Retrospective, Vol. 1 (1974-1980)
Canadian progressive rock trio Rush have a devoted cult following, while they’re often derided by critics. While their musicianship is very strong, they’re an acquired taste, particularly bassist Geddy Lee’s high pitched vocals and drummer Neil Peart’s philosophical lyrics. Peart’s lyrics are drawn from sources like Ayn Rand, and often awkwardly shoehorn ponderous lyrics into pop songs, like this couplet from ‘The Trees’:
The trouble with the maples
And they’re quite convinced they’re right
They say the oaks are just too lofty
And they grab up all the light
With the vocals and the lyrics both significant impediments to my enjoyment of Rush, I have a somewhat ambivalent relationship to them – I struggle to take them seriously, but enjoy enough of their songs to happily own a couple of compilations, as well as their most acclaimed album, 1981’s Moving Pictures. Counter-intuitively, their initial 1974-1980 work isn’t their best period, even if it has its moments. Rush took a while to find their feet, and then adapted to the 1980s better than most other bands of their era. Their best era was in the early 1980s; this compilation goes through to 1980’s Permanent Waves, that album’s ‘The Spirit of Radio’ is the opener, and it’s a highlight.
In between the highlights, there are too many faceless rock songs (‘Anthem’, ‘Finding My Way’), aimless epics (‘By-Tor and the Snow Dog’) or pieces where the ridiculous lyrics make it difficult to enjoy the song (‘The Trees’, “I will choose Freewill”). But there are a handful of songs that permit Retrospective I space in my music library – ‘Xanadu’ is a terrific eleven minute epic with impressionist lyrics, the instrumentals ‘2112 Overture’ and ‘La Villa Strangiato’ present Rush without vocals or lyrics, while ‘The Temples of Sirinx’ is head-banging fun. ‘Closer to the Heart’ is humble and acoustic, while ‘The Spirit of Radio’ presages their more successful work in the 1980s.
I like Rush in small doses, but have never felt the urge to explore their studio albums from this era further – I’m happy with this single disc sampler as a summary of their 1970’s work.