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Rush - A Farewell to Kings CD (album) cover

A FAREWELL TO KINGS

Rush

 

Heavy Prog

4.34 | 2503 ratings

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SonicDeath10
2 stars I'm probably one of the few people on this website that is going to rate this album so low. But I am. This, to me is actually mostly a step backwards for Rush, and except for Xanadu, almost a complete failure of an album. Reading the rave reviews of this album confuses me, but I think I can understand what's going on here. Many people who like this album seem to love the fact that it's progressive. And it definitely is very progressive. It is, in many ways, their most progressive album. Synthesizers come into the work in a big way. There are two ten minute songs on the album. The song structures are complex and not trivial. The band is playing in many different time signatures, constantly. The playing is complicated, interesting, and definitely shows the band at a peak as far as that goes. The songs here are consistently complex and are always throwing new musical ideas at the wall. And if I were to rate the album in that idiom, I could probably give it five stars and call it essential. Because I can listen to this album for the playing and the imagination of the arrangments alone. I can enjoy this album, and I often have, while reading a book, playing a game, or driving. It is a progressive rock album, and if you want to judge it on a progressive rock checklist, it passes. However, it fails, with one huge exception, to be interesting or captivating to me on any other level besides that of a generic prog rock album. None of the songs grab me by the lapel and catch my interest. None of the melodies move me. None of the lyrics interest me. The band plays and plays, arranges non-trival song structures, complicated riffs, changes the time signature here, has a keyboard solo there, puts in an acoustic guitar there, jumps up and down, screams "WE'RE PROGRESSIVE NOW LISTEN TO US WE'RE PROGRESSIVE." It's a triumph of style over substance and a major embarassment for Rush.

Except for Xanadu. Oh my God, Xanadu. If the whole album could have maintained even half of the quality of this song, I would consider it the masterpiece that everybody else raves about. It's the only song where the band doesn't seem lost in it's own desire to be progressive. It's arranged non-trivially, with twisting song structures, riffs and melodies. The lyrics are good, mostly because they're basically a Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem, and the atmosphere and mood set by the lyrics, music, playing, singing, and arrangment have never been surpassed by the band. THIS is their masterpiece. Not 2112. I can't believe that the band that produced the rest of this album could have produced this song. The introduction is moody and interesting. That intro riff is similar to the "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" riff, in that there's just something about it that words can't capture. The band goes moody and atmospheric during the verses, and retains their dynamics and rocking ability in the chorus. Naturally, this song is, in many ways, the most straightforward of all the songs here. Which is probably why it's the most succesful.

Let's discuss the other songs. A Farewell To Kings starts out with some nice acoustic guitar work, with some chimes, bass, and organ. It's actually a nice introduction to the album, and puts me in a good state of mind. Then a fairly clean electric guitar comes in, and my mood changes. The chord changes remind me strongly of the section in 2112 when the narrator is presenting the guitar to the priests. This isn't good. It's not quite the same, but it's close and it's not a good sign. This guitar plays for a few bars and then a different distorted riff comes in. This plays for awhile, and then the lyrics come in, and I get baffled. Is this the best melody they could come up with? This is Rush pushing the lyrics forward again, and forgetting about melody. This isn't avant-guard noise making. It's prog rock. We still need melodies. This goes for awhile, and then a new riff is introduced, and the melody becomes a bit more memorable. And then ANOTHER riff comes in, and the melody sings along with the guitar occasionally, and then goes against it, which helps make it a bit more memorable. And then...it repeats the verse...then a weird bass line comes in, and Lifeson gets a strange and dissonant guitar solo. A new riff comes in briefly...the band slows down...Neil hits his ride cymbal. Another guitar solo comes in...the verse starts up again (?!) Geddy sings "closer to the heart" immediately reminding me of that song, and then it fades out after a few more riffs.

Now, this song is certainly very complex. In fact, listening to it simply to enjoy it's complexity can be fun. But where are the melodies? Why doesn't the song flow at all? It herks and jerks, and feels disjointed. I can appreciate that approach, and often do, but I don't think the band was going for that. In the best prog rock, even as weird as it can get, even as they segue into sections that have little to do with what came before, even as guitar and keyboard solos come and go out of nowhere, it all has to seem natural and most importantly inevitable. In Close To The Edge, the changes in mood and music feel like that's the only thing that could have worked there. They feel like the band was really smart in chosing the right moments to change, and really smart in choosing the right music to change to time and time again. Rush is no Yes in this regard: they often seem to switch things randomly and jarringly. And while Zappa did this constantly as well, it was basically, in many ways, the idiom that ran through all of his music and even he did it very naturally and inevitably. Rush just seem lost here.

Xanadu follows and the listener might think "oh the first song was just an abberation, the rest of this is going to be great!" Because A Farewell to Kings is not unlistenable, and Xanadu is amazing. Surely the rest of the album exists between there? Well, follow me dear reader, and we shall see...

Closer To The Heart follows and it's tone of the he shortest and simplest songs on the album. Not even three minutes! What kind of prog rock is this? Of course, they throw in a few atmospheric keyboard and chime breaks, but those are so short that they barely matter. The song is based around a Geddy Lee acoustic guitar riff. The melody is memorable, catchy even. The lyrics are beyond awful, but can't even blame Neil: he didn't write them! But I can understand their appeal. I really can. And the song builds and builds to a great head during the ending. It's kind of a "power ballad" for Rush, in that sense, but it still has enough cool moments (those keyboard and chime breaks are pretty) and the arrangments and melodies are strong enough to make this a good pop song. It's WAY too short though...just as it feels like it's building up into something, the band ends the track. Probably so they could tack another six sections to Cinderella Man.

Which comes next. This song reminds me a lot of A Farewell to Kings, in that the band alternates sections that don't go together in a manner that seems haphazard and confusing. The introduction, with the bass and guitar riff, with the keyboards seems interesting and not poorly structured, but then an acoustic guitar jumps in out of nowhere and Geddy starts to sing. "A modest man from Mandrake..." The vocal melody actually seems catchy here. The band jumps in on bass and drums, and the song actually seems like it could be an improvement. But then the distorted guitar comes in, another time signature, and the melody gets non-existent and irritating. And then more acoustic guitar comes in, and Geddy sings a nice melody, and then the intro is back. The song keeps doing things like this: it alternates nice music with not so nice music. They're trying their old dynamic "soft vs hard" game, but they aren't coming up with enough good melodies and riffs to do that. Parts of this song are enjoyable, but only parts.

Madrigal comes on and it's the shortest song on the album. It's a keyboard ballad. One melody is repeated over and over. The lyrics are bad: back to fantasy crap. In fact, most of the lyrics on here are a return to fantasy ideals, and they're a regression for Peart. The music is unmemorable. What happened to the band that wrote Tears?!

The last song is also perhaps it's most controversial. Cygnus X-1 has been called everything from a hard prog masterpiece, to completely unlistenable. I like the intro with the spacey sounds and the weird voices. It's a triffle bit cheesy, but it works. I like the way the band builds riffs up slowly and surely out of the keyboard work, and the way the band suddenly jumps into a weird groove loud and clear. The riff isn't bad: it's played in an unusual time signature, and produces a disorienting effect. In fact, the riffs on the song aren't bad. And the lyrics are definitely unusual: it's about a man being sucked into a blackhole. And they aren't bad. But Geddy ruins the song for me completely. Normally, I don't mind his singing at all. But here, he just...over does it in a bad way. I know, the song is about a man being sucked into a black hole. And it's appropriate that Geddy screams like he's dying at the end of the song. He's being crushed into nothingness by the most powerful gravitational force that we know exists. But more importantly, there is no melody to the song, and Geddy screams the lyrics for the entire track in a way that almost justifies what all the haters say about him. And the construction of the song isn't amongst the finest I've ever heard.

So there you have it. Probably the most negative review of this album on the website. Like I said, I can understand the appeal of the album. And I like a lot of prog. I like the way the bands are complex and all over the place, I like the solos, the time signature changes, the weirdness, the lyrics etc. I love all of that. But I also love a good melody, and songs that make sense in their construction. Songs that are constructed in a way that's obviously inevitable. I mean, I like random noise too, I like John Cage, Phillip Glass, really hard core avant-guard stuff. But this isn't that. This is hard prog. The songs have to make sense. And they don't. They really don't.

Luckily, this album was only a minor abberation in Rush's evolution, and they got much better afterwards. In fact, they produced their best prog album after this.

SonicDeath10 | 2/5 |

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