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★★★★½
(303 Reviews)

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  • 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.

    Posted on February 23, 2010