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Rush - A Farewell to Kings CD (album) cover




Heavy Prog

4.33 | 2367 ratings

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4 stars By the time Rush put out "Farewell to Kings" in September of 1977 most proggers knew and a growing number of people who simply appreciated energetically performed rock & roll music were becoming aware of how gifted this unusual trio of musicians/songwriters were. I belonged to the miniscule minority percentage of prog lovers that didn't give them the time of day and chose to remain callously oblivious to just how influential they were in the wide-open genre of progressive rock. Sometimes stubborn-as-a-mule stupidity can't be explained. I have no excuse. Nevertheless, 35 years down the pike I'm finally catching up with Rush albums such as this one and am reporting my findings as if it was released yesterday. I must admit that the farther I venture into their impressive catalog of work the more brutally I chastise myself for being such an ignorant fool. Their kind of prog takes a back seat to no one.

The album's title cut starts out with a light acoustic guitar augmented by a simple synth melody line and a tinkling xylophone ringing in the background. Soon they adopt a much heavier approach for the main body of the song, sweeping you off your feet in the process. Bassist Geddy Lee's vocal is a bit screechy (that's not exactly breaking news to anyone) but when the band gets into the first instrumental segment things get very interesting fast. They were still in the process of learning how to be tactful arrangers at the time, though, so the track tends to sound a bit disjointed here and there. "Xanadu" doesn't have that problem. Their patience in allowing a number to grow at its own pace from humble beginnings as they do here is one of their most admirable qualities. Drastic changes in tempo and in overall feel keep things from being predictable while showing off their uncanny tightness at the same time. Geddy's one-of-a-kind singing doesn't appear until they reach the five minute mark and that's a sure sign of confidence in their ability to hold an audience's attention. The song's melody is suitably complex and Lee keeps his renegade voice under control (for the most part, anyway). All told, this epic is an excellent piece of prog. "Closer to the Heart" is the tune that garnered them quite a bit of crucial airplay, providing them with much-needed exposure in the crowded rock music marketplace. It's a good, accessible ditty that did what it needed to do for them without compromising their integrity or their ideals. While the song has never done much for me I certainly can't criticize them for being smart.

The last three cuts are all impressive. On "Cinderella Man" Alex Lifeson's mix of acoustic guitar with his electric is highly effective in concocting a unique sound and identity in the group's presentation. His guitar solo is very adventurous and aggressive (two commendable traits) and, while the synthesizers aren't prominent, their willingness to experiment with them displays a flexibility in their collective attitude that's rarely encountered even today. Within the aura of the short "Madrigal" their fondness for Genesis is unmistakable (in a good way) yet they wisely avoid letting that influence turn the tune into a parody. It's a sweet song that furthers my belated affection for Rush because it confirms that they were much more than just a rowdy power trio from up north and I totally missed the boat due to that misperception. They close with the intriguing "Cygnus X-1." The track's mysterious opening has a cool Pink Floyd texture to it and sets the stage perfectly for what's to come. Geddy's striking bass riff emerges to be joined by Neil Peart's inimitable drums and Alex's boisterous guitar before they take off into an involved movement where Peart showcases his increasing proficiency at guiding the group with a stern, unwavering hand. In listening to this exemplary epic I was struck by how they were able to imaginatively create their own brand of progressive rock by faithfully following their hearts instead of their wallets. They knew their audience and trusted their instincts without hesitation that told them how to please both their fan base and themselves. I found this tune to be totally unpredictable as to where it would take me next. That's one of the most important criteria in producing top-shelf prog and delivering it to my ears no matter what decade it hails from. The tune's finale is surprisingly subdued, as well.

"Farewell to Kings" was the band's first album to achieve gold status and it eventually went platinum over the years. By early '78 the industry had to realize that Rush wasn't going to sell out and turn into Styx despite the solemn predictions of unavoidable doom stemming from their refusal to manufacture a Top 40 hit single. This brave trio had somehow found a niche all their own that made it possible for them to do musically whatever they desired. And their rugged persistence in indulging in that mindset branded them as respectable outsiders, a labeling extremely hard to acquire but, once attained, made them the envy of tens of thousands of wannabes. 3.5 stars.

Chicapah | 4/5 |


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