Sunday, January 21, 2007

A Farewell to Kings (remaster)

1977's A Farewell to Kings has a viable candidate for "best Rush song ever" ("Xanadu"), another for "most popular Rush song ever" ("Closer to the Heart"), and two strong entries for "worst Rush song ever" ("Madrigal" and "Cygnus X-1"). And there are only 6 songs on the record.

We begin with a jolly little acoustic intro title track--one imagines dwarves and jesters hopping around a medieval courtyard... which gives way to a nice little rocker. That's just an appetizer for the colossal "Xanadu," which of course was decreed by Kubla Khan. Whatever the hell that means. Anyway, you get loads of neat percussion, volume pedals, bells, synthesizers, crazy drum fills, and a little bit of Coleridge as well. Over the top? Way over.

We all know about "Closer to the Heart," although I've always wondered exactly how ploughmen are supposed to sow a new mentality(?). One minute Peart's on the hardcore Ayn Rand tip, then he's spouting what sounds like Commie bullshit... whatever. I never really liked this song as much as everyone else.

On the other hand, "Cinderella Man"'s always been right down my alley. Neil drops some serious drum knowledge here-- mad rudiments straight outta NARD fo yo ass. He sounds like a friggin typewriter half the song.

Reissues may sound better, but bad songs stay bad. I skipped "Madrigal" like we all used to do when it first came out. Then I made the mistake of listening to "Cygnus X-1" with a hangover. Don't ever do this.

"Cygnus" is not only about a black hole, but is also the musical and creative equivalent of a black hole. Half-baked riffs and adolescent lyrical ideas are Frankenstein-ed together into a horrifying ten minute atrocity. Neil and Geddy's syncopated funk breaks are absurd, and Alex drones on long guitar repeats like he just drank a bottle of Canadian cough syrup. The whole mess ends with Geddy shrieking like a crackhead-- maybe his worst ever. As if that's not enough, the liner notes ominously read "to be continued" at the end of the lyrics.

After ending on this bad note (I wish it was just one note!), I began to question the existence of Rush in general. More exactly: What the hell am I doing listening to this garbage? Who the hell are these guys? Where the hell is the Advil?

Answer: Geddy's a total freak but a great bass player. Neil's a nerd but an insanely great drummer (duh). Alex is a great guitarist, but d___k's way too much and will require extended breaks from touring in decades to follow.

Rating: 3 out of 5 (or 4 out of 6 songs)

FUN FACT: The spaceship that Neil Peart's character rides into the black hole in "Cygnus X-1" is called the Rocinante-- Greek mythology, Steinbeck reference, or both? (or neither... maybe Cygnus X-1 is really supposed to be an enormous pussy.)

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