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Moving Pictures

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  • 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.

    Posted on February 23, 2010