Review Summary: :D
Chapter V: A Giant Leap Forward
2112 was such an important album for Rush; not only did it serve as a nice rebound from the disappointing Caress of Steel, but it catapulted Rush into stardom almost overnight. On top of this, it was a great album despite the second half's inconsistencies and occasional filler material. Last but not least, the title track was absolutely incredible and paved the way for the band's future progressive epics. So how did the band follow up a great album? They made an amazing one!
A Farewell to Kings isn't just another album in Rush's discography, but instead a masterpiece that begins a large streak of powerhouse albums by the band. Here we have six tracks (just like with 2112) that range from miniature to being over eleven minutes in length. Something that's particularly impressive about this record is how the band makes such great use of every single second of the running time. For instance, album highlight "Xanadu" could have begun with a typical hard rock opening to get things moving. Instead, it introduces itself with two minutes of atmosphere and allows drummer Neil Peart to reveal his vast arsenal of percussion equipment in a gradual manner. You hear woodblocks, wind chimes, and other instruments that would further enhance the calm atmosphere opening the track. Even with the heavier moments later on, there are still numerous tempo changes and varied dynamics to keep the listener on his/her toes. On the other side of the spectrum, there's the short power-ballad "Closer to the Heart"; with an acoustic guitar introducing the main theme, the dynamics gradually build steam until an energetic hard rock finale closes things off. While this song is more on the conventional side, it's still very well-written and brings out a more heartwarming feeling than "Tears" from the previous album. A song like this goes to show how much someone could do with such a short running time.
This record also showcases more diversity than the band's previous efforts. Along with expanding upon the philosophical themes that were featured on a good chunk of 2112, the music has a few more surprises this time around. With the title track, you get a lovely classical guitar melody kicking things off; with "Cygnus X-1," you get a lot of variety as each member shows his particular skills and a narrator fills you in on the dark story that's going on. With "Madrigal," you get one of Rush's quietest and shortest tracks, complete with soft guitar flourishes and Geddy Lee showing a refreshing sense of restraint in his vocals. The list goes on, and it's all strengthened with a sense of songwriting balance. The music never gets overbearing or underwhelming; the band know when to switch things up within their compositions. Even the ominous guitar line near the end of "Cygnus X-1" never really overstays it welcome; even if it did, the explosion of heavy instrumentation that follows easily makes up for that. If I had to choose the weakest song on the album, it'd probably be "Cinderella Man." It's still a good track, but a little generic compared to the others; the clean choruses (another area of Lee's restraint in terms of singing) are a nice touch to offset the hard rock sections, but those hard rock sections just aren't as interesting. We've heard this work done in previous albums by Rush, and there's not much new material brought to the table with this song.
Either way, A Farewell to Kings is still a remarkable album all around. It remains one of my all-time favorite progressive rock releases, and it seems that many other people share that opinion as well. Buy this if you haven't already; it's truly a masterpiece in 70s rock music and shouldn't be overlooked. Interestingly enough, Rush would actually be able to top this album with their next effort; this would probably be second or third if it had to be ranked, though. It continues the streak of commercial successes by the band and expands upon their already-established sound exceptionally well. If you enjoy progressive rock and/or hard rock, get this ASAP.