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Retrospective Reviews: Rush's 'Moving Pictures'

The album widely regarded as their best work in their 40 year career.
August 15, 2014, 2:20pm

There are always two extremes when dealing with Rush fandom - you’re either a fan of the Toronto prog-rock power trio, or you aren’t. While many around the world are quick to praise the incredible musical talent of all three members, others just can’t stand the extended range of Geddy Lee’s voice or drummer/songwriter Neil Peart’s perceptive lyrics. There never seems to be any sort of in-between.

When discovering a band that has a career spanning 40 years in which 20 studio records have been released, one often looks for some of their more renowned material to start with. With Rush, a record full of such a thing exists in a perfect space above their others. Moving Pictures is widely considered to be their greatest work, standing as one of the most celebrated records in the history of rock music. Beginning to shift away from sprawling, ambitious prog rock epics at the start of the decade with 1980’s Permanent Waves, Rush found a way to balance their progressive rock proficiency with the accessibility required for rock radio, resulting in their most successful recording to date.

Such equilibrium is already apparent from looking at the first side of the record - loaded with hits still getting heavy rotation both on radio and in a typical Rush live set. “Tom Sawyer”, often touted as the quintessential Rush tune, was built around a simple synthesizer melody that Lee would play in soundchecks. Featuring guitarist Alex Lifeson’s signature suspended chords and some spectacular drum fills from Peart, the song paints a picture of someone who stands independent and self-aware - an idea that sits commonplace among the band’s songwriting work throughout their career.

“Red Barchetta” brings to life the thrill and excitement of road racing, with Peart spinning a tale of a young man driving his uncle’s Ferrari. The band’s most recognized instrumental piece “YYZ” - a nod to the call letters of Toronto’s Pearson International Airport - sits nicely as the ultimate display of the group’s musicianship, quickly trading off solos in an effortless fashion. The real gem of the first side is “Limelight” - a song of self-aware observation from drummer Peart on the notion of fame and notoriety, featuring a guitar solo which Lifeson later has said is his favourite to play live.

While the second side may not have the star power of the first, it shouldn’t receive any less recognition. “The Camera Eye” stands as a sonic and lyrical examination of the hustle and bustle of New York City and London, England, while also being Rush’s last recorded song to eclipse the ten-minute mark. “Witch Hunt”, one of three pieces in the group’s “Fear” trilogy, eerily tells how such an emotion creates a mob mentality. The record closes with the feverish, reggae-tinged vibes of “Vital Signs”, a small exploration into a genre the band would draw upon in future compositions. Lyrically concerned with the human condition, Peart’s chorus urges listeners to “deviate from the norm” - fostering the theme of individualist thinking once more.

The later eighties would serve as a change in style for Rush, moving towards a synth-heavy sound which was later phased out in favor of the guitar-driven rock of the nineties. While other acts at the time were unable to fuse prog and pop successfully, Rush were able to adapt just enough to keep pace with the bands of each era while maintaining their progressive edge. Such versatility with a record like Moving Pictures proved successful with the record going four times platinum in both the United States and Canada, setting them up to become the most recognizable rock act this country has ever produced.

Calum Slingerland wishes he could play instruments half as well as Rush can. He’s on Twitter.