Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Rush 6: A Farewell To Kings

Every year Rush gained confidences, and every year they put out an album to prove it. A Farewell To Kings builds on their strengths, with improved sound to help them along. Another big addition: synthesizers, and lots of them, but not at the mercy of the guitar.
The title track begins with a wistful classical guitar piece, eventually crashed away by the full band. Full of big ringing chords familiar from 2112 and a foreshadowing in the lyric of a song on side two, it’s a strong opener and a good start. But they hadn’t been cured of long songs, and both sides of the album conclude with ten-minute epics. First, the plundering of ancient texts continues on “Xanadu”, after about two minutes of dreamy synth landscapes and volume pedal work, and several more of syncopated hammering. As with most songs based on somebody else’s poems, the music is much better than the lyrics or the melody, and not just because Geddy’s voice is still stuck in that upper range.
For an example of what makes Rush loved or hated, look no further than “Closer To The Heart”. Made for arenas full of kids to shout, its unique riff begins plaintively on acoustic, only to be repeated at full volume later on, while Neil Peart tries out a room full of bells and chimes. It’s got all the hallmarks of a hit single, in a band that didn’t have any. “Cinderella Man” repeats more of the musical motifs from the last album, from quickly strummed acoustics to a nearly funky middle break. “Madrigal” is something of a clunker, with both synth and bass taking lead throughout, and a lyric setting a love song in the realm of gallant knights laying down swords. Lest you think they were getting all medieval and predicting the mainstream appeal of Dungeons & Dragons, out comes “Cygnus X-1”, subtitled “Book I: The Voyage”, which details a lone explorer’s journey via spaceship into (and beyond!) the black hole of the title. Naturally there’s a spoken prologue, mixed in with tolling bells and sci-fi humming, and eventually the band comes in. First it’s simple riffing, then the chords become edgier yet tight, stomping through the galaxies. The chaos becomes more urgent as the narrator is sucked into the vortex, with only a “to be continued” in the liner notes to suggest his fate has yet to be decided.
Rush didn’t exactly bite off more than they could chew, and A Farewell To Kings has its moments. They had certainly figured out how to write catchy hooks, as the front end of the album is pretty well stacked with them. The cover art is pretty cool, too.
In keeping with the new tradition of 40th Anniversary Editions, the album received a sizable upgrade, with the addition of two additional CDs, containing a complete show from 1978, four modern covers by the likes of Dream Theater and Big Wreck, and a selection of sound effects from the original sessions cheekily titled “Cygnus X-2, Eh”. And of course, new artwork. (A Super Deluxe Edition added all that on four LPs plus a Blu-ray and a pile of memorabilia.)

Rush A Farewell To Kings (1977)—3
2017 40th Anniversary Edition: same as 1977, plus 20 extra tracks

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