Why Rush Is A Pop Band, And Other Things Your High School Weed Dealer Would Never Admit

Categories: New Releases, Rush

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As preposterous as it sounds, in the mid-1970s, a power trio of white kids from Canada could think that pretending to have the blues was the fast track to stardom. The prevailing notion back then held that The Beatles and Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix were important; that they saved the world from something. (From Mel Tormé, one presumes.)

Out of either boredom or the (correct) realization that this idea was ludicrous, Rush abandoned that route, hired an Objectivist drummer/lyricist, and started penning multi-part suites about trees and the saving power of rock and roll as allegories for the encroaching nanny state. Thank God for that.

What often gets lost, though, is that these humble epics of Far East tourism and tribute to Samuel Taylor Coleridge somehow linger in the head because of their tunefulness. "The Necromancer" may be 12 minutes long, but it manages to interpolate "Sweet Jane." Geddy Lee has a keening wail, but it's distinctive. The next logical step was to make pop records like Power Windows and Moving Pictures; even those crushed under the weight of 2112's sweeping adolescent ridiculousness had to give credit to Rush's thoughtful position within hard rock's pop triumph.

Still, "Jacob's Ladder" and "The Camera Eye" sound turgid to most outside the target audience. Rush in the '80s was never so stuffily progressive as all that. In fact, the band was very strictly formalist: impeccable musicians used their powers to write very precise pop tunes. "Subdivisions" is middle-school nihilism to a banging drone offset by springy jazz bass; "Distant Early Warning" bends white-boy reggae to the breaking point, wresting a lilting, ominous lullaby out of Cold War dread; the insistent, ringing power pop of "Time Stand Still" features a young (and not altogether out of place) Aimee Mann. The three continued to know exactly what they were doing, and there were tasty hooks and plenty of "holy FUCK, did you just hear that!?" snippets of virtuosity to make sure you followed right along.

In the '90s, the band became prematurely saddled with the "classic rock" tag, meaning it had to be sold to a consumer culture lapping up a mutated punk credo that disingenuously rejected both pop and canon. A steady stream of confusingly, continually repackaged greatest hits and live collections kept the band on the radar; "Roll the Bones" found them embarrassingly trying to figure out what that hip hop stuff was all about; Test for Echo was as subtle and crystalline-beautiful an album as Rush could make, and quickly forgotten; personal problems mounted.

Finally—perhaps emboldened by the fact that Tool and System of a Down (on the radio) and Botch and the Dismemberment Plan (on Pitchfork) were convincing kids to care about weird time signatures and alternate guitar tunings again—the band tried to go back to basics, inasmuch as the jazz fusion space opera "Cygnus X-1 Book 1: The Voyage" could be considered basic.

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10 comments
John
John

 And a Che Guevara T-Shirt!

John
John

How does a music reviewer add snide remarks that make his haughty liberal elitism known?  Read the above article.  Any true journalist could get the song title "The Spirit of Radio" correct, instead, he chose to adjective us to death in fervor while thinking about underhanded Ayn Rand "Problems."  Other than that.....pretty spot on.

Stevekomito
Stevekomito

It's one thing to dislike an album or a band. That's fine as everyone has differing views and opinions. However, I just read 2 pages of a review that seems more in love with his vocabularly than actually making sense of the sentences he uses. Kind of what you are accusing Rush of. You might want to ease off of the countless adjectives and non-essential dressings and just get to the meat of the matter in the future.

Strohljc
Strohljc

   Many of the critics over the years have slowly warmed to give slight praise to Rush because their fan base can no longer be ignored.  However, the old fogey's like Jann Weiner will never get this music because they're narrative and music don't follow the script of bands like the Rolling Stones.  

Lowell
Lowell

Nice. Did someone hold a gun to your head and demand you review the new Rush album favorably? This "record review" has all the enthusiasm of a child choking down brussel sprouts. The album clocks in at 1:06:07 - oh no! What the hell did you expect from a Rush record, ten 3-minute doodles? And so what if it clocks in at over an hour - you got something better to do? You write "record reviews," for Chrissakes. So do I. Doesn't exactly tax the brain - or the watch.

Bigjoe
Bigjoe

Wow, what a whiner.  Typical hipster.  Ten to one he wear's beanie caps in the summer.

rubberneck
rubberneck

"One of Rush's greatest failings, Neil Peart's Ayn Rand problem, turns out to be its greatest strength." Peart has long since distanced himself from his Ayn Rand period. "1978's "The Trees" is a song so delicately constructed and gorgeous that you forgive its ugly anti-union message." Peart long ago asserted that "The Trees" was not intended as an anti-union song (or any type of "message" song); in many interviews over the years, he said it was basically a lighthearted tune in which he assigned human qualities to trees -- no more, no less. "When Rush goes in this direction, though, it sounds like they're trying to overcompensate for the fact that Geddy can't hit the high notes anymore." Wasn't that one of the enlightened music critics community's biggest knocks against Rush for what feels like forever -- that Geddy's "shrill wailing" often made the songs hard to listen to? And now the knock is that he "can't hit the high notes anymore"? Rush will keep doing it their way, which is to make the music they want to, and their fans will continue to support them, critics be damned.

Picman1061
Picman1061

Great post mh65. The writer of the article is clueless.

Picman1061
Picman1061

Correction on one statement above.. it should have been... "I will NOT praise Clockwork Angels as their best album ever or even among the elite in their catalog."

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