MUSIC REVIEW | Rush – Moving Pictures (1981)

A band that’s been at it for the best part of five decades. A band of three absolute virtuoso musicians who will go down in history of some of the best practitioners of what they do in rock. A band that has sold millions of albums and can still pack arenas in some countries. A band that has done all that, while never being able to crack the mainstream. That band is Rush, and the only thing more impressive than their success is the fact that they’ve managed to do it in large part without hit singles and radio airplay. Yet, without all of that that, albums like Moving Pictures have still managed to carve out a hallowed place in rock history for a massive number of devoted fans all over the world.

Opening with Tom Sawyer, that lack of hit singles and radio airplay is immediately explained. At 4:37, it’s the third shortest song on Moving Pictures. Once you crack that three minute barrier, your radio friendly quotient goes down exponentially with every additional second.   But in this 4:37, we get little moments of everything great about Rush. Soaring guitars from Alex Lifeson, complex, never still drumming from Neil Peart, roaring bass from Geddy Lee, and killer riff after killer riff.

Aaah, YYZ, the Morse code based rhythm that I always thought was one of the best things Primus ever wrote. Opening their live debut, Suck on This with a quick YYZ based tribute to Rush, Primus meant I loved Rush for many years before I ever actually heard them. Obviously Lee’s bass work is a clear influence on Les Claypool’s own style, but hearing Rush is hearing a slightly more accessible use of those immense bass powers. That’s not to say Lee is middle of the road, or that Claypool is pretentiously musically obtuse, it’s just interesting to come to Lee via his honorary protégé, instead of the other way around.

Moving Pictures’ opus and centrepiece, the almost 11 minute The Camera Eye is in a lot of ways a great example of when Rush gets it wrong, and everything that I imagine turns people off this band. When Geddy Lee puts down the bass and starts playing the synthesizer, chances are you’re in for a second tier Rush song at best. Sure, the more traditional guitar based sound of Rush kicks in eventually, but The Camera Eye is bloated and very much a part of its time, not in a good way. If you were ever gonna make fun of this band, this is the song to use.

But in case you’re a glutton for punishment and wondering what happens when you take something like The Camera Eye, but suck away what little energy it had, Rush answers that question with the very next song, Witch Hunt. It might still be playing, I have no idea. I have never zoned so completely out of a song before.

Rush is a special blend of jock rock and nerd aesthetics that you just don’t see much in music. I can see fist pumping meatheads rocking out with their bros to Moving Pictures. But I can also see a game of Dungeons and Dragons taking place to this as its soundtrack, with Peart’s lyrical imagery of fantasies and grandeur giving people a little cerebral satisfaction for thinking they understand it on a deeper level than everyone else. For me, it’s just amazing music, performed by amazing musicians, for an amazing seven tracks of vintage rock amazingness.


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