This rightfully deserves its reputation as a top Rush album, if not the best effort in a sizeable catalogue. Moving Pictures falls square in between the hard, progressive rock of their 70s concept albums and their later alternative sound with its embrace of synthesizers. There are synths, but they’re worked in to accent the music here. With Signals, the 1982 followup, Rush would take on a more layered, synth-heavy sound where Alex Lifeson’s guitar would serve more as color work, or even disappear into the mix later in the decade. This album is concise, and the vinyl was programmed perfectly. With only seven tracks, there is no weakness here, and the first side features one famed piece after another. Side one opens with perhaps the band’s most famous single, Tom Sawyer. The synth sound accents the hard riffs in this cynical ode to rebellion and individualism. Red Barchetta is a total fan favorite and live staple about a young man’s weekly tradition of racing his uncle’s old hot rod. YYZ is a funky instrumental that is also a live staple and instantly recognizable with its ride cymbal opening. Then Limelight brings it home with its deep, fat riffs in a song about the concept of fame (hence the title.) The old second side is more cerebral, I think. Camera Eye is an 10+ minute epic, the last of its kind for the band. The music is phenomenol–this doesn’t feel as long as it really is. Part of that is due to the structure of the song–it’s split into two considerations of ‘the city’. First it’s New York, then London, talking about the hustle and bustle and the lives people have in these crowded spaces. The track is contemplative rock, highlighted by warm synths and excellent riffing. Then comes Witch Hunt, a superb track. It opens dark and menacing, the sounds of a colonial witch hunt (locals ranting and raving with imagery of pitchforks and torches) over an eerie synth. The song is monstrous–it opens up with Geddy’s wailing and more synths, and Neil Peart’s ridiculous fills. The whole album comes to a close with the tense but controlled Vital Signs, featuring more effective synth work, more contemplative lyrics. Rush has always been a thinking man’s rock group, going beyond the call of duty of rock to provide something of substance in a mass market field. They don’t churn out tired love songs or whining odes to the misery of life. And how many groups can get away with lines like `faces are twisted and grotesque’? Rush never makes the top of the charts, they don’t make many videos, they don’t live like decadent rock stars (though the guitarist had a particularly rock-star New Year’s Eve incident turn ugly), they don’t create controversy to mask a lack of talent, they don’t resort to tricks or gimmicks. The Rush remasters are very welcome, though the more valuable releases are the earlier ones that were recorded in analog. (Rush actually started going to digital recording pretty early.) It’s interesting to listen to the new and then the old, and compare how the mix has changed. The traditionally crisp sound of the band is enhanced with the remasters and is clearer than ever. You can usually find them a bit cheaper than most new retail discs, though you may want to pick and choose your favorite Rush albums to upgrade.
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Although Rush released this CD in early 1981, some of the songs (mainly the perpetual hit “Tom Sawyer”) could’ve been relased in the late ’80’s or early ’90’s, and no one would’ve complained. Rush has always been very good at moving with the times, although it has backfired on them, with accusations of bandwagon jumping. This CD, though, doesn’t get slotted into one time, because it sounds timeless. Besides the fact that every song (even the 11-minute long “The Camera Eye”) is very ear-friendly, the music fits in many different places. The keyboards sound not quite ultra-modern, but not fossilized, and the guitar, like all good Led Zeppelin-ish riffage, sounds good no matter what the time period is. Neil, Alex and Geddy get to show off their chops (their taking turns soloing in “YYZ” being the best example), but don’t overwhelm the songs, which happened sometimes in their ’70’s “epics”. Because Rush is a constantly changing band, you’re probably going to find a certain point in time where their music simply connects with you better than at other times. For most people, that time was 1981, and Moving Pictures was the album.
Some have said that The Moody Blues brought bombast to rock music. Rush takes the progressive bombast of The Moody Blues to loftier, even more excessive and electronic heights. In the process they have created one of the most accessible progressive rock albums.”Tom Sawyer” kicks off the album with one of the three most progressive songs on the album, with the other two being “The Camera Eye” and “Witch Hunt.” All three glory in being bombastic and pretentious with exquisitely overblown keyboards of multiple types. This song, with its hard driving guitar and synth driven music, is about what Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer would be like in today’s world. One of the best lines from this song is: And what you say about his company Is what you say about society.The truth of these lyrics is that however uncomfortable today’s Tom Sawyer may make you feel, it is your criticism of him that is at the heart of society’s problem; a grandiose variation on a theme that goes back at least to Janis Ian’s “Society’s Child.” The music and lyrics are incredibly catchy for a progressive rock song.Science fiction is often a theme in much progressive music, and “Red Barchetta” is in this category. The song is about a future where gasoline-powered cars are banned. The song’s protagonist likes to visit his Uncle’s Farm where a Red Barchetta is hidden in the barn. Our hero loves to go for joy rides, racing back to a one-lane bridge to avoid the police cars that are too wide to fit onto it. Once our hero returns, he dreams with his Uncle at the fireside. While we do not know for sure what they dream about, we can guess it is a dream of the time when fast cars ruled the road, and joy rides were about how fast one could drive rather than whether one could drive at all.”YYZ” is an excellent rock instrumental. The rhythm is very catchy and accessible. YYZ is the airport code for Toronto, which is where the group went to make it big from their hometown of Sarnia, Ontario.The next song was the last on the first side of the tape or album. “Limelight” was a bona fide hit for the group, and was sufficiently progressive to help convince people, along with Rush’s other hits in the 80s, that progressive rock was not yet dead. While the song may have some elements of progressive, it also has elements of mainstream rock.”The Camera Eye” is a perspective of New York and London in glorious electronic excessiveness. The lyrics take a back seat to the overwhelming keyboards on this piece; easily the most overblown piece on the CD, and also perhaps one of the most progressive. Rush typically enjoys artistic and descriptive lyrics, but here the lyrics are very understated with the music conveying the perspective of the birds-eye view of New York and London. This song has all the elements that critics of progressive rock love to criticize, which means it is one of my favorite songs on this album.”Witch Hunt” is ominous and chilling. Keyboards lay a heavy bass track to chill you to the bone as you envision the crowd that hunted Frankenstein, or the Wolf Man, or the mob out after anyone who is NOT LIKE US. This track is the most cutting edge on the album and also the most progressive. The lyrics are reasonably accessible, but the sinister music takes some time to fully appreciate; another of my favorites from this album.The last song is a bit of a departure from Rush’s norm. “Vital Songs” has a sort of reggae beat in the style of The Police, for example the style of “Don’t Stand So Close to Me.” The song took me a while to get into because the style is very different from everything else on this album. Furthermore, it is probably the most mainstream in styling of any song on the album. I will avoid attempting to interpret the wonderfully obscure and poetic lyrics.Rush managed to create a progressive rock album that was close to the edge of progressive rock, sometimes crossing more into the mainstream, so that the album is every accessible. Much of the music is catchy, though most of the lyrics take time to understand. Many fans consider this album Rush’s best. I liked it well enough that in preparation for this review it remained in my car’s stereo for two weeks solid. A truly great album.
It’s a testament to the talent of this trio that one of their most accomplished releases musically and lyrically is _also_ one of their most accessible.
Lots of times, when musicians’ musicians get together to record an album of ‘prog rock’, the results are interesting to their fellow musicians but leave the average listener in the dust.
The three members of Rush (Geddy Lee, vocals and bass; Alex Lifeson, guitars; Neil Peart, percussion and lyrics) don’t work that way. They _are_ musicians’ musicians (and they don’t achieve their appeal by dumbing anything down), but they never retreat into technodazzle and flashy obscurantism; their music is just (or almost) as intelligible and enjoyable to a listener who wouldn’t know 7/4 time if it bit him on the behind. (Even Geddy Lee’s solo release _My Favorite Headache_, which you might expect to be filled with all sorts of at-last-a-chance-to-show-off bass theatrics, is on the contrary a fine collection of really good _songs_.)
Likewise, Peart’s lyrics are intelligent and thoughtful, but they never talk down to us listeners or hide from us in a private, hipper-than-thou symbolic language. They’re well-lit, with the clarity of sharp lights and shadows — ‘deep’ without being hard to follow.
_Moving Pictures_ gets my vote as the CD to start with if you want to introduce yourself to this great band. Mind you, that’s not because I share the common opinion that they jumped the shark in the mid-1980s; I may be alone in the world in thinking that these guys have never released a bad album, but that is in fact what I think.
No, the reason I name this album as the place to begin is that its quality is stratospheric even for Rush. This stuff is, lyrically, some of Peart’s tightest writing, and the music (mostly by Lee and Lifeson with occasional contributions from Peart) is from start to finish as streamlined and clean-cut as a rocket.
Everybody has heard ‘Tom Sawyer’ and ‘Limelight’, so I won’t comment on those. As for the rest: the futuristic road-warrior SF of ‘Red Barchetta’ is like a miniature _2112_; the magisterial and menacing ‘Witch Hunt’ is every bit as timely today as it was in 1981; ‘YYZ’ (the airport designation for Toronto — tap it out in Morse code) is one of their finest instrumentals (and their last until a decade later); ‘The Camera Eye’ manages to turn two short ’snapshot’ verses (about New York and London) into a sprawling eleven-minute epic that doesn’t feel anywhere near that long; and the Police _wish_ they could have written and recorded the impossibly infectious ‘Vital Signs’. The music is brilliant throughout, and Peart’s incisive lyrics carry on his healthy celebration of individualism, liberty, and self-reliance without burying us in Ayn Rand references.
The bottom line is that if you’re going to like Rush, you’ll like this CD, and if not, not. Oh, you could do almost as well by starting with _Permanent Waves_. But most of their catalogue has _something_ on it that a Rush newbie might not appreciate (even _2112_).
This one is a gem, released when these guys had just broken through to the mainstream and were absolutely at the top of their game. If you have even a casual interest in Rush, don’t miss it.
Life changes occur every 7 years. By age fourteen, my life was under assault. I was in a new city and a new school. High school was intimidating, and my study skills were lousy. On top of that, my parents had split up, puberty was raging, and I was unprepared to deal with women, family, school, fights, adults, and authority. I was getting into small-scale troubles like shoplifting. My self-esteem was shot, exacerbated by pimples and the standard teasing. It was 1982.Into this social and personal morass came “Tom Sawyer”, the first rock single I ever paid attention to and the most important. Being black, I was used to R&B/soul/funk. Now I realize that the uninformed, uninitiated listener can find much about Rush to criticize, but to me, “Tom Sawyer” was a clarion call and a rallying cry. By the 3rd time I heard it on the radio, I had to buy the album (remember those?). When I was able to collect enough money (about $8.00 – remember that?), I went to the record store and was transfixed by the cool looking cover. I didn’t get the depth of the cover concept – the “moving pictures” inside joke, but the surface appealed. Notice the gothic architecture, the recutrring theme of 3, the Clockwork Orange-looking men moving pictures, the burning witch, the black/red satanic lettering, and the ‘bad seed-looking’ little girls with their parents? Rush were the master manipulators here – luring teens in to ponder what evil lurks underneath, while affirming the teen desire to rebel, to piss off your folks, thereby reclaiming your desire for power. Then you turn it around and it’s literally and figuratively the reverse – no evil intents, just a film shoot – a motion pic shoot. It’s still one of the all-time greatest album covers for me. Then the inner sleeve offers those oh-so-cool pose pix of them in motion laying down some of the wickedest and hardest music in rock. I was held captive to the stereo system with the first track, “Tom Sawyer”. Another reviewer questioned why it was first on the album. He may as well ask why a the door to a building is on the first floor. It literally is a song intended for an audience like me then. Figuratively, it became the soundtrack for my teenage life. It suggests a dark, aloof cynicism, and a preternatural desire to avoid conformity. It has a sound that is singular, distinct, and unique. The middle keyboard part that morphs into that intense jam is like a drug trip. There is an obvious love of technical proficience, a holdout for artistic quality, and a very masculine love for gadgetry and technology. It tows the line between European lyricism and the African hypnotic beat. It also was complete – the images, words, rhythms, ideas all were dynamic and interplaying, and justified the high art of production. And it covered a wide spectrum of sound – the puglistic punches and the shimmering, brassy crashes of the percussion. That impossible-to-duplicate fat, distorted bass sound. I still marvel at Geddy’s vocal performance on this record. Lifeson’s solos in “Tom Sawyer”, “Red Barchetta”, and “Limelight” are classic, yet all of his work is incredible here. His effects are equally incredible – the digital delay ending his solo in “Limelight”, and his dead-on ’shrieking tires’ starting his solo in ‘Barchetta’. That’s one of those moments that make your arm hairs stand up. It’s one of many moments on this album where you realize you’re listening to true artists who have thought long and hard on how to manipulate our senses for a desired effect. Then there’s that feeling that you are a witness to the recording (just what are they whispering to each other before the solo of “Camera Eye?”). Read the credits and you’ll note the album was recorded digitally – in fact they’re probably the FIRST to do it – 4-5 years before CDs became the norm. And that production had a strangeness to it – a haunting sense of light and shade, like an Ansel Adams photograph. Rush were a breath of fresh air for me. I wanted to be a part of the cool trip they were on then. I began to teach myself the drums, and I proceeded to collect every one of their albums and I studied them like a monk studying the New Testament. In 2 years I began to master Peart’s power, and subsequently I discovered the Police, Zep, Iron Maiden, Yes, Ozzy, etc. I became a rock student and a musician, dabbling with the bass and the guitar. So thank you, Rush. This album was the raft on the Mississippi for me. I was Huck and I was Jim, and the drumsticks were my paddles.