Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Moving Pictures - Rush (1981)

If there is one album you should be required to listen to before you die. Even if you don't care for progressive rock in any way shape or form, you have to appreciate the sheer amount of technical skill that went into the album. Rush quickly developed a reputation for technically challenging music with deeply poetic lyrics. Moving Pictures somehow takes the best of the technical playing, and the high concept lyrics, and puts them together in a very accessible, and very listenable package.

In many ways, Rush spent the first thirteen years of their career experimenting with different sounds and concepts. Moving Pictures, however, represents the band really coming into their own. In it's time, it was their breakthrough album- catapulting them from having a dedicated cult following, to a huge following in general. The album quickly became their most popular, and now, thirty years later, still feels fresh and relevant. It has even been made the centerpiece of Rush's current "Time Machine Tour" where it is being performed in it's entirety, to the elation of their legions of fans.
"As I define it, that's when we became us..." said drummer Neil Peart in the documentary "Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage," "I think Rush was born with Moving Pictures. It represent so much about what we had learned up to that time, about songwriting, about arrangement, that's when we brought our band identity together." This statement accurately  sums up the album. It has become, over the years, the Rush album that even non-fans can easily identify with the band. While it was very much a product of it's time- blending ideas borrowed from new wave and reggae with classic hard rock, it has undeniable staying power- and remains a relevant album thirty years later.

"Now when I look back on those songs, I'm glad to say to people that I'll never get tired of playing 'Tom Sawyer' because it's always difficult to play right, and anytime I do play it right, I feel good." continued Peart. With that statement in mind, it should be no surprise that the opening track, "Tom Sawyer," is for all intents and purposes, the band's signature song. The lyrics, penned by Neil Peart and poet/lyricist Pye Dubois, paint a portrait of a modern-day rebel- /No his mind is not for rent/To any God or government/Always hopeful, yet discontent/He knows changes aren't permanent/. The song has had a huge influence on many artists- even ones that seem unlikely- for instance, thrash metal band Metallica's 1986 album "Master of Puppets" contains a thank you to Rush in the liner notes, and lead singer/guitarist James Hetfield has stated in interviews that he used a piece of a riff from "Tom Sawyer" in the song "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)."

The album, despite it's more electronic-music influences, still retains a connection to the band's progressive rock roots- especially with the song "Red Barchetta." This song is a retelling of a futuristic story by Richard Foster taken from the November 1973 issue of Road and Track magazine titled "A Nice Morning Drive." The story is set in a future where the roads are tightly controlled in the name of safety. The Hero of the story sneaks away to his Uncle's farm where he takes out a vintage sportscar- the Red Barchetta of the title, and races through the countryside in defiance of the rules. The song perfectly captures the thrill of speed and defiance of overprotective laws- and captures the essence of the original story. It's also a great song to blast while driving down the highway a little too fast.

YYZ is the album's instrumental. The opening riff, and percussion intro are based on the airport transponder code for Toronto International Airport (which also is referred to by the three-letter code YYZ). The track is fairly complex for a rock instrumental, and has moments designed to feature each member's exceptional talents. Because of this, YYZ has become a staple of Rush's live shows. A great example of the complexity and sophistication of the song is the infamous "second bass guitar solo" which lasts all of about three seconds, but can easily take hours to even begin to learn.

In an album loaded with iconic songs, "Limelight" is yet another song that is instantly identifiable. The lyrics talk about the struggle Neail Peart has had dealing with the attention that comes with fame- the line /I can't pretend a stranger/Is a long-awaited friend/ sums up his feelings very well. Being a very private person, he has always had trouble feeling comfortable around fans who are eager to show their appreciation. The song was featured in the film "I Love You Man" - where two friends, played by Paul Rudd and Jason Segel, bond over a common love for Rush. The pair also happen to be huge fans of the band- to the point where they recorded their own cover of Limelight, which was used in the film.

The next song, "The Camera Eye" is the last song that Rush recorded that clocks in at over 10 minutes in length. The song is meant to be a musical depiction of two of the most important English-speaking cities- New York - /Grim-faced and forbidding/Their faces closed tight/An angular mass of New Yorkers/, and London - /Wide-angle watcher/Of life's ancient tales/Steeped in the history of London/. The song was performed live for the first time since 1983 on the band's 2010/2011 "Time Machine Tour" - when I saw them perform in New Jersey, the song was one of the highlights of the evening- it's great to see an old song that's been overshadowed by the more popular tracks from the album make such a triumphant comeback.

The next track, "Witch Hunt" is billed as part three of the "Fear" trilogy, despite the fact that is the first song written for the "Fear" trilogy. The trilogy is meant to show how man's actions can be governed by fear, as well as by need or love. Part I of "Fear" was recorded last- "The Enemy Within" from the album "Grace Under Pressure" - which deals with the idea of fear within that can drive a person's decisions. Part II was the song "The Weapon" from the album "Signals" - it talks about how fear can be used to control or motivate others. "Witch Hunt" with it's gloomy instrumental introduction, talks about how fear can be used to motivate or command groups or mobs of people. More recently, the 2002 album "Vapor Trails" expanded the trilogy into a four-part work with the song "Freeze" which talks about how people respond to fear- the classic "fight or flight" response.

The final track "Vital Signs" has a strong reggae influence- most evident in the main guitar riff. The song talks about the many different ways life can force someone off-task, and interfere with the best plans- but expresses a hopeful outlook- that through focus and will, those goals can still be achieved - /Leave out conditions/Courageous conviction/Will drag the dream into existence/

The album artwork is a triple wordplay on the title- the cover shows a group of movers "moving pictures" - three paintings, one of which is artwork from the album "2112." Nearby are a group of people watching the movers and their pictures, who are in turn, emotionally "moved" by the pictures. The back cover reveals that the entire scene is being shot by a film crew- who are making a "moving picture" of people being moved by the pictures, that are being moved by the movers.

In an additional twist of fate, a movie reference to the album acted as an influence on the band. When selections from the album were used in the film "I Love You, Man," the band was impressed and entertained enough by the concept that they even made a personal appearance in the film. The band took things a step further, and used a comical video of themselves along with Paul Rudd and Jason Segel acting in character as a closing film clip during part of the "Time Machine Tour" in 2010/2011.

On an unrelated note- I have the same tour T-shirt that Paul Rudd wears in the video (so do a lot of people, but this one is mine!).

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