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Rush - A Farewell to Kings CD (album) cover




Heavy Prog

4.33 | 2289 ratings

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5 stars One of Rush's many masterpieces, "A Farewell To Kings" takes a step on from "2112" into more progressive territory but still retains its soulfulness, and doesn't get swamped down in synths like their later albums. My favourite album by both Rush and within the "Heavy Prog" sub-genre. It shows the band getting even more progressive (as can be traced from their debut through each album), and reaches a point that is the perfect compliment between rock and progressive music. Despite the better songwriting techniques and structures on "Hemispheres", this album seems to click with me, and I can't imagine what music I'd be listening to now, if I never came across "A Farewell To Kings".

Anyway, the album opens with the title track and Lifeson's gentle acoustic playing - now improved since the band's previous effort "2112" as heard on "Tears". A beautiful little chord sequence, with arpeggios that even non-guitarists can enjoy, abruptly shaken by the dominating blocks of more complex chords. The track suddenly becomes so driving from such an intimate little tune, and somehow links excellently to keep you and probably most Rush fans entertained. Overall, some outstanding songwriting techniques (the time signatures, the A-F-G-E chord progression, etc.) which just culminates just such strength and anger from the whole band in that pounding chorus. Geddy's voice too, has just got such an incredulous tone with a phenomenal grit (difficult at such a high octave) on lines like "Withered hearts and cruel tormented eyes". All of these lyrics are just mind-blowing, and Alex's solo is so unique and innovative, it's just irresistible. Despite its overall twisted feel, he manages to persuade a few little melodies and wails to the listener, but with the risk you can tell he's expressing, it's just awesome, especially going back into that solid 5/4 barricade of power chords. After that, they let you go again with another short guitar interlude, but the whole song is well-crafted, I just can't quite illustrate it.

"Xanadu" keeps the strong consistency, taking the music to a slightly more conceptual area, as it displays a miniature "prog epic". I suppose another reason that this album in particular connects with me, is it appears to have the strongest mythological themes, so it takes you a little further out. Anyway, the second track gradually builds with some mystical guitar harmonies and intriguing occasional drum fills and give it some backbone, keeping you interested. The tinkling chimes are also a great touch, and fill the recording space with their splashy quality. Already, a very embracing atmosphere, suddenly stricken down by that gripping 7/4 guitar riff at full blast with the whole band backing Alex in such simplicity. Again, just a terrific way to bring the energy into the song before it becomes too fully-blown. As the song gets into the swing of things, you hear numerous back-to-back riffs, licks and fills from each member of the band (for instance, those hypnotic bright guitar chords teamed with Neil's cowbells or other alternative percussive paraphernalia, at around 3 and a half minutes). Every second is just packed with excellence and inventiveness in the heaviness, lyrics (of which there are perhaps too few), and of course the songwriting, for the full 11 minutes. There's not much more I can say really - some classic areas of "light and shade", solos from every instrument (including the new addition of the colourful synthesisers), and overall just intensely captivating. Just wish it was longer!

"Closer To The Heart" opens side 2. A more serenading and thoughtful track than the previous hard-hitting and thoughtful. Alex's 12-string introduces you on here, with some more weighted synths and solid chimes to fill the room. The double-tracked guitars backing Geddy are just incredible, especially when the bass comes in. The lyrics again are brilliant, and definitely fit the song, and the track briskly builds to another wonderful Lifeson solo (sorry for going on about him guys). Still a very driving track despite the more radio-friendly, melodic rock that emanates through your speakers. Just a short but sweet song that lifts your spirits so high. Another essential track, going into possibly the weakest of the album "Cinderella Man". This song seems to be a little more uncertain in structure and songwriting, not quite fitting on the album. I adore the verses, especially the lyrics teamed with Alex's guitars, but the intro and chorus seem a bit forced and stifled, a little like a worse version of "Circumstances" in places. Over time, the track has definitely grown on me, so I can accept all the flaws, but it's not so thrilling for a first listen compared to the others. Nonetheless, still a 4-star track, and of course another great solo from Alex, although I'd focus more on the backing - that bass is just genius.

"Madrigal" started off as a weak track for me, but has become one of my favourite Rush pieces. Very short, which kind of makes it more precious in a way, and doesn't stride into particularly dangerous territory, but it just sounds so gorgeous. The intro builds each instrument into the song seamlessly, and becomes a solid work of art as the band instruments soon interlock in such beauty. Each line from each guitar and bass, plus the almost silent percussive activity from Peart, is so elegant and brilliant and, I just love it. It morphs into the unmistakable "Cygnus X-1", one of Rush's most revered pieces. Right from the offset, you can tell it's going to be so spacey, with the distorted words from Terry Brown (producer) and the aircraft launch, plus the alienated electronic bubbling and occasional flicker of fire. The bass and drums gradually enter with some deliciously offbeat passages, before the guitar brings you around to your senses, and you're immersed in the atmosphere. Almost no longer alienated, and focusing in on what's happening around you. Anyway, the chord progressions and drum fills heard shortly after are so intricately pieced together, and flow straight into one another, whilst still displaying a slight feel of insanity/isolation.

The track climaxes to this repetitive section of essentially 34/8 (2 bars 11/8, one 12/8). The melodic synth steadies you out again, and doesn't alienate you from the profound musicality the band has created so far. The whole atmosphere halts for a short while, before Geddy sings his tale of the black hole "Cygnus X-1". As with the whole album, his bass matches and compliments everything divinely. The retreat to 4/4 proves most effective when Alex's chords just resonate throughout the wide space, along with the vocal melodies and strains that seem to even fill and bloat the infinite universe, unapparent to us. Some more unbelievable and otherworldly notes and chords are struck, the just seem to shake existence - I really can't describe it. The track soon kicks off into an ever-building chord progression of C-F-D-G, excellently raising a semitone in each triad. More story-telling lyrics are once again interrupted by possibly the highlight of the album at "The X-ray is her siren song" after a few pounds from the band. Geddy's vocal delivery at this point is just at its peak in the entire Rush career for me. The wailing guitar then enters, with yet another mind-blowing solo backed with yet another min-blowing bass! It's just uncanny how consistently powerful and intense this track in particular is. Another outstanding area of light and shade is brought as the solo fades into oblivion, and the nearing approach of the black hole is encapsulated by Alex's octaves, interrupted by some blissful bass and drum passages, before the piece undergoes another indecipherable time signature and reprises the chord sequence from earlier, with Lee's most chaotic, world-ending vocals ever. The whole thing is just so driving, and the Rocinante is pulled into the unknown dimension behind the black hole. So haunting, and even more emphasised by the mournful chords resounding from Lifeson. The best track of the album, and possibly their whole career regarding some aspects. The concept is fantastic, and if I bought this album back in 1977, I don't think I could possibly wait for the promise of Book II's virtuosity, fulfilled on Rush's subsequent album "Hemispheres".

A+: An inexplicable masterpiece from Rush, and I can almost guarantee you won't (or at least shouldn't) be disappointed as a rock fan.

A Farewell To Kings: ***** Xanadu: ***** Closer To The Heart: ***** Cinderella Man: **** Madrigal: ***** Cygnus X-1 Book I: The Voyage: ****** (yes, 6 stars :P)

Xonty | 5/5 |


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