Review Summary: The best compilation for one of progressive rock music's best bands.
Ah Rush, thanks to them I have forgiven Canada for Celine Dion and Nickelback. Such a massive musical redeeming can only be accomplished by a truly great band, and Rush is... to a degree. Though formed in 1968, it took them six years to release their first album, eight years (four albums) to make their first great one, and thirteen years to release their defining album: 1981’s Moving Pictures. So their entire catalogue from the seventies, while filled with some great moments, does not contain any must-have records for a casual fan. That is what makes this collection, Retrospective, Vol. I (1974-1980), such a treat, it is a collection of fourteen tracks from their first seven albums, from 1974’s Rush through 1980’s Permanent Waves.
Unlike many Best-Of’s, the tracks are not ordered chronologically, which really makes for a better listening experience. While it may be interesting to hear a band’s sound develop over one album, it can also lead to some unnatural sounding transitions, making it terribly obvious that it is just a compilation. There was clearly thought put into the order though, as the songs logically flow from one to the other, from the obvious opener “The Spirit of Radio” all the way through to the closer “Finding My Way,” which is actually the oldest song on the record. The most important thing about a compilation though is obviously the track-list, as the inclusion or exclusion of certain tracks can kill one. However, just like the order of the tracks, the selection is nearly perfect, as every song here belongs. The absence of a few songs, particularly “Working Man” and “A Passage to Bangkok” may be upsetting to some, but really that would just be nit-picking, since the disc already is 75 minutes long, and contains more than enough good music.
The music is what one would expect from seventies Rush, being mostly aggressive progressive rock songs with few hints of the keyboard-heavy arena rock that they would play in the eighties. Retrospective I includes some of their more accessible songs from this era, like the aforementioned “Spirit of Radio,” “Freewill,” and “Closer to Heart” and some wilder rockers like “Something for Nothing” and “Anthem,” as well as epics, such as “Xanadu,” and “By-Tor and the Snow Dog.” So, in simpler terms, it basically cover every aspect of early Rush: heavy, catchy, and proggy, often all at the same time.
A ridiculously consistent album, despite containing the music of Rush’s least consistent period, Retrospective, Vol. I should be a must-listen for anyone new to Rush, as it provides the best examples of their music from this time. Those who favor their Rush a bit lighter should try out Vol. II, which includes their music from 1981 through 1987, and is almost as good as this one, but those who like the progressive, heavy Rush will definitely prefer and love this.