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A Farewell to Kings

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  • It’s interesting to listen to Rush’s albums in chronological order, and to hear how things had progressed from album to album. After hearing what had been created on Rush’s 1976 breakthrough, _2112_, we could see the band perfecting what had been hinted at on earlier albums. And, here, on the effort that followed _2112_, we witness, yet another evolution.

    On 1977’s _A Farewell To Kings_, we see Rush entering a more evolutionary period in their writing. To me, this album, in many ways, is a bit more pivotal than their previous album, in foreshadowing what the band would be famed for in albums like 1981’s _Moving Pictures_. For instance, in *sound* value alone, the sounds that are found here are much more akin to what you would hear on the later-era, more accessible, streamlined prog-rock in their early-80s period. Also, the instrumentation, and how it is treated is important: it was on *this* album where Rush started to employ more exotic instruments into their repetoire, and in drove-like fashion: tubular bells, wind chimes, bass pedal synthesizers, orchestra bells; these types of airy instruments and sounds were fairly prominent in the _Permanent Waves_-era Rush. And, also as important, it was on *this* album, where Rush started to delve heavily into the use of odd time signatures, and the multiple use of them. To be precise, on Rush’s second album, 1975’s _Fly By Night_ (their first with Neil Peart), the band did start doodling around with odd time signatures, but not to the extent of which they are used here (and on later albums.) _2112_ didn’t exhibit a large use of odd time signatures, so these things alone would leave you convinced of two things: (1). This album was *indeed* a big evolution from _2112_. (2). This album is indeed *more* important than _2112_ in establishing the Rush sound of the future.

    The title track starts off with Alex Lifeson’s wonderful classical guitar, which indeed features classically-inclined progressions. Even within this classical guitar-filled section, we are already treated to multiple time signature changes. It then explodes into an electric section, which again, exhibits some time changes, mainly from a rhythm in 4 (common time), to a rhythm in 7. At 11 minutes, “Xanadu” was my first favorite Rush extended piece and still remains so. It features poetic lyrics (based on an actual poem) along with lulling chimes, synths and Alex Lifeson’s guitar producing a synth-like effect. This is one of the dreamiest, romantic and seductive pieces Rush ever created, if not the most. The musicianship here is sublime: Geddy’s seductive vocals and basslines, Alex’s atmospheric guitar lines, and Neil’s arsenal of percussives (and how he uses them) help to make this truly one of a kind. “Closer To The Heart” is the radio favorite, and needs no explanation. “Cinderella Man”, is written by Geddy Lee. One of the more accessible pieces on the album, there is a groove that seems to run throughout the song. “Madrigal”, is a dreamy, cosmic, absorbing mellow piece that prepares you for the insane, spiralling rollercoaster known as “Cygnus X-1″.

    This song has to be heard to be believed, and is probably the singlemost intense song in Rush’s catalog. If you want to hear Neil Peart at his most complex and mad, you have to hear this epic. Written in three movements, the musical insanity found here is seldom found anywhere else in Rush’s catalog. The time changes are all over the place in this song; going from stuff like 7/4 (a mix of 3, plus a section in 4), while in sections like the opening of the third — and last — movement (following a tension building section), we are treated to a rhythm in a hard-charging 11/8, where the E (power) chord is (beautifully) pounded into violent submission, before switching to F#, then the time swtiches to 12/8. This particular motif is repeated one more time (only Neil Peart places the accent elsewhere; excellent as hell), in a manic, surging tension-releasing wall-of-sound, before Geddy Lee reaches what was probably the most violently shrieking wail in his career. The climax reached in this song is just as formidable and frightening as the “black-hole” which serves as the topic of this track. It’s *really* intense stuff, and not for the faint-of-heart, but for those who, indeed, love a rush (pun most *definitely* intended.)

    Indeed, _A Farewell To Kings_ is an important album in Rush’s catalog, and truly foreshadows the kind of things you would hear on subsequent albums: it is on *this* album, that you can see where the band was going on albums like 1978’s _Hemispheres_, 1980’s _Permanent Waves_ and 1981’s _Moving Pictures_. You can hear a bit of this album in them all. _A Farewell To Kings_ is my personal favorite from these boys, and has an unique, cosmic charm not found on any of their other albums. It’s highly recommended.

    Posted on November 24, 2009