Review Summary: A step forward for Rush, who manage to hit progressive gold.
A Farewell To Kings
Anthem Records, 1977
Geddy Lee: Vocals, Bass, Keyboards
Alex Lifeson: Guitar
Neil Peart: Drums
Riding on the wave of progressive rock that had managed to peak the charts, Rush had realized that they had the power to use their talent to make excellent progressive musical masterpieces. Following the success of the epic '2112' and it's subsequent tour, Rush returned to the studio in order to record their newest album, 'A Farewell To Kings'. With this new record, they promised their legions of devoted fans that they would make the perfect progressive rock album, one that would top all those before it...
When discussing Rush with the general public, it is very easy to divide people into two groups; those that hate Rush, and those that love Rush. The chief problem people seem to have with this band revolves around the vocal styles of frontman Geddy Lee. The high pitched falsetto shrieks and yells that often characterize Rush songs are ever present here, and this could possibly be Geddy's strongest performance yet. 'Xanadu' and the title track display Geddy using the full range of his powerful voice, adding in the occasional scream or yell to add to the intensity of the music. 'Closer To The Heart' and 'Madrigal' show Geddy using a much softer, less high pitched voice, and a lower vocal roster. This style would become increasingly prominent on later albums, possibly for the purpose of attracting a wider variety of fans. Although many may find his interesting vocal style to be annoying or distracting, I find that it fits the overall music almost perfectly, and makes the band almost instantly recognizable and unique.
Geddy's talent does not end with his unique vocals. Generally acting as the multi-instrumentalist for the band, he also plays bass and keyboards. While the keyboards are not as prominent here as on later Rush releases, the light synth flourishes on 'Madrigal' and 'Cygnus' help add to the atmosphere of the album, and expand on the progressive feel of earlier releases. When it comes to playing the bass, Lee is considered one of the best. His bass-lines are speedy, catchy, and very audible. Even the slower sections of songs show Geddy playing quickly and intensely, often while singing at the same time. From the speedy lines on 'Xanadu' to the plodding, jumpy-bass line on 'Madrigal', Geddy's performance will surely not disappoint.
Widely considered to be the greatest drummer of all time, Neil Peart provides the extensive rhythms that propel the music to new levels. While '2112' had showcased his more reserved style of drumming, possibly due to slower song structures, 'A Farewell To Kings' show him at his best. Using a massive '360º' drum kit, he uses every form of drumming and percussion imaginable, from the use of wood block arrangements to double bass drum rolls. There are too many amazing drum moments on here to describe in one review, with my favourites including a cowbell solo halfway through 'Xanadu', and the use of bells on both the title track and 'Closer To The Heart'. Peart also acts as the chief lyricist for the band, using philisophical and science fiction- based subjects in much of his songwriting. 'Xanadu' is based on a poem about Kubla Khan, and 'Cygnus' involves a spacecraft entering a black hole. The lyrics are diverse and interesting, and are paired very well with the music.
Alex Lifeson, the guitar virtuoso of the band, is often cast in the shadow of the dexterity and skill of his fellow bandmates. This is unfortunate, as he is an excellent guitarist, capable of producing great, powerful riffs as well as playing delicate acoustic pieces. His soloing is unique and interesting, and his use of various tones and effects ensures that his guitar playing is never boring or overly extravagant.
'A Farewell To Kings' is what I would describe as Rush's masterpiece (closely followed by Hemispheres). The instrumentation is absolutely brilliant, with every musician at the peak of their talents. The songwriting is interesting and cohesive, and there are a wide variety of different song types and structures. I would strongly recommend this to anybody with a love of progressive music, or simply with an interest in some brilliant instrument virtuosos doing what they do best.
-Closer To The Heart