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Rush - Exit... Stage Left CD (album) cover




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4.03 | 579 ratings

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2 stars Exit... Stage Left is comprised of live versions of songs from Rush's second quartet of LPs, A Farewell to Kings (1977), Hemispheres (1978), Permanent Waves (1980), and Moving Pictures (1981). Given that Moving Pictures is the band's finest album, there seems to be a lot of quality material a lot to draw upon for Exit... Stage Left. However, this overlooks the momentous differences between 1970s Rush and 1980s Rush.

In a nutshell, Rush progressed throughout the 1970s (through Hemispheres) from a Led-Zeppelin homage to a sophisticated pastiche of British symphonic-rock bands that still retained a bit of the harder, Zeppelinesque approach. Permanent Waves, recorded in the fall of 1979 and released a few weeks into the new decade, was transitional. It opened with "The Spirit of Radio," a bellwether of the new Rush, and one of the band's two masterpieces. The remainder of the album included other hints of the new direction, as well as tracks firmly situated on the group's 1970s trajectory. Moving Pictures embraced the "Spirit of Radio" tack; its first cut, "Tom Sawyer," is Rush's other pièce de résistance. The band's next handful of albums made it clear that Rush had moved away from its 1970s path: they were on a new course established by Moving Pictures.

While this version of the band's history suggests in hindsight that perhaps Exit... Stage Left should've been released after the Permanent Waves tour, the choice to release a mini-retrospective in 1981 instead of 1980 was surely based on commercial and practical considerations. Plus, Rush is a band which has always been conscious of its own history (consider, for example, the images on the cover of Exit... Stage Left). Although only the thinnest of precedents had been set, it seems likely that the group had already resolved that every fifth Rush album would be a live album comprised of songs from the prior four studio albums.* Their first fifteen albums (from 1974 to 1989) fit that pattern precisely, and the every fifth Rush album until 2003 was indeed a live album.

Anyway, because it collects music from two adjacent, but dissimilar, eras, Exit... Stage Left is an uncomfortable chimera, a cross between a Volkswagen and a Trans Am. Songs from the 1970s account for half of the album's 76 minutes, while the remainder is split evenly between songs from Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures. The material is well-chosen; most of the best songs from the band's 1977-1981 albums are here. But even staples like "Freewill" "The Trees," and yes, "Closer to the Heart," are throwbacks to an earlier time and don't make sense juxtaposed with, say, "Red Barchetta" or "YYZ."

It's probably unnecessary to say this of a Rush album, but I will: the instrumental and vocal performances on Exit... Stage Left are very good, and the arrangements stick pretty close to the originals - - although these versions aren't quite as reverential as the ones on their next live album, A Show of Hands (1989). This lack of variation means that Exit... Stage Left probably isn't essential to casual Rush fans the way Genesis's Seconds Out might be to casual Genesis fans. But for serious Rush fans, this is a must, at least until the group releases live albums more completely representing the group's late 1970s and early 1980s tours.


*once Rush had more than four studio albums in their discography - - i.e., beginning with Exit... Stage Left - - they also included one older song on each live album. Also, a new introduction to "The Trees," named "Broon's Bane," is listed as a separate track on Exit... Stage Left.

patrickq | 2/5 |


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