Review Summary: Fly by Night is similar in quality to its predecessor, but with a sense of progression and an EXCEPTIONAL drummer.
Chapter II: A Welcome Change
Rush's eponymous debut album was largely comprised of hard rock/blues rock tunes a la Led Zeppelin and Cream. While it had many solid tunes, the album as a whole sounded pretty safe and derivative; the songs didn't really provide anything especially new for fans of 70s hard rock music. Most likely because of this, the album didn't do very well in terms of sales (it only managed to reach 105 on the Billboard 200); to make matters worse, drummer John Rutsey had to opt out of the album's tour due to his diabetes and ended up leaving the band. So when Neil Peart was set to audition for the group, his future bandmates were a bit skeptical, especially guitarist Alex Lifeson. But eventually they formed a bond and started to become great friends, especially since the band's first tour was a few weeks away. Once 1975's Fly by Night was released, some very drastic changes were made from the group's previous effort, but was it all worth it? Definitely.
Fly by Night retains a large amount of the hard rock its predecessor had, but adds a bevy of new tricks to keep listeners on their toes. The most obvious improvement is in the percussion department; Peart's precision and overall technique definitely fit Rush's music a lot better than Rutsey did. But beyond this, he also provides most of the album's lyrics; on top of that, there aren't any more songs about love and sex, but rather about philosophy and fantasy for the most part. The music has also taken a step forward, and there's no better way to display this than with arguably one of best opening songs in rock history, "Anthem." The band immediately throw you into the fray with a heavy (almost metallic) guitar riff and energetic drumming to back it up. The band calms down a bit for the verses, offering a nice contrast to such an intense first impression. Alex Lifeson alternates between the aforementioned heavy riffs and some nice clean guitar playing, while Geddy Lee's bass playing and vocal work are certainly a step up from the trio's debut. "By Tor and the Snow Dog" operates in the same vein, but has a fantastic instrumental section that would hint at the band's future progressive rock epics. The verses are pretty fun too, just your standard hard rock; once again, Neil Peart steals the show with some exceptional drum fills and a keen ear for detail when it comes to his technique. However, my absolute favorite track on here would have to be the insanely-underrated "Rivendell." Ironically, the song doesn't even have drums or the bass guitar on it; it's a folk ballad with Geddy Lee's softer singing and Alex Lifeson's beautiful acoustic guitar playing. As the title suggests, the song is about the elven outpost of the same name in The Lord of the Rings, and Geddy Lee sings about the tranquility and beauty the place brings. The entire song is gorgeous and doesn't need any embellishments to improve it; the almost-minimalist nature of the song and the emotional charge it has is certainly enough.
Unfortunately, the downside about this album is that, as with the band's debut, this album has a good chunk of filler to plow through to get to the good stuff. "Best I Can" and "In the End" are average rockers that could have easily appeared on the first album, while "Making Memories" is a pretty boring acoustic rock piece; the clean guitar work is a nice addition, but the bass is a little listless and the drumming's pretty bland for Mr. Peart. Luckily, the album's fun title track comes in midway to balance things out, and inconsistencies are more tolerable. It's still pretty annoying to have to sit through the boring tracks in the first place, though.
However, these flaws aren't enough to destroy the album; if anything, this album was a very bold move for the band; "By Tor" offers a glimpse into the band's future glories and other songs show the band refining and polishing their hard rock formula very well. This isn't really one of the band's best albums in the end, but it's at least a fun hard rock/progressive rock album that benefits from well-focused compositions and well-written lyricism. If you like Rush or want a hybrid of progressive rock and hard rock, this album should do the trick.