Friday, March 2, 2007

Moving Pictures (remaster)

Some heavy records have a mystical, dark quality to 'em-- Back in Black, Led Zeppelin (IV), Master of Puppets... and certainly Moving Pictures. Not that MP is really a dark record at all, but something about the cover, color and "Tom Sawyer" itself says it loud and clear: DON'T FUCK WITH ME.

Moving Pictures (1981) stands alone in any genre one chooses to place it in. Of course, I think of it as "prog-rock-pop". Or something like that. Let's put Abacab, Ghost in the Machine (both also 1981) and 90125 up there with MP as phenomenal-sounding early 80's PRP records. Besides the fact that Rush's offering is simply more consistent than the others, something much more profound distinguishes Pix: Rush could, did and still does play it live (at least the great songs from it) note for fucking note! When's the last time you saw the Phenix Horns jump up on stage to play "No Reply at All" with Phil and the boys? The Police mighta ripped up their tunes live a few times, but I guarantee it didn't sound anything like the record. And don't get me started with Yes-- Trevor Rabin would need three USB cables shoved up his arse to pull off "Owner" or "Leave It."

"Tom Sawyer" defines 80's classic rock. Period. Gritty, spacy, and tighter than all get out. Each of the boys' strengths are brought out to the nth degree, but in the right direction. It's all too easy to listen to the verse kick drum patterns and say "Oh yeah, this is pretty stock stuff-- I've heard this kinda thing lots of times..." Not before the record came out you didn't!!! I can't think of a pop song before or since that sounds like "Tom Sawyer," and that's because one doesn't exist. It's the Boba Fett of modern music.

"Red Barchetta" wins the "Stairway to Heaven" guitar store award for inspiring clumsy imitations by thousands of kids with ham-handed harmonics. It's kinda like a feel-good song, no? We probably needed one, after "Tom Sawyer" left us feeling about 7 inches tall. Not to mention, haven't we all raced back to the farm to dream with our uncles at the fireside more than a few times in our lives?

"YYZ" (called "XYZ" by countless mongoloids) finds Rush in one of their most compactly jaw-dropping moments-- I always thought of the tune as a kind of a "fuck you" to the jazz fusion community, to be honest. If guys like Weckl, Dimeola, Corea and whoever the hell else actually cared about the listener, they'd put some real effort intro constructing a tight little song like "YYZ", but they'd rather get laid and make records about gypsys and Brazil and all kinds of bullshit. The fusion cats do it to death, but they do it for themselves. Rush does it for US, goddammit.
You gotta love the legendary dueling bass and drums in the middle of the tune, where Neil reels off some gravity-defying 270 degree fills. Finally Geddy caves in: "Uncle! Uncle!" as he rolls out some kind of jazzbo jive turkey bass climb over the bar, which is immediately hacked to pieces and fed to Alex's amazing guitar solo for lunch. Yummy.
"YYZ" also wins the "Trees" drum store award for inspiring thousands of kids to buy a completely useless accessory for their drumset: the crotale. I can see the guy at Sam Ash right now, "OK Timmy, let's order the complete two-octave set of Zildjian crotales for you right now! You'll also need the custom crotale stand..." Timmy's poor father can only watch the back of his station wagon fill up with golden discs and huge boxes, while his credit card takes a tough hit and certainly not the last of its kind.

"Limelight" kinda fits the "dark" vibe of Moving Pictures, but only for the intellectual. It's a fantastic pop song with a darn dirty guitar sound and all sorts of funky cymbal chokes. Plus the legendary "One must put up barriers To keep oneself intact." I came to prefer "Fuck wit' me, I'll put a foot in yo ass." for no real reason.

That's side one, which has to be one of the most rockin' side one's you'll find just about anywhere! They didn't miss a whole lot.

After some fairly inoffensive bleeps and flutters, a keyboard sound usually reserved for Vivid Video releases is heard. The listener isn't quite sure whether he's watching a cheesy filmstrip in science class or a Christy Canyon video. Then he realizes that he's flipped over his Moving Pictures album and "The Camera Eye" is beginning. The band actually builds pretty nicely out of the silly keyboards stuff, and pushes it into a nice rock groove. Look, it's just kind of a weird song, but it really works. Back in the day, they would have made this the first song on the album, and probably even called the whole record The Camera Eye, but now we have inventions like "Tom Sawyer" to prevent such folly.

"The Camera Eye" (11:01) is supposed to be a sprawling bi-continental piece on humanity vs. civilization, ideals vs. progress, etc.. Actually, it's about tripping on acid. Listen to this:

"Head-first humanity
Pause at a light
Then flow through the streets of the city."
"They seem oblivious...
So light, yet endless
From a leaden sky.
The buildings are lost
In their limitless rise
My feet catch the pulse
And the purposeful stride."

Come on! Still don't believe me? Listen:
"A quality of light
Unique to every city's streets
Pavements may teem
With intense energy..."

Not to mention, right around 9:00 into the song you can barely make out Geddy saying to Alex under the music, "Hey, I think the walls are melting."
No doubt in my mind.

In all seriousness, "The Camera Eye" is notable as it marks the end of an absolutely astonishing streak by Mr.Lifeson-- seven consecutive album tracks with top-notch ass-kicking inventive guitar solos, dating back to PW's "Different Strings" (his eerie outro piece), and the third movement of "Natural Science." Obviously TS, RB, YYZ and LL have Lifeson's very best work in them (the "Tom Sawyer" solo is toootalllly gnarly!!! Really!), and I propose extending the marathon one more spot into "The Camera Eye." He's got a Fripp kinda thing which runs through Vai and then ends with an almost Knopfler-esque arpeggio bonanza. It qualifies, friend!

"Witch Hunt" is fine, but breaks no real ground amongst its trackmates here. Did we really think it would? "Vital Signs" is more of a Police-style jaggedy song, and provides a nice closing for the record. VS sort of gives us a taste of what's to come on their next proper release, in many ways. We'll explore that next time.

I love the fact that Saga and .38 Special were among the only bands thanked in the liner notes for Moving Pictures. Really, who would dare to play with them? It was usually guys like Tommy Shaw or Aldo Nova that did well, because they got on and off stage without completely humiliating themselves like Marillion and others of that ilk usually did.

Go back and check out the record jacket for Moving Pictures. You won't even have to play the album, and you'll remember everything.

rating: 5 stars

FUN FACT: The very first pressing of CD's in 1983 contained a mastering glitch. A fraction of the very first beat of "Tom Sawyer" is clipped off at the top of the song.
This happened to one of my own recorded CD's once as well. Well, my record actally started with the click of an overdriven amplifier being turned on, which made a nasty 'pop' sound. Not quite a match with the first kick drum of one of the most influential percussion compositions and performances in modern history...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I know the touring and session work is grueling these days, but some of us are still waiting for the "Signals" and "Grace Under Pressure" reviews...