David Fricke

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

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REVIEW: Led Zeppelin – Boxed Set 2 (1993)

LED ZEPPELIN – Boxed Set 2 (1993 Atlantic)

Take a trip back to September, 1993. Led Zeppelin had no greatest hits albums available and just three years previous, the monstrous Led Zeppelin box set was a smash hit. I believe it was the most successful box set ever at the time!

It was, however, just a sampling of Zeppelin’s catalogue. A generous sampling, but a sampling nevertheless.  31 album tracks were missing, as it was just a four disc set. The missing tracks are not throwaways though.  How could you say that about “Good Times, Bad Times”, “Living Loving Maid”, “Out On The Tiles”, “The Rover”?

So, predictably, three years later came Box Set 2 with all those tracks plus the recently discovered “Baby Come On Home”. The result is a complementary set; you really can’t have one without the other.  Having both sets is how I originally heard the Zeppelin catalogue, and I do have a certain nostalgia for these sets.

IMG_00001123Much like the first box, this set was lovingly sequenced and remastered by Jimmy Page himself. As such, the track order takes you on a journey of sorts. Unfortunately it’s just not as epic a journey as the first box. How can there be? With no “Kashmir” or “Stairway” available, it could never be as monumental. Still, it’s a pretty cool trip. Starting you off on disc one with “Good Times, Bad Times” and closing disc 2 with the melancholy “Tea For One”, this tracklist does what it was meant to do. Sandwiched between there are some of the best Zeppelin album cuts of all time.

I don’t think I need to go over highlights.  I do?  Alright.  “Down By the Seaside” is simply gorgeous, one of my personal favourite Zeppelin songs.  It’s in my top five for sure.  Although it’s a bit silly, I dig the country hoe-down of “Hot Dog”.  It’s certainly the heaviest country music I ever heard.  With John Bonham on drums, how could it not be?   “That’s the Way” is another beauty, acoustic and pretty.  It’s “Carouselambra” that throws me the most, a complex swirl of synthesizers and howling Plant vocals.

The sound quality was great for its time, but technology, tastes and standards change.  The songs have been remastered since, and will be again.  Personally I have no qualms with the sound and I still enjoy this box to this day, even though I own the massive 10-disc Complete Studio Recordings as well. Really, my only issue was the inclusion of just one previously unreleased song.  “Baby Come On Home” is a wonderful slice of soul, a young Plant belting about a cheating woman while Pagey plays some elegant notes behind him. Yet, as we saw later with the release of the BBC Sessions, there was more in the vaults. Why couldn’t “The Girl I Love She Got Long Black Wavy Hair” or “Something Else” be included here much like “Traveling Riverside Blues” was included on the first box set?  We know Jimmy has dug up more rarities since.

It is what it is. Maybe it was a bit shameful to bait die-hard fans with one new song, but the remastering of the set was also considered a major selling feature.  The set, being only a 2 disc set, is physically much smaller than the original, and contains one new essay, by David Fricke. The packaging is quite beautiful, and everything from the cover art to the layout echoes the first box. Clearly, you are meant to have both.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Rush – Moving Pictures (CD/blu-ray deluxe edition)

 

Everybody got to evelate from the norm…

RUSH FRONT

RUSH – Moving Pictures (2011 Anthem remaster with 5.1 blu-ray)

The great musical academic, Tom Morwood, once called Moving Pictures “the greatest album of the 1980’s”. I think he has an arguable position. Besides the obvious “Tom Sawyer”, you get such classics as “Red Barchetta”, “YYZ”, “Limelight”, and of course “Vital Signs”. This is back in the day when 7 or 8 songs made an album, and Moving Pictures’ 7 songs are a hell of a concoction.

Although the Rush catalogue was last remastered back in ’97 (or there ’bouts), this was the first Rush deluxe edition to hit the shelves. Unlike most deluxe editions, this one contains no “bonus tracks” per se, at least none in CD form. Disc one is Moving Pictures, in stereo, and disc two is the entire album in hi-def 5.1, plus three music videos. Disc one has been remastered (yet again!), but don’t fret — unless you’re an audiophile, you don’t need to worry about that. The 1997 CD edition sounded fine, as does this. You’re buying this for the 5.1, and if you can’t play 5.1 just stick with the original CD which sounds pretty much the same to the average Joe Listener.   (There’s also a “96k PCM stereo” with “256 times more resolution than a CD” on the blu-ray disc.)

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If you don’t own this album yet, then what are you waiting for?  You couldn’t find a better CD to start with.  Although Geddy had brought the keyboards out, this album still represents the perfect mix of Alex’s guitar and Ged’s keys — not fighting for space in the mix, but sharing it equally and powerfully.

RUSH CD

Do I really need to talk about “Tom Sawyer”?  It’s Rush’s most recognizable riff.  I can think of few other songs where the drum part carries just as many hooks as the other instruments.  But that’s Rush, that’s the Professor.  That’s part of their genius.

“Red Barchetta” is a futuristic tale.  The Motor Law has been passed, banning cars.  Romance for the old vehicles still exists in some, who seek the thrills.  I always felt the subject matter was similar to the movie The Last Chase, which didn’t come out until the following year.  Musically, the song twists and turns like the roads it’s about.

“YYZ” is perhaps Rush’s best known instrumental, a slammin’ piece of polyrhythmic madness.  It’s stuff like this that Rush is best known for, and “YYZ” is one of the best examples of it.  Alex’s guitar work is nothing short of stunning, meanwhile Geddy’s bass licks are perfect.

Meanwhile, “Limelight” represents the simpler pop side of Rush that the band were interested in exploring at the time.  It is still anchored by a solid riff, but with Geddy’s vocal melody enduring.  A song like this is an appropriate lead-in to “The Camera Eye”, a more complex piece featuring Geddy’s synth.  It’s over 10 minutes long, and perhaps the kind of thing people expect from Rush.

“Witch Hunt” is a shorter one, but ominous and dramatic.  Alex’s riff is the main focus, although Neil certainly throws in plenty of interesting accents.  The final track, “Vital Signs”, is my favourite.  Finding words to describe it is difficult.  It’s perfect — an amalgam of incredible playing with interesting influences and complex arrangements.  There is a clear reggae vibe, as they had been listening to a lot of The Police.  It’s also extremely memorable.  Neil’s drum work on this is stunning.

And that’s the album!  Seven songs done and dusted.

RUSH BLU RAY

The 5.1 mix, done by Toronto’s own Richard Chycki (he’s been doing Rush and Triumph remixes for years now) is pretty damn good. It’s different. Listen to “Vital Signs” for example. It’s different, the balance of instruments and vocals. Considering the original stereo mix was perfect, and you can’t fairly compare to perfection, I will just say the mix is different. It’s definitely a great listen on a good system, I liked what Chycki did. Again, listen to “Vital Signs”. What he did there just creates this amazing field of sound. There’s a great separation of instruments. Moving Pictures was a great choice to mix in 5.1, you can really hear the individual playing.

The music videos are old, and don’t look so hot, even on blu. I have always loved watching the “Tom Sawyer” video, Neil bashing his kit in Le Studio with that big glass window behind him in the dead of winter. Geddy with those big glasses.  My best friend Peter, he loves Geddy’s glasses!  There’s also “Limelight”, which is seen less frequently.  The “Vital Signs” video, from the same taping, is previously unreleased.

The liner notes are by David Fricke, and are quite different from the who-played-what-when notes in previous deluxe editions. Fricke’s don’t go into great detail regarding the making of the album nor the 5.1 mix, as previous deluxe editions do. However, it’s David Fricke, and therefore a good read. Enjoy while immersed within this album, in sublime hi-def 5.1.

5(.1)/5 stars