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A FAREWELL TO KINGS
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A Farewell to Kings - A Noble Approach to Rush
Pros: Heart pounding songs with a flare for the past...Rush at their best!
Cons: It ends...
The Bottom Line: If you want to showcase the talents of Rush, this may very well be the best example of their collective work.
'A Farewell to Kings' marks the opening of the second phase of Rush. Each phase, as it were, seems to begin after the release of a live album. As such, with their wildly successful 'All the World's A Stage' documenting the band's first four studio releases, it was time for Rush to re-examine their musical style and determine what direction they wanted to head in.
As was the case when they went to record their breakthrough album '2112', Rush was politely warned by their studio executives to put out a more 'radio-friendly' album or chance being dropped by the label.
Think they listened? Of course not. That's one thing you have to appreciate and commend about Rush. They stuck to their own values and style. Few other bands could make that claim either now or then. Commercialism simply wasn't in Rush's vocabulary. Interestingly enough, this album generated what many feel is Rush's first mega-hit - Closer to the Heart - but more on that later.
With '2112', Rush was being labeled as a Sci-Fi Hard/Progressive Rock band - a label they still are attributed with today. But with 'A Farewell to Kings', Rush entered the noble world of the past, where monarchies ruled, knights in shining armor were the day's heroes, and dragons abound in the imaginations of village folk.
As with 'Caress of Steel' and '2112', 'A Farewell to Kings' was very much a concept album with a common theme running through all of the tracks, save for the last track Cygnus X-1: Book I: The Voyage.
1. A Farewell to Kings
Beginning with the title track A Farewell to Kings, you are immediately struck by a more melodic and clean sound that seems to envelop you. Rush did a great job of using true stereo phonics in their early days. Some would call it over-producing an album. I call it attention to details and creating a mood. Irregardless, this first track does a wonderful job of setting up the mood and feel of the entire album. With it's ingenious opening lyrics...
"When they turn the pages of history, when these days have past long ago. Will they read of us with sadness, for the seeds that we let grow"
...you get the true sense that Rush is allowing you to gaze back into the past towards this more noble time. And hoping that present day man will learn that the actions we perform today will be scrutinized by our future generations. This is great story telling that has Neil Peart heralded as a superb lyricist.
Continuing the mood of days past, Rush launches into another one of their classic epic tales with Xanadu - a song the begins with a wonderful instrumental, then launches into subtle lyrics about the exploits of Kubla Khan. I always think about Caress of Steel when I listen to this song - it has a very similar feel to that album, which is probably why I enjoy this song so much. Side note here: Rush performs this track exceptionally well in concert. The entire mood of the song is captured with their use of smoke and lighting effects - it's certainly a spectacle to behold.
3. Closer to the Heart
The third track is likely one of the most popular Rush songs ever recorded. Closer to the Heart which many confuse as a ballad, is really another great example of time changes that Rush masterfully pull off. This track is filled with more superb lyrics courtesy of Neil Peart, along with some flying guitar solos by Alex Lifeson. It's a fast and catchy tune worthy of the attention it receives. Side Note #2: As a fan favorite, this is another song that Rush performs with intense power and a sense of fun in concerts. It's great to watch and listen to. Side Note #3: After some significant negotiations, I was finally allowed to play this song at my wedding reception. My only concession was that it followed a Barry Manilow track. What a memorable moment that was, but I digress. :)
4. Cinderella Man
What I call the sister song to Closer to the Heart is the fourth track Cinderella Man - another wonderful romp with catchy lyrics about always holding on to your dreams and desires. It's somewhat reflective of what Rush stands for. Alex Lifeson has a field day with guitars on this track as well - it's a great tune to kick back and listen to several times over.
As Cinderalla Man was the sister track to Closer to the Heart, I consider the fifth track, Madrigal to be the focal point of this album. Interestingly enough, this track is typically and unjustly ignored by fans and Rush alike. It's a simple and dark song about how life's futility and grief can all be replaced by the power of love. I've found it to be one of Rush's more powerful songs from their early days and it is a personal favorite.
6. Cygnus X-1: Book One: The Voyage
And so, we reach the sixth and final track of this album. Cygnus X-1: Book One: The Voyage. Where the first 5 tracks dealt with the noble days of the past, Cygnus X-1 fast-forwards to the future with an intense sci-fi story. Lyrically and musically, this is Rush at their peak. The song is about a ship that dares to fly into the black hole of Cygnus X-1 (the first verified black hole in our galaxy). This song has three segments to it. The introduction sets the pace and theme, starting off slowly, telling the story, and building up the pretense of the song. Segment two is definitely more catchy and fun where the journey to the black hole is documented. This is great stuff. The third and final segment is where all hell breaks lose. Again, Rush at their best. The intensity and destruction of a ship being drawn into the awesome power of a black hole is incredibly represented by the pounding music put forth by these three ingenious musicians. Geddy Lee's vocals are outstanding here - with more power than he's ever shown before or since. This isn't just a song - it's an experience. If you don't get goose bumps when this song fades out to the sound of a beating heart, then you just weren't listening closely enough.
What a way to end a song. What a way to end an album. What a way to get your heart pumping.
What a way to get a Rush.
And the ride is just beginning...
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