Wednesday, July 8, 2009

July 8: Rush, "Moving Pictures"

Artist: Rush
Album: Moving Pictures
Year: 1981
Label: Mercury

Quick, name the the band who ranks fourth ALL TIME in total gold and platinum selling records. Only surpassed by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and KISS, Canadian rockers, Rush, hold that distinctive honor. Approaching forty years with their current lineup (the band had a different drummer form 1968 until 1974), Rush has created some of the most time honored rock songs as well as earned countless honors for both their individual and collective musicianship. Though the band has never been all that embraced by critics, they have nonetheless succeed in gaining ample radio airplay, and one of the most fervent fanbases in music history. Rush has presented a wide range of musical styles over that career, from straightforward rock to synthesizer based ballads to extremely avant experiments with sound effects and modulation. From their sonic epic, "2112" to radio staples like "Spirit Of Radio," the band truly knows no musical bounds, and find great success in every style they attempt. Having released nearly twenty albums over their career, it is hard to pick their finest work, mostly due to the creative diversity found throughout the albums. However, one would be hard pressed to find an overall better representation of the bands' signature sound and musical power than their 1981 release, the monumental Moving Pictures.

Ignoring the fact that Bob Ludwig (Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, etc) was the chief engineer on Moving Pictures, the fact is, the album contains some of Rush's most famous and beloved songs. The opening track, "Tom Sawyer," may very well be Rush's most famous song, and is constantly hailed as one of the greatest rock songs ever, making countless appearances in movies, TV shows, and covers from other bands. In recent years, when performed live, the band shows a short animated cartoon made specifically for the song by two HUGE Rush fans named Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Ironically breaking into the top 5 in the U.S. singles chart, the albums' second single, "Limelight" is also one of the most treasured songs in the bands' catalog. An equally brilliant musical performance, it is one of the finest, and earliest rallies against the downfalls of fame. However, the most stunning musical moment on Moving Pictures is undoubtedly the instrumental masterpiece, "YYZ." The Grammy nominated song, which gets its title from the airport code for Toronto Pearson International Airport, begins with Morse Code for the letters "Y" "Y" and "Z" being played repeatedly in 5/4 time. The band then jumps into some of the most complex and fantastic solos of their career, playing in many different modes and chord progressions. The song became a staple of the bands' live set, and then was given new life when it appeared in the Guitar Hero line of video games. Truth be told, there isn't a band song anywhere on Moving Pictures, and one could spotlight each song individually; and that is the true testament to what an amazing record one finds in Moving Pictures.

You can look all you want, but you simply won't find a weak point anywhere in Rush's musical machine. The trio are, by far, three of the most accomplished and creative musicians in the history of recorded music. At the center of the band is bassist, keyboardist, and vocalist, Geddy Lee. Musicians from Les Claypool to Steve Harris (Iron Maiden) to Cliff Burton (Metallica's first bass player) have all hailed Lee's playing as a major influence on their style, and Lee is also a member of Guitar Player magazine's "Bass Hall Of Fame." Recently, Geddy Lee has become known for having large home appliances or vending machines (and very recently, a rotisserie chicken oven) on stage in leiu of bass amplifiers, as he now runs his bass directly into the FOH sound mixing console. Guitarist, Alex Lifeson brings six and twelve string guitars, as well as a mandolin and acoustic guitar to the sound on Moving Pictures. As one of the bands' founders, his stunning technical style has influenced everyone from Eddie Van Halen to Slash, and he remains one of the most highly respected guitarists in music history. Finishing out the band membership is easily one of the greatest drummer to ever walk the Earth, Neil Peart. Seemingly able to play literally ANY time signature, Peart took the "best drummer" honor from Modern Drummer magazine seven consecutive years from 1980 to 1986. In 1986, he was placed into the magazines "Honor Roll," and therefore could no longer be voted as the yearly honoree. However, he was amazingly given the honor again in 2006 and 2008, as nearly every drum publication hailed his work on Rush's 2008 release, Snakes And Arrows, as one of the most brilliant drum work ever recorded. Peart plays a gigantic drum set-up, with both acoustic and electronic drums, and his fills and solos remain some of the most innovative and breathtaking ever. Throughout Moving Pictures, it is often Peart's sensational drumming that catapults the songs to greatness. The songs themselves are always fantastically written, yet the trio of musicians that compose Rush are so amazingly talented, that every song they perform becomes a "classic," simply based on the level of musicianship found on each track.

There are very few singers who have as instantly a recognizable voice as Geddy Lee. With a vocal range that runs the entire spectrum, he is perhaps best known for his work in the upper register. While many of Rush's early records feature Lee hitting the upper octaves as well as the likes of Robert Plant, by Moving Pictures, Lee had a far more restrained approach, though he can still hit every note to this day. Much like his bass playing, his singing was a huge influence, and he has often been cited by artists as clashing as Skid Row's Sebastian Bach as an innovator of style. On Moving Pictures, Neil Peart wrote every lyric (aside from "Vital Signs"), and they are equal in quality to his astounding drumming. With lyrics ranging from angry to beautiful to avant, Peart even paraphrases "The Bard" when he sings, "...all the worlds indeed a stage, and we are merely players..." on the aforementioned, "Limelight." Peart also uses the song to foreshadow the albums' next track, when Lee sings, " in a fish-eye lens, caught in the camera eye..." Representing the third part of what fans refer to as Rush's "Fear Series," "Witch Hunt" revolves around the ideas of how those in power use fear to hypnotize or possess the masses. The title itself is a not so subtle reference to how such manipulation was carried out during the legendary Salem Witch Trials. Throughout Moving Pictures, Neil Peart provides some of his finest lyrics, and Geddy Lee finds the perfect way to present each theme, mood, and emotion, making for one of the most phenomenal albums ever recorded.

Over the nearly forty years that they have been together, Rush has managed to make themselves into true rock legends, though music critics have rarely given them the credit they deserve. Taking the formula of fusing the sound of "new wave" with hard rock that they had presented on their previous album, Rush perfected the technique and in the process created one of the most extraordinary albums in history. Moving Pictures presents everything that make Rush the amazing band that they are; rock anthems, beautiful, meaningful lyrics, and some of the finest musicianship ever recorded. Literally, every song on Moving Pictures is superb, and each one of them is a rock classic in their own right. This is largely due to the fact that Rush is comprised of three of the most talented and innovative musicians that there have ever been. Alex Lifeson's guitar work is truly ahead of it's time, while the bass playing, and moods created by the keyboards and synthesizers of Geddy Lee give Moving Pictures a mood like no other record of its time. Rounded out by the unequaled drumming of Neil Peart, there could be little doubt that not only the band, but the album itself, were destined to become icons in music history. Rush rarely "make the same album twice," as they are constantly trying new sounds and styles, and continue to create some of the most original and amazing music to this day. Coming as the second part of four consecutive, stellar releases from Rush, their 1981 album, Moving Pictures, remains one of their greatest and most enduring musical efforts, and is similarly one of the greatest albums the world has ever heard.

Standout tracks: "Tom Sawyer," "YYZ," "Limelight."

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