Review Summary: Down the tubes and into some incredibly undervalued music.
When Rush released Caress of Steel and toured for it, they were met with deaf ears and disappointment. No one expected it, no one wanted it. They played smaller and smaller venues until they were back in bars and dives. They nick-named that tour the 'Down the Tubes' tour, and if it wasn't for their next album, 2112, they might have faded into obscurity. Fortunately, they didn't, and now, with the power of hindsight and the ability to appreciate the direction of their music in relation to later works we know and love, Caress of Steel can be seen for the amazing show of musicianship that it is.
The album starts off with "Bastille Day", a solid rock track with decent lyrics. Peart serves up some clever twists in his lyrics, such as "the king shall kneel, and let his kingdom rise", referring of course to kneeling before a guillotine. Geddy spits out the vocals like an angry mob turned up an octave or two, using the distinct high-pitched growl of his early years. Lifeson plays admirably on this track, playing aggressively in the fast parts and closing the song with a guitar part with all the pomp and majesty of the French aristocracy.
Then comes, in my opinion, the worst Rush song of all time, "I Think I'm Going Bald". Using a recycled riff reminiscent of "In The Mood" off of their first album, the whole band seems to put in minimal effort into this song, with Geddy sounding like he's wandering through the lyrics or making fun of them, and Peart remaining pretty stationary in his drumming. Lifeson seems to be the only one who puts effort into this song, turning out a pretty decent guitar solo for the end.
"Lakeside Park" is a nice, relaxing song, a look at the innocent pleasures of childhood and how they fade with experience and age. The band takes it easy with this one, revelling in the nostalgia of those days. Everyone seems reserved, relaxing, as much as Rush relaxes, conjuring up the image of a couple of good friends lying on the grass in a park, drinking beers, swapping stories, and enjoying eachother's company. It's all so peaceful.
With some eery sounds and slow, silent riff, "The Necromancer" begins. The second 'epic' by Rush, counting "By-Tor and the Snow Dog" from Fly By Night, is broken up into three parts. The first, 'Into Darkness', slowly builds upon its riff, while some deep voice sets the story in motion. By the time the narration has finished, the whole band is in. Wisps of guitar flow in and out of hearing, while the bass and drums keep time. The theme builds and builds, wave after wave crashing in on your ears until it engulfs you, and quickly ebbs away, to the sorrowful sound of Geddy's clear voice. After a short interval of this, the music floods in again, Lifeson's guitar solo coursing through your mind.
The riff stops, and the deep voice returns to continue the story with the second part 'Under the Shadow'. After a brief drum fill, the next theme appears, clear chords dispelling the mystery of the first part. Geddy roars between these chords for a time, and then takes his bass for a walk under a bluesy, dirty guitar solo that wanders from ear to ear. The bass and guitar play in unison for a brief span, if only to introduce a faster, more vehement theme. Here Lifeson takes it away, showing of his incredible and unique playing style.
The second part stops suddenly, leading into a new theme, and the final part, 'Return of the Prince'. The deep voice, no longer menacing, announces the appearance of a saviour who does battle with the Necromancer and defeats him. The sound build in triumph, as though a burst of sunlight has dispelled the darkness. So ends the first epic of Caress of Steel. With a greater epic still to come.
The next song "The Fountain of Lamneth", is broken into six parts. It tells the story of the journey of life, from birth to death. It begins with 'In the Valley', opening with a simple yet sad acoustic guitar, and Geddy's soft voice. The rest of the band come in shortly thereafter, amping up the intensity of the song. This first part describes a youthful man in search of the Fountain of Lamneth, knowing nothing but the valley he lives in, comparable to a child that knows nothing of the world except that which his parents tell him.
The next part, 'Didacts and Narpets', is a short drum solo, with rapid bursts of vocals, depicting the traveller rebelling against his teachers (didacts) and parents (narpets). Peart turns in some intense drumming in this part.
Coming next is 'No one at the Bridge', which a has a dangerous sound to it. It shows the traveller alone on his ship, crying out for help as his ship is swept every which way by the tumultuous sea. Geddy screams out in desperation and Lifeson answers with a guitar solo that sounds like a maelstrom.
This part ends with the sound of crashing waves and gulls and leads into a sweet ballad entitled 'Panacea'. The traveller has met his love on the shores he washed up on. Despite this, he must continue on his journey. Geddy sings low and soft, without a hint of the growl of the previous parts, and Lifeson and Peart play peacefully behind him.
'The Bacchus Plateau' arrives with loud but laid back guitar. Geddy sounds tired in this one, describing the traveller becoming weary and full of nostalgia. Everyone turns in a great performance, sounding tired but enrgetic at the same time, describing middle aged life.
The opening theme returns with 'The Fountain'. The traveller believes he's reached the Fountain at last, only to realise that it is not the destination, but the journey, the dream, that is important. After a very world weary solo from Lifeson, the loud theme from the first part recedes, leaving us with the first theme, sad and sweet guitar and soft vocals.
And there you have it. One of the most underrated albums of all, hopefully dissected well enough for you. It would warrant a full five if not for "I Think I'm Going Bald".
I hope everyone enjoyed or got something out of my first album review. If it was too long or too garbled, I guess the album describes itself pretty well in its closing lines:
I'm together, I'm apart,
I'm forever at the start,
Still, I am