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REVIEW: Fu Manchu – Clone of the Universe (2018)

FU MANCHU – Clone of the Universe (2018 New Damage)

First the first time in a long time, “I’ve Been Hexed” by the brand new Fu Manchu album.

Clone of the Universe sounds cut from the same cloth as classic albums such as King of the Road and The Action is Go.  Aside from the mind-bomb that is the 18 minute track “Il Mostro Atomico”, each song is short, riffy and to the point.  “(I’ve Been) Hexed” is an immediate thumbs-up, a reminder of what we liked about Fu Manchu when we first heard them.

You can’t tell if “Don’t Panic” has anything to do with Douglas Adams, but it’s as fast and relentless as the UFO-themed “King of the Road”.  Maybe the Sabbath-crawl of “Slower Than Light” is also about space travel; maybe it’s not.  The fun is in the guessing, but by the end the song is at moving at warp.  Both “Nowhere Left to Hide” and “Intelligent Worship” boast riffs carved from the stones of Mt. Iommi, contained with in the Fu Manchu groove.  The title track “Clone of the Universe” is like a heavy metal hammer, or a stoner rock Mjölnir.

Despite the strong Fu Manchu grooves throughout, it is undoubtedly the side-long “Il Mostro Atomico” that is the centerpiece.  Suddenly from somewhere left of center comes the “Snow Dog”; Alex Lifeson of Rush with his own style of lead guitar.  Lifeson always had a knack for finding cool artists to work with outside his normal sphere.  Hearing him rip and make noise with Fu Manchu is so right.  Not to mention, this jam which keeps going on and on has plenty to offer when you listen all the way through.

Clear winners:  “(I’ve Been) Hexed”, “Il Mostro Atomico”.

4.5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Rush – A Farewell to Kings (2017 super deluxe edition)

RUSH – A Farewell to Kings (2017 Anthem 3CD/1 Blu-ray/4 LP super deluxe edition, originally 1977)

And the men who hold high places,
Must be the ones who start,
To mold a new reality,
Closer to the heart,
Closer to the heart.

Today’s rock fans have a new reality of their own:  a market flood of “anniversary” or “deluxe” reissues far and wide.  The floodwaters are murkier when multiple editions of the same reissue are available, or when reissues are deleted in favour of new reissues!

2017 represents 40 years of Rush’s fine sixth album A Farewell to Kings.  An anniversary edition was guaranteed, but choose wisely.  For those who need the brilliant new 5.1 mix by Steven Wilson, you will have to save up for the 3CD/1 Blu-ray/4 LP super deluxe edition.  Only that massive box set contains the Blu-ray disc with Wilson’s mix.

To frustrate fans even further, A Farewell to Kings had a 5.1 reissue back in 2011, as part of the Sector 2 box set.  That 5.1 mix (by Andy VanDette) has received heavy scrutiny from audiophiles.  Steven Wilson, however, is well known for his work in the 5.1 field, and his work on the 40th anniversary mix lives up to his reputation.  His crisp mix is deep but unobtrusive.  It is occasionally surprising but always stunning, and over seemingly way too soon.  The separation of instruments is done with care, and without robbing the music of its power.  Rush albums were fairly sparse back then but Wilson managed to make a full-sounding mix out of it.

Powerful is A Farewell to Kings indeed.  Though the title track opens with gentle classical picking, before long you’re in the craggy peaks of Mount Lifeson, with heavy shards of guitar coming down.  Young Geddy’s range and vibrato are remarkable, though for some this is the peak of Geddy’s “nails on a chalkboard” period.

11 minutes of “Xanadu” follows the trail of Kublai Khan.  “For I have dined on honeydew, and drunk the milk of paradise!”  Neil Peart’s lyrics rarely go down typical roads, and “Xanadu” surely must be listed with Rush’s most cherished epics.  Volume swells of guitar soon break into new sections unfolding as the minutes tick by.

“Closer to the Heart” is the most commercial track, never dull, never getting old, never ceasing to amaze.  “Woah-oh!  You can be the captain and I will draw the chart!”  Poetry in motion.  “Closer to the Heart” may be the most timeless of all Rush songs.

“Cinderella Man” and “Madrigal” live in the shadow of “Closer to the Heart”, always there but not always remembered.  (Ironically enough, both these tracks were covered by other artists in the bonus tracks.)  “Madrigal” acts as a calm before the storm:  a cosmic tempest called “Cygnus X-1”.  Another great space epic by Rush cannot be quantified in language.  As it swirls around (even better in 5.1), you’re transported across the universe by the black hole Cygnus X-1.  Peart hammers away as Lifeson and Geddy riff you senseless.


The blacksmith and the artist,
Reflect it in their art,
They forge their creativity,
Closer to the heart,
Yes closer to the heart.

Next, Rush forged their creativity on the road.  They recorded their London show on February 20, 1978 at the Hammersmith Odeon.  Previously, 11 songs from this show were released as a bonus CD on the live Rush album Different Stages.  This newly mixed version adds intro music, the missing three songs and the drum solo.  (The missing songs were “Lakeside Park”, “Closer to the Heart”, and all 20 minutes of “2112”.)  Because this set has all the songs in the correct order, the old Different Stages version is obsolete.

Opening with “Bastille Day”, the London crowd is into the show from the start.  They cheer for the familiar “Lakeside Park”, which is followed by “By-Tor & the Snow Dog”.  This early Rush material is as squealy as Geddy has ever sounded.  He’s pretty shrill but Rush are tight.  It gets more adventurous when “Xanadu” begins, and from there into “A Farewell to Kings”.  Hearing Rush do all this live helps drive home just how talented they are.  The powerful set rarely lets up, as it relentlessly works its way through early Rush cornerstones.  “Working Man”, “Fly By Night” and “In the Mood” are played in quick succession, but is “2112” that is the real treasure here.  Anthems of the heart and anthems of the mind; classics all.


Philosophers and plowmen,
Each must know his part,
To sow a new mentality,
Closer to the heart,
Yes, closer to the heart.

What about bonus tracks?  You got ’em.  As they did for 2112, Rush invited guests to contribute bonus covers, and each does their part.  Headlining these are progressive metal heroes Dream Theater with their own version of “Xanadu”.  Dream Theater really don’t do anything small, so why not an 11 minute cover?  Mike Mangini is one of the few drummers who could do justice to such a song — well done!  Big Wreck do a surprisingly decent take on “Closer to the Heart”.  Not “surprisingly” because of Big Wreck, but “surprisingly” because you don’t associate Big Wreck with a sound like that.  Ian Thornley ads a little banjo and heavy guitars to “Wreck” it up a bit.  His guitar solo is shredder’s heaven.  The Trews’ take on “Cinderella Man” is pretty authentic.  Did you know singer Colin MacDonald could hit those high notes?  He does!  Alain Johannes goes last with “Madrigal”, rendering it as a somber tribute to the kings.

The last of the bonus tracks is a snippet of sound called “Cygnus X-2 Eh”.  This is an extended and isolated track of the ambient space sounds in “Cygnus X-1”.  Steven Wilson speculated it might have been intended for a longer version of the song.


Whoa-oh!
You can be the captain,
And I will draw the chart,
Sailing into destiny,
Closer to the heart.

Box sets like this always come with bonus goodies.  The three CDs are packaged in a standard digipack with extensive liner notes and photos.  Four 180 gram LPs are housed in an upsized version of this, with the same booklet in massive 12″ x 12″ glory.  The LP package alone is 3/4″ thick!

A reproduction of the 1977 tour program is here in full glossy glory.  This contains an essay called “A Condensed Rush Primer” by Neil.  Additionally, all three members have their own autobiographical essay and equipment breakdown.  Alex Lifeson’s is, not surprisingly, pretty funny.  Things like this make a tour program more valuable and as a bonus, this is a great addition to a box set.  Digging further, there are two prints of Hugh Syme pencil sketches.  These works in progress are interesting but it’s unlikely you’ll look at them often.  The turntable mat is also just a novelty.  Perhaps the goofiest inclusion is a little black bag containing a necklace with a Rush “king’s ring” attached to it.  Wear it to work next casual Friday!


Whatever edition of A Farewell to Kings you decide to own (the most logical is the simple 3 CD anniversary set), you can rest assured you are buying one of the finest early Rush albums.  If you have the wherewithall to own the super deluxe with 5.1 Steven Wilson mix, then let the photo gallery below tempt you.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Merry Axemas – A Guitar Christmas – Various Artists (1997)

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MERRY AXEMAS A Guitar Christmas (1997 Sony)

Do you have a favourite Christmas album? Perhaps you need some Merry Axemas in your life.  The first one, in particular.

I used to have an annual tradition of making a Christmas mix CD.  I dropped it because after a while I ran out of good Christmas tracks. Something from Merry Axemas used to make the list every year.  Not only are there great traditional songs, but also the finest guitar slingers in the world.  For an album of (mostly) instrumentals, this one really rings the bells.

Louisiana blues rocker Kenny Wayne Shepherd gets things started with “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”.  Anyone on board with the blues should enjoy the solid jamming going on here!  This isn’t for grandma.  This is for guitar maniacs!  Progressive stylist Eric Johnson has a beautiful “First Nowell”, on a classical and electric guitars with accompaniment.  Grandma won’t mind this one at all, in fact she might want a copy for herself.  The wizard of the wires, Jeff Beck, then presents his slide guitar version of “Amazing Grace” complete with choir.  A different mix of elements, but not too hard to digest.


Not the version from this CD, which is instrumental

The Brian Setzer Orchestra comes out swingin’ with their instrumental “Jingle Bells”.  If you ever needed reminding how awesome the former Stray Cat is on six strings, then check this out.  Brian keeps it all accessible while simultaneously blowing off your nuts.  The big band is icing on the cake.  Joe Satriani is next up to the plate with an adventurous “Silent Night/Holy Night Jam”.  This one is strictly for guitar-heads and players, as it’s more a Joe showpiece than anything else.  Picture Joe circa Flying in a Blue Dream and you’re in the right place, but not very Christmas-y.  This is the only song that has never made one of my annual Christmas mix CDs.  Steve Morse’s “Joy to the World” is far more successful as far as the Christmas theme goes.  Steve does do it his way, but at least you can tell which carol you’re listening to.  If anyone can capture angelic Christmas guitar tones, it is Steve Morse.

How big can these names get?  Try Steve Vai on for size.  You might recall “Christmas Time is Here” from the classic Charlie Brown Christmas special.  Vince Guaraldi made it popular for all ages, and Steve does a playful take on it, using his guitar like a voice.  And the names keep getting bigger.  Heard of Joe Perry before?  The Aerosmith guitar hero does Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas” as a Hawiian guitar instrumental which suddenly goes surf rock.  Rush’s Alex Lifeson then brings “The Little Drummer Boy”, with a low-key and quiet instrumental.

“‘O Holy Night”, performed by Richie Sambora formerly of Bon Jovi, swings and just barely misses.  It just doesn’t have that Christmas feel.  The Japanese guitarist Hotei has the final track, John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over)”, which is actually a traditional that Lennon and Yoko Ono wrote lyrics to.  He goes a little over the edge partway through, but it mostly maintains the right feel.

Here’s the great thing about Merry Axemas.  Even if you don’t care for Christmas music, there is usually a need for it around, once a year.  Merry Axemas, with some modest editing, could suit your needs.  Don’t celebrate Christmas?  No problem — if you’re a fan of these players (particularly Morse, Vai, Perry, and Johnson) then you’ll want to hear what they did with these tracks.

4/5 stars

 

 

 

 

 

 

VIDEO REVIEW: Rush playing cards

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Rush – Roll the Bones (1991, remastered 200 gram vinyl)

RUSH – Roll the Bones (1991 Anthem, 2015 remaster on 200 gram vinyl)

There was a period in the 1980s when, in some circles, Rush had lost the plot.  Writers such as Martin Popoff have been very critical of this era, with its keyboards and shorter songs.  In 1989, Rush began to turn the ship around with Presto.  It and 1991’s Roll the Bones really ushered in the next phase of Rush, combining new and old.  Fans (and Alex Lifeson) were happy that keyboards were toned down, at least in comparison to Hold Your Fire (1986).

The theme of the album is “take a chance”.  Roll the Bones starts with a punch called “Dreamline”.  Geddy Lee’s pulse pushes this into overdrive.  The chorus goes into hyperspace.  It’s hard to think of too many other Rush songs that are so concisely hot.  “Dreamline” has it all:  hooks, licks, force and grace.

Neil Peart is king on “Bravado”*, a sudden change of direction.  His drumming, always hard, is unusually sharp.  Yet it’s a slow song that might be termed a “ballad”.  Whatever — it’s Rush.  It’s incredible.  It’s powerful in an understated, triumphant fashion.  If you know somebody who says they hate Rush, play this.

The title track and first single is a Rush classic, but that rap section sounds dated today.  That was always the danger of such an experiment, but fortunately the song is too strong for it to matter much.  That’s Geddy rapping incidentally, with his voice lowered and effects added.

Side one also has “Face Up”; fast but not particularly memorable.  But it also has “Where’s My Thing?”, a smashing instrumental featuring Geddy and Alex’s flying fingers.  It’s subtitled “Part IV, ‘Gangster of Boats’ Trilogy” as a joke on past pretentiously prog-rock titles they’ve employed.  Rush have always had a sense of humour, and also fun.  “Where’s My Thing” is a fun instrumental, kept short and ever so slightly funky.

The second side of Roll the Bones isn’t as consistent as the first.  “Ghost of a Chance” and “You Bet Your Life” are immediate standouts.  An appropriate spectre-like keyboard part enhances “Ghost of a Chance” and justifies the use of the instrument.  The other three songs (“The Big Wheel, “Neurotica” and “Heresy”) are fine for Rush deep cuts, but may or may not appeal to your specific tastes.

This 200 gram vinyl remaster is exquisite!  Keyboard parts previously unnoticed are now audible, as if brand new.  The drums have the punch missing on the old CD, and the bass hits the guts.  Great dynamics and depth.  If you are in the market for remastered Rush, these 200 gram vinyl reissues are pricey but a nice treat.

3.5/5 stars

*At 3:50 of the song, Peart performs a drum roll that I can only describe as pure ecstasy.  Chills up the spine.

GUEST REVIEW: Rush – “Distant Early Warning” (1984) by Aaron Lebold

I asked Aaron Lebold if he wouldn’t mind throwing in a few words about “Distant Early Warning” for my Grace Under Pressure review.  He sent me 772 words!  So here’s an entire separate post for you — Aaron Lebold on “Distant Early Warning”.

 

RUSH – “Distant Early Warning” / “Between the Wheels” (1984 Anthem)

by Aaron Lebold

Mike has asked me to do a review on the song “Distant Early Warning” by Rush.  When I first met Mike I quickly realized that Rush was one of his favorite bands,* and though he showed me a lot of their work, this song was the one that always stuck out to me the most.

My interpretation of the song may be a bit different now than it was when I first heard it; one of the greatest things about music is that its personal meaning can shift depending on what is going on in your own life.  I find musical interpretation to be completely personal, and what you take from it may be completely different than what the artist even intended.**

I was always reluctant to hear the artists of the songs I enjoyed explain them, as it could feel very crushing if the impact it had on me was not the actual meaning. I will explain what this song means to me, but that doesn’t mean I’m right.  It does mean that I am able to see why it had relevance to me, and if you have found a different interpretation, you are not wrong.

“An ill wind comes arising, Across the cities of the plain, There’s no swimming in the heavy water, No singing in the acid rain, Red alert, Red alert”

To me this is the ability to foresee an event, there is a metaphoric storm on its way, and it is serious enough for us to stop our own distractions, and unhealthy coping strategies in order to prepare for what is ahead.

“It’s so hard to stay together, Passing through revolving doors, We need someone to talk to, And someone to sweep the floors, Incomplete,  Incomplete”

This talks about the separation among us as people to me; we all tend to find our own paths and some of us become relevant to each other, where others become lower class, and we may see them as nothing more than the person who is sweeping the floors for us. This type of discrimination makes us incomplete as a human race.

“Cruising under your radar, Watching from satellites, Take a page from the red book, And keep them in your sights, Red alert, Red alert”

This again is a reference to having greater insight than others may possess. Being able to observe a situation undetected and being able to gather forethought about what the results may be.  The Red Book is a reference to Psychology, and this suggests using that manner of thinking as you move forward.

“Left and rights of passage, Black and whites of youth, Who can face the knowledge, That the truth is not the truth, Obsolete, Absolute, yeah”

To me this makes reference to our way of thinking, and things we may have misinterpreted as priority.  Rights of passage is the idea of moving from one group to another, and relates to social classes and advancement. Separating the races of children is another method of creating a divide.  The truth could refer to the idea that we are all one class and one collective  group of people, and that a lot of our perceptions are obsolete in the big picture.

“The world weighs on my shoulders, But what am I to do? You sometimes drive me crazy, But I worry about you”

To me this means that even though I may have my own problems, and I don’t always agree with someone’s actions, I still care for them and can’t help but notice when they seem to be heading in a bad direction.

“I know it makes no difference, To what you’re going through, But I see the tip of the iceberg
And I worry about you”

This basically means to me, that I am aware that my insight does not change your situation, but I can see the bigger picture and it makes me worried about how it may end up affecting you.  The Tip of the Iceberg is of course a reference to the Titanic, and how there is much more lurking under the water than is visible from the surface. The results can be potentially devastating, as they were for the historic vessel.

I can’t recall exactly what drew me to this song when I was younger, and I may have interpreted things differently back then, but the bottom line is that I found relevance and importance in the lyrics.  You may have a completely different take on this song, which is great.  The best thing about music is using it to find our own connections, and get us through our own lives.

Aaron Lebold


* So he thought.  In 1994 I was still a Rush poser.  I only owned Chronicles.  

 

** “Distant Early Warning” was written about the loneliness of someone who worked the DEW Line- a system of radar stations in the far northern Arctic region of Canada set up to detect incoming Soviet bombers during the Cold War, and provide early warning of any sea-and-land invasion. – wikipedia

REVIEW: Rush – Grace Under Pressure (1984)

Part one of a two-parter.

RUSH – Grace Under Pressure (1984 Anthem, 2011 Universal remaster)

When Rush followed 1982’s synth-driven Signals, they said goodbye to producer Terry Brown.  The band weren’t satisfied with the sonics of Signals and wanted to try working with different people.  They chose Steve Lillywhite, who wasn’t available, and so used Peter Henderson.  The album Grace Under Pressure was one of their most difficult to make.  Perhaps this is why it has such a cold, dark aura.

Even if Grace Under Pressure has a downer vibe, the first side is excellent.  Few albums have a strong an opener as “Distant Early Warning”.  Rush’s recent penchant for keyboards is front and center.  It also boasts one of their most catchy choruses:  “I see the tip of the iceberg and I worry about you.”  This single is a perfect storm of hooks, tension and biting guitars.

The album as a whole shows new influences.  “Afterimage” has a contemporary 80s new wave sound, but “Rushified”.*  Alex Lifeson in particular seemed to draw new influence from Andy Summers of the Police.  Reggae and ska became a part of the band’s arsenal, with Lifeson deftly handling those enigmatic chords.  “The Enemy Within” is one track that shows off these tricky new rhythms, in a frantically rocking way.  Synths and sequencers are a part of the picture on “Red Sector A”.  This post-apocalyptic track utilizes robotic rhythms to paint a picture of a future world.  “Are we the last ones left alive?  Are we the only human beings to survive?”  The lyrics are actually inspired by Geddy Lee’s mother, a holocaust survivor.  With the digital pulse beneath, you could just as easily imagine it’s about The Terminator.**

The second side also has memorable tracks such as “The Body Electric”.  This number definitely has a Blade Runner-like future setting.  “One humanoid escapee, One android on the run, Seeking freedom beneath the lonely desert sun.”  And how many songs can you name with lyrics in binary?  A lesser Rush song, “Kid Gloves”, is upbeat but not legendary.  “Red Lenses” is also somewhat forgettable, except for Peart fans who will savour every little moment of exotic and electronic percussion.

Rush saved the longest track for last, “Between the Wheels”, a melancholy but challenging track that reminds of the old school progressive Rush.  Backing guitars are exchanged for keyboards, but Lifeson uses the guitar to make unorthodox sounds.

It’s unfortunate that Grace Under Pressure has a brittle and icy production.  While that definitely works on “Red Sector A” and “Distant Early Warning”, one wonders what side two would sound like if it were a little fuller.

4/5 stars

 

* “Rushified” is a word coined by Paul Rudd in the film I Love You Man.

** Aaron Lebold will return tomorrow to discuss Rush lyric interpretation.

REVIEW: Rik Emmett & RESolution9 – RES 9 (2016)

Had I got it in time, this album could have made the Top Five of 2016 list.

scan_20161231RIK EMMETT & RESolution9 – RES 9 (2016 Mascot Music)

Rik Emmett had a long productive career as 1/3rd of Triumph, but he has rarely looked back.   Post-Triumph he has released a steady stream of jazz, rock, blues and acoustic music, sometimes revisiting Triumph songs in re-arranged form.  Finally the ice thawed and Triumph successfully conquered Sweden Rock.  In 2016 Rik released RES 9, a new rock album with his new band RESolution 9.

RES 9 is in fact a time machine.  Dial up track 1.  You will be transported back to 1990 with the rock boogie of “Stand Still”.  This is a spiritual sequel to “Drive Time” from Rik’s first solo album Absolutely.  Then punch track 2.  “Human Race” (not a Red Rider cover) could have been a single from 1986’s The Sport of Kings.  With Alex Lifeson guesting on guitar, Rik and the band tapped into the hookiness of 80’s Triumph, but with a modern integrity.  When you hit up track 3, you will find yourself in the future.  Accompanied by fellow Canadian James LaBrie (Dream Theater), Rik turns in a modern rock anthem with “I Sing”.  Big and uplifting choruses preceded by mellow verses are built for radio.  LaBrie’s vocals are the perfect compliment.  Without a shred of hyperbole, “I Sing” is absolutely one of the best songs Rik’s ever recorded.

The bluesy soul ballad “My Cathedral” gives Rik a chance to show off his impeccable chops.  His tone — unbelievable!  Moving on to “The Ghost of Shadow Town” effectively dials up 1976 in the time machine, with a dark heavy Zepp-ish blues.  “When You Were My Baby” continues down smoove blues street, throwing in some jazz licks.  “Sweet Tooth” is turn down a brightly lit side avenue, a sweet treat indeed.

A hard Triumph-like vibe permeates “Heads Up”, another fine hard rocker for the radio.  “Rest of My Life” adds the jangle of acoustic guitars to the rock and roll mixture, creating another fine concoction just begging to be a hit.  Things toughen up with the pure rock power of “End of the Line”, featuring the returns of LaBrie and Lifeson.  The sheer star power of all these Canucks in one studio must have driven the temperatures well below freezing.  Still the track smokes, and if you’ve ever wanted to hear Emmett and Lifeson go head to head, then wish no more.

But it is not the end of the line.  Back to the future, we have a bonafide Triumph reunion featuring the full trio of Emmett, Gil Moore and Mike Levine.  This long awaited reunion happens on the bonus track “Grand Parade”.  The genuine surprise here is that it’s not a hard old time hard rocker, but a thoughtful and musically deep blues ballad.  It strikes me as appropriate that this much anticipated track sounds nothing like old Triumph.  That was, after all, a long time ago.

With RES 9, Rik has re-established his rock credentials.  Whether he does another album like this is beside the point.  RES 9 is the point; a damn fine album indeed.

4.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Rush – Chronicles (1990)

It’s the final instalment of GREATEST HITS WEEK! All week we were examining some pretty cool greatest hits albums.  I saved the best for last — one of the very greatest, Greatest Hits albums ever. Once again, thanks to Aaron over at the KMA for the idea (which I stole).  For his original Greatest Hits Week, click here! 

If you missed a prior review, here they all are:

Monday:  EXTREME – The Best of Extreme: An Accidental Collication of Atoms? (1997)
Tuesday: JUDAS PRIEST – The Best of Judas Priest (1978/2000 Insight Series)
Wednesday: JUDAS PRIEST – Greatest Hits (2008 Steel Box)
Thursday: HELIX – Over 60 Minutes With… (1989)


 

RUSH – Chronicles (1990 Anthem)

Yeah, oh yeah!
Ooh, said I, I’m comin’ out to get you
Ooh, sit down, I’m comin’ out to find you
Ooh, yeah
Ooh yeah
Findin’ my way!

I just can’t stress how important this album is to me.  I had always followed Rush, and been interested in what they were up to.  I had never taken the plunge and bought any albums.  I wouldn’t have had a clue where to begin anyway.  In July 1994, I was hired at the Record Store thus kicking off the exponential growth of my music collection (and tastes).  With birthday money, I finally acquired my first Rush:  Chronicles, the massive 2 CD set that was released for Christmas of 1990.

For my first listen, I didn’t play the whole thing from front to back.  I picked out the songs I liked best, and programmed the CD player.  I revisited favourites like “Tom Sawyer” and especially “Subdivisions”, and then the next day, listened to the whole thing.  One song jumped out at me immediately:  “Red Sector A”.  Holy shitballs!  “The Temples of Syrinx” was the next one that grabbed me on second listen, along with “Freewill”, “Limelight”, “The Trees” and “What You’re Doing”.  I had feared Rush would be a bit over my head if consumed in this quantity, but it turned up to be just my poison.

Even though Chronicles is the first Rush “greatest hits” compilation, and has arguably been replaced by the three volumes of Rush Retrospective, I still think that it is a perfect entry point.  I think back to my early experience of trying to figure out where to start with this band.  They seemed to have a lot of different sounds over the years.  I know today that anybody looking to buy their first Rush album can comfortably start with Moving Pictures.  But what about those who want a little bit more music than that, in the form of a detailed sampling?  Then Chronicles is the one.

Appropriately, Chronicles goes chronologically which works for a band like Rush.  Their evolution over the years has been very natural and organic, not at all jumpy.  That makes for a smooth listen.  Each studio album gets two tracks, with a few exceptions:  Moving Pictures is represented by three, while the most recent Presto has one.  Additionally, 2112 has one track, albeit actually the first two parts of “2112” itself.  The neat thing, though, is that for its time Chronicles actually had three rare live tracks too.  Back in the early days of CD, they couldn’t get as much music onto the disc as they can today.  “What You’re Doing”, “A Passage to Bankok”, and “Mystic Rhythms” were all cut from their respective CD releases for time reasons.  They were released on Chronicles, on CD, for the first time ever.  All three are brilliant versions, especially the electrifying “What You’re Doing” from All the World’s a Stage.

I was hooked.  Using the tracks and liner notes from Chronicles as a guide, I began adding more Rush to my collection: 2112, Signals, Moving PicturesA Show of Hands, plus the more recent Counterparts and Roll the Bones too.  I see no reason that new fans today can’t use the album as a gateway the same way I did.  It’s still in print, even though the more recent Rush compilations are readily available.

There are minimal exclusions missing from Chronicles.  Some notable songs are absent, such as later singles “Superconductor” and “The Pass” from Presto.  This isn’t hard to understand.  Rush wouldn’t have wanted to compete with the current studio album they were still promoting!  The price is the only issue.  Even after all these years, Chronicles is still found for over $20, unless you go for a used one, much like I did!

5/5 stars

RUSH CHRONICLES

Scan_20150810 (3)

REVIEW: Rush – 2112 (deluxe with 5.1 Blu-ray)

RUSH – 2112 (2012 Universal CD/Blu-ray 5.1 deluxe edition)

I received this deluxe CD/Blu-ray edition of Rush’s immortal 2112 for Christmas two years ago.  I meant to review it back then, but it slipped between the cracks.  Apologies.

The set includes: the entire album on Blu-ray in 5.1 surround sound, the entire album on CD, three live CD-only bonus tracks, hardcover packaging including a comic book, a new essay by David Fricke, and more.  Not to mention that the Blu-ray is a motion comic that combines the album with the included comic, seamlessly.

IMG_20141216_1454372112 was Rush’s fourth album.  It was make or break for Rush, and they went ahead and made an album with six songs, one of them being a side-long 20 minute epic!  That side would go on to be Rush’s best known epic, “2112”, which itself is subdivided into seven chapters (but not tracks).

Any truly epic album should open with an instrumental, and “Overture” is one of the best you’re likely to find north of the 49th parallel.  This regal anthem of guitars, bass and drums quickly leaps into action as an Iron Maiden gallop, long before Iron Maiden did gallop.  In this one brief intro, there are as many as four great timeless riffs.  It’s guitar riff nirvana.  All these musical themes will re-emerge later on in the “2112” story, but here they are condensed into one maelstrom of awesome.

The story is pretty simple, and is also nicely laid forth in the comic.  Our protagonist, who lives in the oppressive Solar Federation, has found an ancient guitar in a cave behind a waterfall.  He brings it to the Priests (of the Temples of Syrinx), to show them this wonderful discovery and the sounds it brings forth.  He is crushed to find that the Priests do not approve of this “music”!

Pretty highschool, right?  Maybe, but certainly no worse than what passes for Hollywood fodder today!

IMG_20141216_145411“The Temples of Syrinx” is chapter II of the story.  This is a ferocious metal assault, with Geddy in full-on scream mode, introducing the titular Priests.  They are the law, on this planet.  In my opinion, this is one of Rush’s finest musical achievements.  It’s heavy, concise and blazing fast.  In surround sound, I will admit I was expecting more.  The music fills the room in 5.1, but it’s not as enveloping as I had hoped.  It’s hard to specifically describe what’s missing.  Whatever it is, chapter III “Discovery” works better.  This takes place in the cave behind the aforementioned waterfall, and the water sounds have some depth to them.

“Presentation”, chapter IV, is when it all goes to shit for our protagonist.  It is here that he brings his newly discovered guitar to the Priests.  The motion comic makes it quite clear that the Priests do not approve!  “Yes we know, it’s nothing new.  It’s just a waste of time!”  The hero pleads with them, and tries to convince them that the world could use the music as a positive force!  But the Priest smashes the guitar on the ground and has no more to do with this nonsense.  “Another toy that helped destroy the elder race of man!” he claims of the guitar’s history.

“Oracle: the Dream” is chapter V, a mellow moment at first.  Then the character’s dream begins, and Geddy returns in full voice.  He dreams of change.  Alex’s guitars have a nice shimmer, as they fill the field directly in front and to the sides.   Waking from his dream, chapter VI is “Soliloquy”.  Like “The Dream”, guitars dominate.  Geddy’s pleading lead vocal is an album highlight, as is Lifeson’s Sabbath-y guitar solo.  It all ends in chapter VII: “Grand Finale”.  In a nice twist to the motion comic, Geddy Neil and Alex appear as characters from the invading and returned elder race of man!  The era of dominance of the Priests is over, as is side one.

“ATTENTION ALL PLANETS OF THE SOLAR FEDERATION!  WE HAVE ASSUMED CONTROL.”

The motion comic does not end here.  Each song from side two of 2112 receives its own panels, and the band appear in each one — a very cool touch that I did not expect.  “A Passage to Bangkok” was the lead track from side two.  This crushing anthem with an Oriental feel is one of Rush’s few drug songs.  In fact it’s the only one I can think of right now.  “Sweet Jamaican pipe dreams, golden Acapulco nights…”  Rush somehow had a way of making this all sound classy and cultured, and perhaps from their perspective it was.  In the comic appearance, the Professor has his nose buried in a book on a train, as he often did.  Once again I’m underwhelmed by the 5.1 mix.  I want to feel enveloped by the music, but I don’t get that as much as I’d like.  I do hear more of Geddy’s bass, and that’s never a bad thing.  I’m noticing licks I never picked up on before.

“The Twilight Zone” is a different song for Rush, as it has a slower sway to it.  Lyrically, I can identify several of the old Twilight Zone episodes that Geddy is singing about.  Can you?  I don’t think this will top anybody’s charts of Rush’s best lyrics, but it’s goofy fun and sometimes that’s enough.  A Zeppelin flavour inhabits “Lessons” which has the acoustic-electric mix that Zep mastered.  Likewise, the backing mellotron in “Tears” reminds me of John Paul Jones.  This is a mournful slow song, not at all what many people expect from Rush.

“Something for Nothing” ends the album on a solid hard rock note.  Thematically, it is full circle, as the character in this song also seeks answers in life.  Rush close the album on a furiously jamming note, ending with a song that has all the Rush trademarks rolled into one short ride.  If the last couple songs just didn’t have enough juice, then “Something for Nothing” ends it right.  Side 2 of 2112 isn’t perfect, it has its ups and downs, but this is an “up”.

The vintage live CD bonus tracks are all unreleased.  They include the first two parts of “2112”, and “A Passage to Bangkok”.  Geddy coyly says that this song “deals with foreign matter”.  I’ve no doubt!  Incidentally I’m of the belief that “Bangkok” is better live than on album. Having said that, the Exit…Stage Left version remains definitive.  Blu-ray bonus features include a goofy photo gallery of blow-dried haircuts, kimono, mustaches and concert shots.  Looking at these photos, I’m reminded that Rush were for all intents and purposes, just kids when they created 2112.  With that in mind, it’s pretty impressive.

As for this reissue, I’m not very blown away by the forgettable 5.1 mix.  Too bad.  It’s a blown opportunity.  On the other hand, I very much enjoyed the included comic.  I think it’s excellent, and geared straight to Rush fans.  So:

For the album: 4.5/5 stars
For the reissue:  3.5/5 stars
Average rating:  4/5 stars