Review by Paul Monkhouse for MPM
Whilst ‘2112’ was the much-loved prog masterpiece and ‘Permanent Waves’ brought break through hit ‘The Spirit of Radio’, it was ‘Moving Pictures’ that truly took Rush into the mainstream.
Here we are, forty years on from its release and a perfect time to re-evaluate what became such a key release in their catalogue.
As is often pointed out, following the Led Zeppelin stylings of their 1974 debut, by the time that this eighth album came out in 1981, the band had built up an enviable reputation as proto Prog Metal heroes. The previous album had started to bring in shorter songs but it was here that their increasingly concise writing came truly into its own.
Nowhere was this better exemplified than by opening track ‘Tom Sawyer’. A surefooted wash of synths punctuated by a pneumatic drum beat, this instantly gives way to the punch of the guitar and bass, Geddy Lee’s vocals starting to tell their tale. In its four and a half minutes it seems to pack an awful lot in, the multiple layers and moods full of dynamics and the guitar and drums solos perfection.
Revisiting this and the following ‘Red Barchetta’ with its acute sense of storytelling and motion, the listener driven at speed through lanes surrounded by wide expanses of fields, you can’t help but be impressed with the freshness of it, despite all these years passing. Certainly, there are some little production nods that anchor it to the early 80’s but these only enhance the feeling of nostalgia and wonder, headphones making it sound like something from future space.
Switching from the very human warmth and storytelling of the openers, ‘YYZ’ is a breathtaking display of technical, but somehow soulful, ability in one busy, burbling rush. The playing gives space to all three members of the band, Alex Lifeson’s guitar, the drums of Neil Peart and bass and keys of Lee all shining through without overcrowding. The balance that the trio carefully nurtured over the years has really paid off here, the respect tangible as they seem to almost stand back, taking in what the other members of the band are doing, the structure of the tracks precision tooled.
The driving riff, bass runs and flurry of drums that fills ‘Limelight’ still remain something that can make your blood rapidly speed around your body and there’s a feeling of the sort of more traditional, joyful Prog of Yes in ‘The Camera Eye’, hard undertones of guitar beefing up its eleven minute length. The album closes with the starkly contrasting ‘Witch Hunt’ and ‘Vital Signs’, the former very dark and moodily atmospheric and the latter shot through with a sophisticated strain of the reggae vibes of The Police.
All in all, it’s a thrilling journey and one that showed how much the musical growth and inventiveness of the band outgrew a lot of their oldest fans tastes. Still, Rush were never a band to rest on their laurels and
‘Moving Pictures’ showed them pushing boundaries that continued their arc as musicians and as a group. One of the keystones of their catalogue, this is an album that has the breadth of appeal and incredible craftmanship that has always appealed to fans both old and new. Rush built their reputation as leaders on such as this and remain to be one of the most highly respected and influential bands in modern rock history.
So far, so good. In addition to the seminal album, the cherry on this particular 40th anniversary cake is the full, two hour set from the tour to support the release, recorded in Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens in March
1981. With a home crowd behind them, the trio really pull out all the stops and produce a career spanning set of songs that bristle with life, capturing the night in a really visceral way.
Mixing their mastery of their instruments and the edge of an adrenaline rush that gives their playing some additional fire, from the opening notes of the heavy romp of ‘2112 – Overture’ and ‘2112 – The Temples of Syrinx’ to the closing, extended bluesy, jazz prog metal of ‘La Villa Strangiato’.
With such gems as ‘The Trees’, ‘Xanadu’, ‘Working Man’ and ‘By-Tor and the Snow Dog’ here there’s a lot to take in and enjoy. From the epics to ‘The Spirit of Radio’ and a gorgeous ‘Closer to the Heart’, the band are clearly enjoying themselves, this joy spilling out from the stage and into the audience. It’s not just the older material that’s well received, the band playing the majority of ‘Moving Pictures’, sees the new numbers welcomed as fervently as the classics. If ever you wanted to understand just how powerful trio were live then take a listen to this, a definite gem in a sea of Rush live releases.
Neil Peart’s tragic, early death robbed the world of one of the finest musicians to ever take to the stage and put an end to the extraordinary career of a band who continued to break moulds throughout every stage of their career. Thankfully though, their legacy is writ large through sets like this, their sublime studio creations and compelling live shows caught in time to be enjoyed by many generations to come. For many a discerning music fan, Rush remain the apex in both creativity and musicianship and that will never change.
A remarkable album by one of the best bands of all time, all boosted by a live album that puts you in the centre of the front row, something this writer thrillingly experienced when he saw the band at Wembley Arena. Often imitated, never bettered, Rush were the Kings.
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