Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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All Killer No Filler: Rush – Moving Pictures (1981)

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on February 6, 2007

Albums are good too.

I’m pretty sure I used to dismiss Rush as something of a punchline band–not sure if it was because I didn’t like the music (though I know I used to actively dislike “Tom Sawyer“) or because I’d seen them used as punchlines in classic Aqua Teen Hunger Force episode “Spirit Journey Formation Anniversary” and the lyrics to Pavement’s hilarious 1997 single “Stereo“. They didn’t really fit into either my indie rock or pop phases of musical listening, I suppose, and so I didn’t really realize how much I liked them until “YYZ” was made playable for Guitar Hero II (arguably the best song in the game, since it’s equally fun and extremely challenging for both bass and guitar). Then I heard a whole bunch of their songs for the first time on the radio in Texas over Thanksgiving break, and I was hooked.

Moving Pictures is generally accepted, I believe, to be Rush’s best album, and it’s the first full-length of theirs that I’ve heard. Only seven tracks long, and I already knew three of ’em–“Sawyer,” “YYZ” and “Limelight“–I already knew and (recently) loved. The remaining tracks are no slouch, either, especially mega-epic “The Camera Eye” and closer “Vital Signs“. Good stuff, and it made me realize that I like Rush primarily for two reasons:

1. All three members (Geddy Lee = Vocals & Bass, Alex Lifeson = guitar, Neil Peart = drums) are obviously insanely fucking talented musicians, but that’s not what’s impressive–plenty of shitty bands have three insanely fucking talented musicians, but usually they’re too busy showing off to actually worry about writing quality songs and sounding good together and such. What’s impressive is that the three manage to fall into most of the pratfalls of bands with three heroic members–the songs are long, unfocused and jammy, and in almost every song on Moving Pictures there’s at least one section where it sounds like all three members are soloing at once–and they still manage to sound great doing it. In fact, those every-man-for-himself sections tend to be my favorite part of almost every Rush song. I would have said that this was a mathematical impossibility–either Rush are just that good, or they know something about songwriting that I definitely don’t.

2. Rush sound like absolutely no other band that has ever existed, or will ever exist. Sure, there are bands who clearly carried on Rush’s legacy in some respects, like Queensryche and Dream Theater (who even did a demo cover of “YYZ” in their early days), but when you get down to it, there’s no chance these bands will ever be confused with Rush. I know it’s dangerous to say things like thiis, but I feel reasonably confident in my assessment, also for two reasons.

One is that at heart, Rush’s sound is a blend of the two genres–Prog-Rock and Power-Pop–that have possibly the least in common of any sub-genres that could fall under the “Rock” heading. The prog-rock is immediately apparent–no two songs have the same time signatures, choruses are few and far between, songs have long instrumental intros and longer instrumental breaks, and lyrically, it would probably be harder to find a Rush song about love than about, say, Kafka’s Metamorphasis or the War of 1812. But the power-pop element, not a sound generally asosciated with Rush, I believe to be just as important–the songs are bursting with shiny guitars, righteous melodies, and Geddy Lee’s high-pitched, over-excited voice. Take a song like “Limelight,” trim about two minutes at either end, even out the time signature a bit and replace the Hamlet quotes with lyrics about being horny on a Friday night, and you’d have the best Undertones song ever written. It’s a hugely risky mix, and I figure there was only about a 1/374,000,000 chance that Rush would find a modicum of success with it, but they somewhow managed to find the right balance between the two, and conseuqently you get these ridiculously catchy, hooky and mind-busting seven-minute+ songs about the oppressed Working Man and the tragedy of modern living.

The other reason is that, great though they are, I can’t imagine why any other band would want to try to sound like Rush. Their success is so unlikely and hard to explain that to try to replicate their formula would be like trying to win the lottery for a second time (not to mention that I’m not sure how easy it is to determine exactly what Rush’s formula is, or to find three musicians talented and patient enough to try to recreate it). What’s more, I don’t think the world has any demand for a Rush-soundalike–Rush come so close to being grating on their own, that another Rush would surely seem like overkill. And this is why Rush have the fifth biggest streak of gold albums of any band in history (23, 14 of them going platinum)–because they remain a singular entity in the world of rock, one which never goes out of style because, as Chuck Klosterman once pointed out, they were never really in style to begin with. You can’t point to any music movement or moment in time which Rush is inextricably tied to, and so they are eternal.

Oh yeah, and thanks to the album’s Wikipedia page, for pointing out that the album cover is a double pun on the album’s title (the people are literally moving pictures, while people to the side are crying, indicating that those are some moving pictures). Then in the back cover, the band is making a movie, or moving picture, of the scene, officially making it a triple pun. If that doesn’t sell you on the album, nothing will.


4 Responses to “All Killer No Filler: Rush – Moving Pictures (1981)”

  1. Nail on the head about Rush – although one of its more direct progeny you didn’t mention was Primus! As far as the fusion of prog and pop goes, there’s actually a mini-genre of that stuff nowadays, with bands like Porcupine Tree, Blackfield, and so on. Nice to see someone actually look into Rush instead of just using them as a punchline.

  2. Andrew Unterberger said

    Yeah, good call on Primus (think they even rip the YYZ intro for one of their songs), though I can’t stand them at all.

  3. I just got to this site from stylus magazine and the wicker man review, which was a great read. and now this review. you really can write! thanks

  4. abegrand said

    Outstanding piece! Always great to see someone come around to Rush. Now we have to get you into the hugely underrated new wave brilliance of Grace Under Pressure.

    “Limelight” is near-perfect power pop, alright. It’s all about the accelerating riff in the chorus (“Those who wish to beee…”). Sparks fly.

    And yeah, playing “YYZ” on Guitar Hero is pretty much the greatest thing ever.

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