In Defense of Rush
[In both his work with Zombi as well as his solo projects under the name Majeure, A.E. Paterra has concentrated on making music that combines the pulse and precision of minimal techno with a grand, cinematic sweep. So it's little wonder that Paterra's chief influence is one of the most grandiose and cinematic bands of all time: Rush. Knowing that Rush has attracted their share of both supporters and detractors, we asked Paterra to rep for his five favorite Rush albums. He did us one better: he went to bad for five Rush albums that even Rush fans disown. We'll let him do the convincing – Ed.]
I’ve been a Rush fan since I was 15.
I remember quite clearly the morning my radio alarm went off, and my virgin prog-leaning brain was permeated with the sound of Canadian-crafted badassness. I didn’t know it then, but I was listening to the guitar solo section of “Freewill,” a section so expertly designed that anyone who was into rock music would have to take notice.
But what I remember most were those drums. At the time, I was just getting into music. I remember air drumming a lot, tapping on things. I had seen John Bonham’s “Moby Dick” solo and been into it. But this was different. When I heard this brief snippet of music in my post-dream haze, it was clear to me what I had to do. First, I needed to find out who the hell this band was. Then, I needed to buy a drum kit.
That morning started a love affair with a band that I have followed for 20 years. (You can’t really be a casual fan.) As a drummer, I became fascinated with Neil Peart. I know every damn fill in every damn song by heart. I can tell you what year a photo was taken based on what type of kit he was using. I bought heavy cymbal cleaner to strip the logos off my cymbals, just like Neil. For years, I flipped my sticks over and played with the butt ends.
Then there was something else: Those synthesizers! They used all of the cool stuff! Moog Taurus Pedals, Mini-Moogs, the Oberheim OB8, Roland Guitar Synths and double-necked Rickenbackers. Over time, I became just as big a Lee and Lifeson fan as I was of Peart – as evidenced by my modest synthesizer collection. For a tech head, this band is dangerous. I wonder if Guitar Center could exist without them. (My apologies for mentioning Guitar Center.)
But Rush’s biggest influence on me, even more than their songwriting, was their relentless touring. For a solid 15 years they were on the schedule of – record an album, followed by a tour; sometimes there was a tour in the interim, followed by another album, another tour, and so on. Non-stop. I took this inspiration, and was able to make it happen for myself – albeit only for a few years, and no way near as many dates as they would do. But it happened, and I am grateful to them for inspiring me to hit the road.
Needless to say, I was excited when I was asked to write about five of my favorite albums. Instead, though, what I decided to do was focus on five albums most people would rank at the bottom of the barrel. True fans love these albums (then again, we love them all). Among less fanatic fans, most will talk about Moving Pictures, Hemisphere or 2112, but you won’t get too many people saying, “Dude, man, ‘Open Secrets’ off Hold Your Fire is sooo tight!” But I will say that. In fact, I think I may have said that exact thing at some point. Hell, I love that song.
And now, in sequential order, the Five Rush Albums You’ve Always Wanted to Know About But Were Afraid to Ask.
Probably the biggest knock on this album is the production. But it was the mid ’80s, and digital production and mixing techniques had just started coming into play. Everyone was using the technology, and I, for one, don’t mind the high-end sheen. Digital and analog were still in bed together, so it wasn’t that bad. There are some expertly crafted songs on this album, as well as some long-standing live numbers like “The Big Money” and “Mystic Rhythms.” My favorite tracks are “Grand Designs” – highly sequenced synth parts and some great instrumental passages – and “Middletown Dreams.” Overall, a brilliant effort in both songwriting and production. Great artwork to boot.
Video for “The Big Money”:
Remember when I mentioned “Open Secrets”? Well, it appears on this album. Neil uses a nice ride and hi-hat pattern on the outro, with a straight four-on-the-floor kick that I just love. Classic Peart. Aimee Mann appears on “Time Stand Still,” and the intro track, “Force Ten,” is relentless. Some stinkers on this one, however. “Tai Shan” stands out. Even Geddy has said so.
Video for “Time Stand Still”, featuring a floating Aimee Mann:
Bunnies! This one starts off strong with “Show Don’t Tell.” Alex has changed up his guitar sound a bit, and this started a new era for him, eventually leading him to the sludgy, blues-inspired metal guitar he has been playing of late. The song “Scars” featured a Peart pattern that has been a staple in his drum solo for a while. This album has lightness to it: the production sparkles, crisp and clean. Which many don’t like.
Here’s a video to the track “Superconductor,” directed by Devo’s Gerald Casale!
Now we’re entering some dark territory. Most fans have a love/hate relationship with this album. For one, the title track features the infamous “Neil Peart Rapping Section,” which I’ll admit is a tad silly. But Rush has always been a mirror of what was popular at the time, and the boys thought rap was influential enough to include it. Songs like “Dreamline” and “Bravado” are by far the standouts. When it comes down to it, this album is a good collection of well-crafted pop songs – basically, a more refined Presto – and closes the synthesizer era in their songwriting. Things were about to change.
Here’s a live performance of “Dreamline” from the ’94 Counterparts tour:
This album is special to me, mainly because it was the first album I was able to buy as a fan. When I first started listening to Rush, Roll the Bones was already released, so I fondly remember the anticipation as I waited to get my first “new” Rush album. The band made a decided effort to push synthesizers and sequencing out of the mix, and went instead for a basic power trio sound. Lifeson’s guitar was at the forefront, and everything became heavier. I was honestly disappointed with this one – the Rush I grew to love was no longer. Peart lays back a lot on this one; not a lot of big fills or nifty beats, just straight groove-oriented playing. Songs like “Animate,” “Double Agent” and the instrumental “Leave That Thing Alone” (which earned a Grammy nomination) are my favorites.
The video for the edgy “Stick it Out” with the infamous “Rush Video Dreadlock Dude”: