Review Summary: Hey baby, it's a quarter to eight and I feel I'm in the mood.
I've often tried to imagine where Rush would be today without Neil Peart. If their self titled, self released 1974 debut is any indicator, the band would've likely released a couple more Zeppelin-esque albums to a limited audience before fading out into relative obscurity at the end of the decade. They would've likely never become the prog-rock band for nerds without Peart's whimsical space storytelling and they probably wouldn't have even broached constructing a song over ten minutes - and to be honest, it wouldn't be that bad. Fact is, Rush's self titled album is actually quite good
when taken out of context. The lyrics are primitive, the production is sketchy and the drumming is certainly not that of Neil Peart but the band is able to create some undeniable grooves, some catchy hooks and most importantly, some fantastic blues jams. So while the release will never be chalked up as an immediate classic like the landmark 2112 or Moving Pictures, it's more than necessary to appreciate it for what it is: Rush's best (and only) blues-rock album.
Fading in with a classy, distorted blues riff (one good enough to open every concert of the band's 30th anniversary tour), 'Finding My Way' introduces the album quickly, effectively and groovily. The song introduces who Rush were in 1974 - a band that made money off of playing Cream covers at high school dance parties and local Toronto bars; a band that would meander for five minutes in extended, self-indulgent jam sessions in the middle of a song just because they could
and a band that wrote lyrics like "Oooh, baby it's a quarter to eight and I feel I'm in the mood!
Musically, the album belongs entirely to guitarist Alex Lifeson (something which can't be said about any other Rush record). Every song is riff based and nearly every song contains a nimble and often gratuitous guitar solo. While Geddy Lee's bass playing unfortunately takes a backseat for the album (in his defense, he had only recently transitioned from being a guitarist to a bassist), his vocals are at the forefront of each song. Those who aren't fans of Lee's vocals will be pleased to know that he hasn't quite worked himself up to the screeching found on later Rush records and gives a wholly tolerable and often enjoyable performance. On songs like 'Working Man', he employs a benign crooning that is legitimately pleasant and not just annoying. Lastly, drummer John Rutsey makes his first and only appearance on a Rush record rather unremarkably - while he employs a handful of clever fills, most of his drumming is just okay
(the fact that the drum production is pitiful doesn't help his case either).
The strange thing about this album is the fact that it doesn't have a bad song. Every song on the record is unique in it's own way and the band avoids reiterating themselves. Yet despite being quite solid on a song basis, each song tends to have a glaring fault somewhere along their running time that detracts from the listenability. 'Finding My Way' and 'In The Mood' showcase some of Rush' worst lyrics to date ("I just want to rock and roll you, woman, until the night is gone!
") and 'Take a Friend' boasts a 3/4, shuffling outro and intro that have absolutely no relevance to the song. 'What You're Doing' (despite being ridiculously awesome) suffers from poor vocal production and Led-Zeppelin-rip-off-ery while the landmark Rush song 'Working Man' is plagued by being a little bit mindless in it's quest for fun
-- more than half of the song is just a wanton jam session.
Despite it's flaws, Rush's self titled is an often overlooked beacon of fun classic rock that gives an interesting perspective on the band's sudden evolution. While Neil Peart's absence is both lyrically and musically absent, it doesn't heavily detract from the listenability. For fans of the band's later works or fans of classy riffing and baseless pentatonic soloing, this debut is a surefire winner. However, for fans of originality and maturity in music, this record can't hold a candle to Rush's more often heralded works.