeed, all six of my kids can readily name the members of the band, the songs, and the albums—but they’d never experienced the joy of an actual concert.  It was, to be sure, a glorious spectacle.

When I looked out the bedroom window the other day to see Nathaniel shoveling snow and head banging, I could tell he was head banging to 2112.  Every few moments the shovel came up and served as an Alex Lifeson air guitar.  Needless to write, it took a bit for him to complete the driveway.  Regardless, I’m deeply proud that my children recognize the greatness of the three Canadian artists, even older than their dad!

Continue reading “Ending at the Top: RUSH, TIME STAND STILL, Part I”