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Monday, November 08, 2010

DVD Review: VH1 Classic Albums: Rush - 2112 and Moving Pictures

VH1 Classic Albums: Rush - 2112 and Moving Pictures
2010 Eagle Vision
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

If there's two things I wish I could've changed about my high school years, one is going out for football instead of working my spare time away in pursuit of a hunk of shit car that gobbled all of of my savings in repairs. The other is giving Rush better audience than I did. In my teen years as a student in a farmland school, whatever my adversaries liked, I automatically rebuffed. Rush was king amongst the toughies, the potheads, the farmers and even some of the jocks. At that time, Power Windows had been released. I admittedly gave Rush a chance on that album's merits and walked away, stupidly dismissing them and even Led Zeppelin for the same aforementioned reasons.

Later in my twenties I smartened up, corraled each band's catalogs and I own t-shirts of each. I saw Rush live on the Vapor Trails tour and laughed at my younger self, having been treated to a top-10 all-time live performance from one of the greatest bands ever assembled on the entire planet. Better to wake up late than not at all, right?

What kills me in retrospect is realizing what I'd missed out on while banging my head to W.A.S.P., Testament and Raven back in the day is how freaking heavy Rush's 2112 album is. Heavier than most bands' finest hours. Yeah, I'm talking heavy as in sound, but more so the intense Orwellian-meets-Rand story of "2112." It's beyond the word "epic." If Iron Maiden's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" has a superior, it's "2112."

As noted in this outstanding VH-1 Classic Albums documentary behind Rush's 2112 and Moving Pictures albums, "2112" speaks to generations and continues thus to newcomers. In my opinion, the message of "2112" is even more imperative in a tech-ruled society altering how we've consume and generate music. Sure, Neil Peart and Rush created a fantastical element to tell "2112," which the documentary astutely points out the group's affinity for Ayn Rand's sci-fi classics. The muse stumbles into a barren cave to find the out-of-tune guitar Alex Lifeson brilliantly tinkers with out-of-key and tunes up in mid-recording to breathe life into the "Discovery" stanza of "2112." The explosive acumen Rush thunders into the remainder of "2112" to shake up the dystopia they've created and proverbially state the power of music will save our souls has resonated since its release in 1976. Too bad I wasn't listening then.

Depending on how you look at it, the changes in the music world is harboring a dystopian undertone as much as it's freed up the airwaves to damned near anyone seeking to dial in. Clear Channel being one form of mind control through its brainless 15-20 song playlists, the new world order is creating less of a demand for hard copy and tangible, hand-felt artwork. To imagine "2112's" creation in a society looking to minimize the listening experience to pocket-size is well, blasphemous if you honor what Rush was trying to tell their listeners. Even "Lessons" from 2112 sounds like AM chicken scratch on an iPod, when it was meant to boom, to crow, to vibrate the walls with such humanity you can't ignore it. Now, you can go from desk-to-desk in a corporate office and barely discern what people are spinning through widgets barely larger than cigarette lighters.

Not that VH1 Classic Albums: Rush - 2112 and Moving Pictures goes this far in its recounting of two perrenial albums in recording history. Still, if you want to parallel "Tears" from 2112 to the early Moody Blues or damn near every rock band following "Tom Sawyer" from Moving Pictures, it's hard to sit back and see where we are as a collective soul musically-speaking. Frankly, the world is growing more and more soulless and if Rush didn't speak to the masses against allowing a dead heart control system to steal its freewill, then go straight to their song of the same name on Permanent Waves or even the sullen "Losing It" from Signals.

At least this documentary opts for a more celebratory spirit of Rush's esteemed careers. Really, the only drama it posits is how Rush nearly lost their label and fan interest (shockingly so) with their Caress of Steel album from 1975. Even in this day and age, such brilliant songwriting as Rush extolled on Caress of Steel goes ignored and unappreciated. Though hardly their most accessible album, Caress offers "Bastille Day," one of Rush's most bombastic cuts forevermore and their fans literally leap from their seats within the first few grinding riffs.

Can you imagine writing music of such complexity and grace as Caress of Steel and Fly By Night where you're still pressured to come up with a commercial megaseller or get out of Dodge? It happens every day and though they didn't mean to write a power anthem that has stood the test of time, "Tom Sawyer" was the unintentionally demonstrative answer back to the shareholders at Mercury Records. It has an undeniable kick, a strut, a vibe, yet "Tom Sawyer" was at-heart a dark song that somehow became a hard rock rally call for Generation X. Is it the hammering chords, the tougher 'n leather groove, the insane tom rolls and rat-a-tat cymbal clangs by Neil Peart or Geddy Lee's enigmatic choruses?

Whatever "Tom Sawyer's" appeal was initially, it is now held as a staple for Rush like "War Pigs" for Black Sabbath and "Rock 'n Roll All Nite" for Kiss. At least for Rush's and Moving Picture's purposes, "Tom Sawyer" is the icing on the cake for an album wielding gem after gem after gem. VH1 Classic Albums: Rush - 2112 and Moving Pictures accents this point and brings in the testimonials of Peart, Lifeson and Lee (along with producer Terry Brown) to give a few happy anecdotes behind a creative period in their lives even they treat reverentially.

You get to hear whimsical stories how "Yyz" was conceived while landing home in a Toronto airport (it does have that choatic feel of a busy terminal beneath the funk jam, doesn't it?), as they discuss the origins of "Red Barchetta" and play around with title's enunciation. They revel over Rod Serling behind the conception of "Twilight Zone" and if you were ever curious whether "A Passage to Bangkok" was a stoner song, they come clean. It is. On a personal note, I was taken by the band's breakdown of "Limelight," particularly Alex Lifeson's singled-out solo, which delivered live on camera rings as one of the most heartbreaking you'll ever let past your inner defenses.

On this DVD, you get 112 minutes of interview footage mingled with each member noodling on their instruments in conjunction with the recorded audio, but pay attention, because the feed switches to them live in random increments and it's simply beautiful how the live sound transitions fluidly from the album overdubs. You're going to want to kick back with your favorite drink on the bonus features, because you get a large dose of "2112" played live, plus the hilariously-titled "This Is Not a Drum Solo (Neil Warms Up)." If everybody warmed up by belting out an intricate ode to Gene Krupa, Peart might be out of a job at this point. It's a smoker of a laydown session and mandatory viewing.

Without flagging specific album titles, Rush poke at their mid-to-late eighties work (inherently suggested by Power Windows and Hold Your Fire), but they note the key to their long-standing success as the definitive rock trio (not to diss Motorhead) has been their unwavering dedication to experimenting and challenging themselves. They dared to try synths, they dared to splash things up with reggae, they dabbled in cyber fuse before it was hip. They get funky, they get jivey, they get jazzy. Still, in the proverbial limelight, Rush are the quintessenial prog pros whose tab books will forever be found in the bedrooms of the aspirant.

Though 2112 and Moving Pictures are the two singular bodies of work discussed here and beheld as Rush's finest moments, for the Rush purist, you can't omit Hemispheres, Permanent Waves, A Farewell to Kings, Caress of Steel and even Grace Under Pressure from the list of masterworks Rush has bestowed upon us. Their core body of work deserves a semester of study in Rock 102, and even Counterparts and Test For Echo later on showed signs of their previous glory. Agreed that 2112 and Moving Pictures are bigger than themselves, but recorded in a studio resembling a mini-atrium with a gorgeous snowscape behind them, how could Rush not have benefited from such aesthetic majesty?

I may not have taken my shot at football beyond intra-neighborhood sandlot scrimmages, but I did get hip to Rush at an apporpriate time of my life and the grandeur of "2112" and "The Camera Eye" still astonishes. Don't be like a younger me. If you've resisted Rush, be smart. This DVD's a great way to get acquainted. There'd be no Dragonforce without Rush, bank that.

Rating: ****1/2


Crescent Shield said...

great review, nice owrk ray. i saw the DVD as well and its really a gem for all the reasons you mentioned. It would have been nice if they went in depth on the omitted songs, I could have watched hours more.

Heff said...

It's time for Heff to revisit.

Metal Mark said...

"Even "Lessons" from 2112 sounds like AM chicken scratch on an iPod"

You listened to it on an iPod to know this?

"There'd be no Dragonforce without Rush, bank that."

Ahhhhh, please don't hold Rush responsible for Dragonfarce. Yuck, yuck, yuck.

Rush have had plenty of high and lows and lots of style changes. Some that worked and some that didn't. I think the albums you are discussing represent the peaks of the band's two strongest periods. I am more a 70's Rush fan and Fly by night, Caress of steel and 2112 are my favs.

bob_vinyl said...

I have to agree with Mark on both points.

First, MP3 compression isn't that noticeable unless you have pretty high-end equipment. You might think you can hear the difference, but that's the power of suggestion. You can't tell unless you shell out at least $100 for a nice pair of headphones.

I'm probably not as big of a Rush fan as you guys, but I too think they deserve better than to be held accountable for Dragonforce.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

CS, so could I. Since it was originally broadcast at 48 minutes, naturally plenty had to to go on the chopping block for editing purposes. I'm glad they hijacked as much back as they did.

Heff, enjoy the ride.

Mark, yes, I've heard 2112 coming out of an iPod and it broke my heart, so I meet your challenge, sir.

As for the Dragonforce connection, I think even you smarmy lads are intelligent enough to know I don't hold Rush directly accountable for them, only that they set a course and blueprint for prog rock and metal to carry forward, and it was refined in some manners, twisted and bastardized in others. I think Dragonforce wishes they were both Rush and Helloween, neither of which they are, lightning fast they may be.

Metal Mark said...

Dragonforce are a mess and a joke. They add nothing but speed. No more heaviness, no more aggression and certainly no more spirit.

I first heard 2112 and most of the Rush catalog before 1990 on cassette first. The great ones like 2112,Fly by night and others sounded immense right away. That format did not hold it back because if the music is great than that's going to come through no matter how you are listening to it. You just have a bias against the digital format and used this review to try and tie it in. I understand it being hard to change to a new a music format. Everyone who likes music long enough is likely to go through, but it happens.

bob_vinyl said...

Just because you heard 2112 on an iPod doesn't mean the format was the problem. You could be listening to the LP through a cheap pair of headphones or little PC speakers and it's not going to sound so good. I don't understand how you can be so opposed to MP3s when you were once such a big fan of the cassette. MP3 beats that format on all fronts (convenience and quality), yet you never complained about sound quality then. Why? Because none of us had high-end stereos, so none us realized that the format was inferior. The same goes for MP3s. If you were an audiophile, I'd buy your argument, because you'd surely hear the difference, but you're not.

Also, just like you could run into noticeable problems by dubbing a tape too many times, you can also get a bad rip (low bit rate, etc), but commercial MP3s don't have that issue. In fact, very few people ripping their CDs to MP3 have that problem these days, because storage is cheap and they rip at higher quality than they did even five years ago. Still, even a 128 kbps rip sounds as good as a CD on a common stereo.

You've always been a fan of the convenient formats (cassette and CD) over the audiophile format (vinyl). Why do you harbor such a grudge against what is by far the most convenient format yet?

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

Well, gents, cassettes were the rage of our time, unfortunately. I have ripped on cassette tapes in public and in many interviews with bands from the eighties and we all laugh about what an inferior product it was then, particuarly for its capacity to wear out and split, twist, fuck up. It was a simple matter then of buying what was more available to us since vinyl was dying during the transition between tape and CD.

I value vinyl very much, though you're correct that I love to have portability ALONG with a package. Vinyl is by far the best audile presentation we have, no argument. From packaging to recording output, it's superior. Again, no argument.

MP3 is what it is, but to me, it frequently lacks the fidelity of both CD and vinyl, vinyl being superior to CD. Initially MP3s sounded like they were done in a toilet bowl. Now they're more refined and some of the digital albums I get sound terrific. Many of them have lost a lot in transition that comes out much better even on CD.

Hey, change comes, I'm admittedly a dinosaur sometimes because I want what I want, fuck what the new norm is. I think many people go through that. My stepfather alone listens to very little outside of the 50s and early 60s. I love music too much to get that trapped and I'll adapt as we go along until I don't give a shit anymore.

When I don't care about music at all, then go ahead and kill me.

bob_vinyl said...

You don't think the power of suggestion plays into this whole "MP3s sound like they were recorded in toilet bowl" business? I remember you telling me you could tell the difference between an MP3 and a CD when played on the radio. That, of course, isn't possible, because the fidelity of MP3s are superior to that of an FM broadcast. There are so many factors that come into play when judging the quality of what you hear. The recording, the mastering, the reproduction, the format, the player and the speakers. I don't think you can say an MP3 sounds like "chicken scratch" when you haven't considered all the factors. I think you're presenting misleading evidence to bolster your own prejudice against what is actually a very good format.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

I can say that there is a totally different texture to the MP3s used at Sirius/XM on certain stations where they come off I was rear-ended this week in my wife's car, her rental has Sirius built in, which my subscription ran out and the external consoles I had kept blowing...anyway, with as fair as I can be, I can tell a distinct difference in audile resonance on many of the songs I'm hearing...I have always had very sensitive ears during my life, so I hear a very minor shrill tweak behind a lot of the MP3s coming out of doesn't stop my enjoyment of Sirius because it freaking rules and I'll be a subscriber again when the budget allows it to be

Bottom line, Bob, the world's changing, I don't like a lot of it, but so what? I'm one guy and I have a bias. Again, so what? You disagree, great. So does a lot of other people. I do not enjoy MP3 as much as I do CD and vinyl. Again, so what? It doesn't affect or change the fact it's the new thing, which will eventually give way to some new format since the world is obsessed with changing format and tech as quickly as they develop it. Part of it is to ascribe to the Jetsons' lifestyle, but mostly it's corporate bullshit to keep people buying new stuff and try to raise us out of the recession.

We're in the recession partly because of this "gotta have it" tech that's been moving us at a faster rate than we were even 15 years ago. You have to pay to play and we're bankrupt as a nation because of our obsession to have all the gimmicky tech and life-easing tech. Give me convenience or give me death, the Kennedys say. That was a warning, not a subscription. Fuck it, use the tech to save lives, not stash 600 tunes into a pocket lighter.

Yeah, that's prejudicial, but whatever. I'll come along at my pace when I'm ready, if I'm ready, because I see the exploitation of all and I'm sick of buying movies and music in new formats. Nostalgic drip that I am, I'd rather sit on the floor of my bedroom with a good piece of vinyl and get lost into that, not the internet. Sure, the internet's done wonders for my career and I won't ever discount that, but I think life was easier BEFORE this tech and internet.

Anyway, as always, we've drifted off-tangent. MP3 is here until they make the Blu Ray version of it and send everyone scrambling into the stores to get new thumb-size players capable of holding 20,000 songs. The next step is fucking implants like Total Recall. That's on its way. Day by day we become Borg, slave to the tech. Let the MP3 horns herald the deadening.

bob_vinyl said...

Don't get so irritated. Just make a good argument for your case. I don't care if you like MP3s or not. I'm just saying that your argument against them isn't intellectually honest. It's just fear/dislike of technology without discerning whether the change is good or bad.

Your attempt to reshape your argument into economics is poor, because technology is an area where prices do not continue to inflate. In fact, MP3s are less expensive and less space intensive than any previous format. The most recent downturn was precipitated by the bursting housing bubble. Overconsumption (and overextended credit) exacerbated the issue, but unlike the dot-com bubble, tech is not at fault.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

As I said, it was part of the problem and indeed it is a part of the problem, even if overextension of credit is an accurate statement on your part. I just think differently than you do since my minor is in marketing and I have an outlook based on teaching and pragmatic experience indicating the corporations create a need based on intrinsic values, which are psychologically stemmed with wanting the next bigger and better thing. We're human and naturally the next new thing excites us, so much to the point many of HAVE to have it, i.e. new phones, new iPods, new everything. That leads to the overextension of credit via the compulsion created by tech marketers who make their products obsolete sometimes within months of each launch.

Every industrial country has exploited its citizenry thus and will continue to do so because human beings cannot control their impulses. There's SOMETHING everyone wants, no matter how disciplined they are. The marketers are there to exploit it. So there's your argument for economics and if you don't see it, I'm actually envious of you.

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