Yes, we’re in a pandemic. So, here are my five (5) favourite Rush albums of all-time to keep you distracted long enough to remember why life was great before we ruined it with coronavirus, shitty internet companies who price gouge with impunity, and pathological liars who run the world’s most powerful countries. -A.
Caress of Steel (1975)
Rolling Stone magazine eviscerated them, it failed to go platinum and nearly ended them as a band, yet this fearless album managed to feature two indelible concert staples (the ferociously sublime Bastille Day and the geographically soulful Lakeside Park) that have stood the test of time and deserve to be enshrined for posterity. While the track I Think I’m Going Bald can best be described as intentionally experimental in every ironical sense, there’s something to be said for what Alex Lifeson was able to do with his six and twelve string guitars on The Necromancer and The Fountain of Lamneth; the band lurched forward with a measure of progressive fusion and melodic dissonance that made this effort so vital to their evolution from Led Zeppelin retreads to a commercially reviled but critically-acclaimed musical force to be reckoned with. While 2112 may have quite literally saved the band and brought them scores of fresh admirers, Caress of Steel must be remembered for having lit the Tolkienesque fuse that ushered in a completely new era. “Days of barefoot freedom racing with the waves/Nights of starlit secrets crackling driftwood flames/Drinking by the lighthouse smoking on the pier/Still we saw the magic was fading every year.”
Mystical inspiration can be found in the United Kingdom, and this was their progressive magnum opus (ranked the 11th greatest genre album by the very same Rolling Stone which trashed them half a decade earlier); it shaped and molded me as a teenage percussionist while broadening the scope of my prepubescent musical awareness. This is artistry on a level that will take your breath away and lead you to existential conclusions brought forth by the audibly wondrous pleasure of listening to three mortal men reaching valiantly for the heights of celestial fulfillment. Although this record was a self-admitted labour of love for each member of the band – which shouldn’t come as a surprise considering the 18-minute length of the eponymous title track and the achingly meticulous/continuous takes featured throughout this masterpiece of music-making. The iconic La Villa Strangiato, the made-for-concert glory of The Trees, and the sheer frenetic polyrhythm of Circumstances ultimately reveals a maturity that the band would later deploy in reaching true industry success from critics and fans alike. But before that money-making eventuality came to be, this seminal tome of music deserves to be remembered for the creative fearlessness and overwhelming sonic assault on the body and mind. “There is unrest in the forest/There is trouble with the trees/For the maples want more sunlight/And the oaks ignore their pleas.”
Signals needed to be remastered because producer Terry Brown fired his last bolt with the band even though he was essentially the fourth member of the team, having produced the first 10 albums before this final project – and what a mighty final overture it was! While nothing could possibly surpass the mainstream majesty of Moving Pictures with all its landmark elements, a part of me believes that this album was even more influential to the future of the band. The remastered version is a must-have for any enthusiast, but for the initiated fan and hardcore lover of all things Rush, Signals represents a guilty pleasure that far exceeds the influence of its predecessor. Songs like The Analog Kid, Digital Man, The Weapon and Countdown are poignant testaments to what the power of fame really means and why the band remained true to themselves through thick and thin. While Subdivisions will always be the quintessential Rush composition (encapsulating a gravitas and earnestness in their songwriting not felt since), honorable mention must be made to perhaps the most underrated Rush song of all-time: Losing It. One listen and you’ll understand why the bell always tolls for thee. “Some are born to move the world, to live their fantasies/But most of us just dream of things we’d like to be/Sadder still to watch it die than never to have known it.”
Grace Under Pressure (1984)
Criminally overlooked, this release is an absolute juggernaut and formed the basis for some of the best live performances during the 80’s; the band never felt more alive and ideologically driven with their anti-war, anti-nuclear, anti-troglodyte mantra interwoven with brilliant compositions like Distant Early Warning, Red Sector A, and The Body Electric – to say nothing of the lyrical and instrumental weight featured in Kid Gloves and the elegiac Afterimage. But for me, I’ll always consider Between The Wheels to be my personal favourite Rush track of all-time – it captured my attention on the very first listen at age 12 that inexplicably resonates to this day and will likely never let go. I still choke up when wondering what the professor on the drum kit was thinking when he penned the lyrics: “Wheels can take you down/Wheels can cut you down/We can go from boom to bust/From dreams to a bowl of dust.”
I’ll always seem biased for this particular release considering it came out during the last years of my high school experience where nothing made sense, everything was awkward, and emotions remain frayed by the uncertainties and vicissitudes of life. And to this day I lament that the overall bass and noise filtration that made the final result seem a little less lustrous and tinny. It’s not the best produced Rush album by a long shot, but the songwriting and musical virtuosity on this album makes for a worthwhile nostalgic trip with every listen. Show Don’t Tell, War Paint, Superconductor and Presto are marvelous reflections of the epoch they were conceived in, but it’s The Pass which made the group channel an inner rage and zeitgeist self-actualization that’s felt in every plucked note and with tribal beat. Yes, the songs seem full of spritely life and initial playfulness – but the band always insisted their fans never confuse the bombastic theatricality of the moment with the sobriety of real events around them, which is essentially what Presto is and always will be in a nutshell. “Someone set a bad example/Made surrender seem alright/The act of a noble warrior/Who lost the will to fight.”