Why I love Rush
Several images dominate most people’s perception of prog-rock. Vegetarian lentil stews coupled with anti-fashion capes and absurdly prophetic robes. Those images are not entirely untrue, but they’re a little simplistic. Prog is complex, orchestral, and genuinely interesting in a way that no other musical genre is. Chief in that complexity (and sometimes the capes too) is the Canadian power trio Rush.
They’re the band that has probably been panned the most by critics and yet loved the most deeply by fans for more than 40 years of operation. Quite simply, no one in the establishment record companies in the mid-70s when they formed got them, or why they appealed. Their music was loud, their lyrics were dense and philosophical, and their songs epically long. Why would anyone want to listen to a 20-minute narrative about a 22nd century Randian dystopia when they could instead be safe in the sterile themes of Rod Stewart or Elton John?
And yet some people loved them. Enough to make them the 4th placed band for most consecutive gold or platinum records.
Geddy Lee’s rhythmic, galloping basslines are more complex and melodic than any others I have heard. They lock in perfectly with Neil Peart’s world-beating drumming on a kit twice the size of the known universe, and Alex Lifeson’s shimmering chorus-seeped guitars tower over the rhythm in the high register. Complex time signatures and pioneering use of synthesisers while still remaining a hard rocking power group demonstrates that Rush pushed the boundaries of music to the brink of even their own abilities.
Few bands have ever been so challenging to the technical ability of a musician while still writing amazing music (just see Tom Sawyer or Limelight for proof there), and staying true to themselves, whatever that meant to the record company.
10-minute suites like Xanadu merge poetry and hard rock in an intellectual way, and the Libertarian lyrical themes of The Trees are challenging to anyone even slightly leftward inclined. In an age currently where very few musicians are willing to bring politics into their art, any expression of a strongly-held view which could encourage political participation and critical thinking is a good thing. It’s OK if you don’t agree with what they’re singing (it might even be better for the echo-chamber if you don’t) - as long as you think about it.
To have a band like that with Peart’s politicising lyrics coupled with all the technical ability of the three musicians, and the fact that they are all nice, polite Canadians at the end of it makes Rush an invaluable band for me. They’ve constantly redefined the way that we think about music and the role it plays in society - and written some damn good songs in the meantime. That perfect blend of sonic complexity, mental stimulation and intrigue makes them the benchmark by which any worthwhile band should measure themselves by.