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Rush - Fly By Night CD (album) cover




Heavy Prog

3.36 | 1180 ratings

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3 stars Not that it matters to anyone (nor that it should), I've finally decided to shed my ill-conceived notions and biases about the band Rush and objectively investigate their prog craft one album at a time. For decades I've avoided them for the pettiest of reasons yet I've come to realize lately that I'm only hurting myself by being so close-minded. The first time I heard of them was back in the mid 70s when my girlfriend who worked at the Travis Street Electric Company in Dallas raved about the show they put on there while I was out of town on a club tour. The night spot was changing from a gaudy disco to a concert venue that could give up-and-coming acts a place to display their wares in North Texas. (They soon moved into a huge barn of a place near downtown and dubbed it the "Electric Ballroom.") I valued her critiques of the artists she got to see there yet this one bugged me. I don't know why but I was jealous of her enthusiasm for a group I'd never heard of and, in response, callously formed a sour opinion of them. My affair with that lovely lass ended badly (for me) in late '75 but, while I eventually got over her, my unfounded aversion for Rush lingered on and on. (I have no doubt there's a connection. Doesn't take a shrink to figure that out, Sigmund.) So whenever I happened to hear one of their songs on the radio I'd purposely pay no attention whatsoever to what they were doing. I was smugly satisfied with being a Rushophobic.

Over the past few years (via numerous documentaries and interviews that've cropped up on VH1 Classic channel in particular) I've been made aware of the trio's enormous influence upon a host of musicians (prog and otherwise) that I hold in lofty esteem, forcing me to contemplate the possibility that I was wrong to rush into judgment about the group so long ago. Plus, the fact that they're (a) recognized worldwide as an undisputed giant in the field of progressive rock and that (b) they're one of the few bands from the Americas that can legitimately call themselves prog add up to my confessing in shame that I've been a stubborn curmudgeon when it comes to Rush. Alas, I've turned over a new maple leaf, my friends, and I intend to boldly go where their art takes me without prejudice. I may or may not like what I hear but at least I'll have legitimate cause for feeling one way or another and that, for this proud prog reviewer, is liberating. I'm starting with their 2nd LP, "Fly By Night," simply because I couldn't procure a copy of their debut in the short run. I'll get around to it someday if I live long enough.

Taking into consideration that their original drummer John Rutsey quit just before embarking on the tour to promote their 1st album, their survival of that normally-devastating event is admirable in and of itself. Replacing him with Neil Peart, a man who'd grow to be revered as a drum god, is fate at its most serendipitous. Even more astounding is the lasting bond that solidified between him, guitarist Alex Lifeson and bassist Geddy Lee within a span of weeks. By the time they went into the studio to tape their sophomore record they were a stronger trio than ever before.

The opener, "Anthem," has an aggressive beginning that leads to Geddy singing with much more rasp and gusto than I expected to hear. I confess that, like many of the group's detractors, Lee's sometimes screechy voice can be a distraction but I'm finding it's an acquired taste that my palate is slowly warming up to. One thing that really stands out on this cut is the tightness between Geddy and Neil. They were made for each other. I'm also struck by Alex's solo because it's so individualistic and free from any obvious mimicry of other prog guitarists. "Best I Can" is straight-ahead power rock and once again I'm surprised by how strong Lee's vocal is. I'm similarly impressed by the quality of Peart's lyrics as he describes the arduous task ahead of the band as they travel down the prog road. "I've got a livin' that's rough/a future that's tough/you know what I mean/blankers and boasters/all the bluffers and posers/I'm not into that scene," Geddy sings. "Beneath, Between, Behind" is an energetic track filled with sharp, punchy accents and seamless changes in feel. You gotta love Neil's fearlessness in not sticking with simple beat patterns and daring to be different in his approach.

"By-Tor and the Snow Dog" is progressive rock that doesn't sound like anyone else and much more experimental and envelope-pushing than the three previous numbers. An entertaining, slightly psychedelic aura surrounds the middle instrumental section that serves as a great showcase for the cohesiveness of the players. Lifeson's subtle guitar work during the quieter movement is an indication of his versatility and the whole epic is a testimony to the group's clear, undiluted statement of purpose. "Fly By Night" got the most airplay in my neck of the woods with its memorable melody displaying their desire to be accessible to a wide spectrum of the public without sacrificing their prog ideals. One aspect of the song I'd never bothered to notice is Geddy's complex and invigorating bass lines that run through the tune. "Making Memories" is next wherein Alex's strummed acoustic guitar expands the surface of their aural canvas and keeps things from becoming rote. His bottleneck slide lead is an eye-opener and Lee's voice is not only passionate but controlled as he delivers prophetic lines like "There's a time for feelin' as good as we can/the time is now and there's no stoppin' us/there's a time for livin' as high as we can/behind us you will only see our dust."

The beautiful "Rivendell" unveils a softer side of Rush I wasn't aware of and that I find extremely refreshing. Alex's expressive guitars create a depth of field that's rarely heard without the aid of space-filling keyboards. This song is a more-than-passable foray into the realm of prog folk. They close with "In The End." After a laid-back acoustic 12-string onset the number gives way to hefty electric guitar chords layered over a driving rock groove. I reiterate that it's a pleasure to hear a state-side guitarist with an original tact, who isn't so thoroughly steeped in "da blooz" that it colors every riff he plays. It's somewhat predictable that they'd return to the tune's initial theme but I attribute that to their compositional inexperience and I don't deem it patronizing at all.

Enjoying "Fly By Night" as much as I did only reinforces my personal assessment of myself as being an ignorant jackass. I have a distinct inkling that I'm going to become a fan of Rush the further I venture ahead in this belated journey of discovery. Geddy's voice will, at times, grate on my nerves but I'll also become more comfortable with it as I accept more readily that it's the only voice the Lord gave him and he's getting everything he can out of it without apology. The musicianship of the band, even at this early stage, is beyond reproach and I look forward to the challenges they'll present me with. No sophomore jinx in play here, this is a darn good album from start to finish. 3.3 stars.

Chicapah | 3/5 |


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