It’s always been the acid test of a band’s integrity: after a mind-blowing, critically acclaimed breakthrough album, can the band follow it up with an equally satisfying sequel? Sadly, more often than not, the answer is “no”, far too many bands throughout the ages have fallen victim to “one-hit-wonder syndrome”, crafting a flawless album and then utterly failing to craft a worthy successor.
Back in 1977, RUSH had no intention of joining their ranks.
Coming one year after their awe-inspiring concept album “2112” (an album that quickly made RUSH a household name), the Canadian power trio’s fifth album “A Farewell To Kings” shattered any presentiments that RUSH would be unable to concoct an album capable of matching their previous totalitarian space opera. Someday, I’d like to meet some of those people and tell them just how wrong they were; “A Farewell To Kings” is a Prog Rock classic and what’s more, it was still only the beginning of a string of amazing releases from RUSH. Their success would continue on “Hemispheres”, released only a year later, as well as into the next decade with still-unmatched performances on “Moving Pictures” and “Signals”.
So how did RUSH manage to survive 1977, the Year of Punk? By sticking to their guns and staying true to their own style of music, not allowing themselves to be influenced by what the public wanted at that point. This may sound like the very antithesis of a Progressive Rock band, but I assure you, the Prog sound is there and it’s out in force. To the casual listener, the band doesn’t sound much different than they did on “2112”; however, any Prog fan will notice the much more complex drumming, as well as riffs that literally tear the rules of the normal melody to shreds. The first time I heard this album, I almost cried out, “They can’t do that!” The riffs are amazingly creative, having almost a “jerky” feel to them that just makes you think, “Why do people even bother with 4/4 time?”
Just listen to tracks like the ten-minute opuses “Xanadu” and “Cygnus X-1”, the latter of which is so intricate and detailed that it became a two-part epic continued on “Hemispheres”. Both contain examples of the peerless musicianship RUSH is famed for, especially “Xanadu”, which features lengthy instrumental passages that, rather than focusing on one instrument, include all three band members playing their mind-blowing riffs in concerted glory.
Though the epics take top billing on this album (something I usually don’t go for…I often prefer my songs to be succinct and to the point), the other songs on “A Farewell To Kings” are not to be overlooked. The title track is a powerful opener, as is the album’s radio hit “Closer To The Heart”; both tracks contain excellent bass courtesy of mastermind Geddy Lee, particularly the latter. However, it’s the remaining two songs, “Cinderella Man” and “Madrigal”, that truly surprised me. “Madrigal” brings the tempo down in a big way, yet it still has that unmistakable RUSH aura about it, thus producing what I believe to be one of the band’s best ballads. “Cinderella Man” is quite simply an excellent song; of the shorter tunes, it’s probably my favorite, mainly due to Geddy Lee’s singing. I think he really outdid himself on that one.
All in all, “A Farewell To Kings” is basically a perfect album for RUSH. There may be only six songs, yet each one feels as if years of thought have gone into it; nothing feels cookie-cutter or filler. If you’re looking to buy your first RUSH album, this is as good as any to start with; it’s RUSH at the top of their game. “A Farewell To Kings” is an exemplary showcase of musical talent that basically re-imagines the boundaries of music and by “re-imagine”, I mean “eliminate”. (Online September 4, 2006)