One thing I've noticed through my experiences listening to Rush albums (with the exception of their usually amazing live releases), is that they fall under one of two categories (or both): (1) They have some great songs or a great epic but are quite weak besides that, or (2) They are perfect in every way except length. This release falls under the latter...
Overview: This was a pre-sytnh era Rush album and my favorite at that! Probably their most balanced album as far as long, progged out songs mixed with short catchy tunes is concerned. Faster tunes and slower ones are also another point of balance. The flow of this record is just amazing. Warm sound, tons of unconventional instruments, and brilliant lyrics make this a classic. Not a bad song on it.
1. [A Farewell to Kings] Strong, strong opener. The mood is first set with a soothing acoustic classical guitar piece that is eventually joined in with some bells and ambient nature noises. Then come the opening thud and following mid-tempo section. Eventually this picks up with a cool little riff accompanied by some master percussion work. The song remains at this tempo until you reach the almost head banging chorus with the accents on the up beats. Geddys vocals reach a high point (in the literal sense) in this little ditty. The solos show off the entire band. As it closes it slows down a bit, taking it down a notch for the next song.
2. [Xanadu] Here comes the first epic! This one starts VERY quiet. The most dominant sounds being a wood block arrangement by Mr. Peart. This one accelerates musically but then hits a stop before the slower vocal section comes in. Chill as hell, and truly sets the stage for the rest of the song. The verses are fast and riddled with stops where Geddys vocals are allowed to soar. Strange thing about this song is: for what it is (a long prog-rock song) it's quite simple as far as song format is concerned. It's mostly a verse chorus type thing. Yet somehow, Rush makes it not boring, and before you know it the song is over.
3. [Closer to the Heart] The radio hit. This is a sort of a "peace&love" type tune that you can really sing along to. Starts with an infamous acoustic guitar riff that is joined by vocals and then drums and bass. Pop-length songs might seem weak most of the time, but after hearing the serious opening track and epic second track, this is quite welcome. Simple lyrics, simple music, simple and short solos. Very uplifting, very good.
4. [Cinderella Man] Mid-tempo song with slower chorus. Another simple but good song. Especially appropriate for those of us still feeling the after-effects of Xanadu, haha. This picks it up a bit, but is not too much of a jump from "Closer to the Heart". Lyrically lovely and subtly good musicianship go hand-in-hand and make this song as good as it is.
5. [Madrigal] My only gripe with the album. Now would be the time to start picking things up again, but instead we take a step back and get a song even slower than the previous two! A simple love song that is very slow and almost too simple even for a ballad. Fortunately it doesn't last for long and we soon get what we were waiting for...
6. [Cyngus X-1 Book 1-The Voyage Prologue] And here's the second epic (as if you couldn't tell from the name)! We get a surprisingly eerie intro with some futuristic-sounding noises and a deep, alien-like voice speaking in the background. After a while of this, a funky bass line kicks in and an equally laid back guitar and drums join in. The vocals that soon join in go from laid back to much louder, as does the music. After a short while of this, we get some good headbanging bits, and then the next part comes in.
This one is a bit more up-beat and happy, a HUGE jump from the last part. A big instrumental section comes after this and eventually we hit the chaotic section that leaves us hanging (until part two that is...)