June 25, 2012

All the World's a Stage

I'm sure some of you will say Rush is just a pretentious prog-rock dinosaur whose time has passed.

There may be a (small) grain of truth to that. Certainly their heyday is over and done with; their biggest hits were in the '80's, and hey, that's thirty frakking years ago, people. And Neal Peart (drummer/lyricist) can certainly be twee and pretentious when it suits him. Just take a gander at "The Trees" or "The Temples of Syrinx," for example, or the horrid middle rap section of "Roll the Bones," which almost ruined the entire album, at least for me.

But when you really listen to a perfect gem of an album like "Moving Pictures," you think Neal Peart is the best damn drummer and songwriter on the planet. He's a storyteller and a poet, and he has a command of the language that puts just about every other songwriter except Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen to shame. Take this verse from "Witch Hunt," my favorite Rush song:

Features distorted in the flickering light
Faces are twisted and grotesque
Silent and stern in the sweltering night
The mob moves like demons possessed
Quiet in conscience, calm in their right
Confident their ways are best

Then, with Geddy Lee's long-drawn-out "Ooooohhhhh" and the kickass keyboard riff, the song takes flight.

Show me another songwriter who can use the word "grotesque" in a line, let alone make it rhyme.

This video is from Rush's '84 "Grace Under Pressure" tour. They use the extended intro from the album in this, accompanied by some (occasionally cheesy) demon-witch-hunt film clips. Nevertheless, the clips illustrate the dark paranoid tone of the song very well. Also note that, as far as I can tell, there are no extra musicians hiding off to the side--Geddy Lee plays both bass and keyboards (and his voice is eerily reminiscent of Steve Perry). Neal Peart is, of course, nearly buried underneath his monstrous drum kit.

Forty years and they're still going strong.

For a much more indepth discussion of Rush's albums and songs, including Neal Peart's penchant for sci-fi/fantasy lyrics, go here and here. Quite long and very much Rush-wonky, but highly recommended.

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