Review Summary: Down the tubes indeed.
Chapter III: A Shaky Rebirth
After the moderate success of Rush's first two records, the band made the ballsiest choice in their entire career: they ditched their old bluesy hard rock sound in favor of straight up progressive rock. Fans were shocked at this sudden switch; while Fly by Night had some elements of progressive rock, Caress of Steel saw the band going headfirst into the proverbial pit of the genre. But hey, sometimes the most unlikely successes happen because of sporadic stylistic choices, so maybe it's gonna work for Rush...
Oh dear God, it didn't!
A huge leap backward from the previous two albums, Caress of Steel alternates between short straightforward rockers and two lengthy progressive epics. There are certainly good and bad aspects of each section of the album, but the epics are where the most things went wrong. While they are certainly ambitious, they're also incredibly disjointed and frankly boring. "The Necromancer" is split into three parts, and while the spoken-word segments are fun enough to listen to, the solos are irritatingly long and tedious. With "Working Man" off the first album, the solo section was a lot more enjoyable because there was enough compositional variety accompanying Alex Lifeson's guitar work. With "The Necromancer," the solos go on for ages; it doesn't help that the song doesn't flow very well either. As I said though, the spoken word parts are pretty fun despite the cheesiness of the low voice narrating them. The instrumental work is also at its strongest here, with melancholic clean leads giving some atmosphere. "The Fountain of Lamneth," however, is where everything turns completely sour. Despite an admittedly beautiful acoustic opening, the heavier section that follows is a bit sporadic and uncalled for. But even then, it's cool to hear Neil Peart doing some nifty technical drumming around this section. However, it all goes downhill once the drum solo starts. This portion completely screws up the entire epic, derailing the rest of the song's consistency; once it's over, the rest of the tune consists mostly of variations on the same melancholic guitar lines you heard earlier. There are some changes in style and dynamics, but they never amount to much.
The rockers are definitely better than the epics, but there are some problems here too. "Bastille Day" and "Lakeside Park" are really solid hard rock numbers, the former being a classic Rush song that is played live to this day. The main riff is almost punk-sounding and the lyrics about the French Revolution are definitely well-written. The song's structure sounds like it could have been featured on the previous album Fly by Night, with more emphasis on hard rock than progressive rock. "Lakeside Park" is a bit more laid-back, but offers a calming atmosphere represented by cleaner guitar playing. "I Think I'm Going Bald" is a pretty terrible song though, with ridiculous lyrics about - what else? - going bald. The song's instrumental work is completely average, and nothing stands out very much. All of this amounts to the album's biggest problem: it's too inconsistent. There's an annoying disjointed feel about the record, and while the rockers are fun enough, the epics are overlong and boring as hell. This might just be Rush's worst record overall; luckily, the band would find their footing with the next effort, 2112. Stay tuned for Chapter IV.