Rush - Moving Pictures
It is with great sadness to report that Rush’s drummer and lyricist Neil Peart died of brain cancer in January 2020. I had only ever seen Rush once, but this was in May 2011 in Birmingham when the band played the whole of Moving Pictures live in sequence. For this reason, I thought it would be a good idea to write a retrospective review of an album that is very special to me and many others and is my favourite Rush album. It is the band’s eighth studio album, was released in February 1981 and features seven songs with a running time of almost exactly forty minutes. As well as Neil Peart, the band is made of vocalist, bassist and keyboardist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson.
Opener "Tom Sawyer" has become one of Rush’s most popular songs. It has a catchy synth riff but is also quite a heavy hard rocking song. It has some of Neil Peart’s slightly simpler drumming (though still very difficult) with some very fine hi-hat work. Metallica have been inspired by it on their Master of Puppets album using the guitar riff for the end of “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” and there was even a discussion with Geddy Lee to produce the album.
Second longest song "Red Barchetta" opens with touch harmonics on the guitar and a simple synth line before the song is driven by a guitar arpeggio. It describes taking a fast car (a red Ferrari 166 MM Barchetta) for a drive in a world where high speeds are banned and being chased by the police. It is one of the faster songs on the album and lyrically quite Orwellian.
"YYZ" is a four-minute instrumental named after the airport code for Toronto Pearson International Airport (I don’t know why Canadian airports use unusual codes, but I would love to know the answer). The rhythm uses the Morse code for YYZ, and the band have said that they love seeing the letters on their luggage tags as it means they are coming home. Despite having no vocals, it is another catchy tune with some very fine guitar solos and more amazing drumming.
"Limelight" is autobiographical and describes Neil’s dissatisfaction about fame and being in the public eye. It is another of the faster songs on the album and has some incredible hi-hat work as well as one of Alex’s best solos.
"The Camera Eye" is the longest song on the album. There are some cool guitar riffs and arpeggios, some nice squelchy synth sounds and some of Neil’s most unique drum rolls on the toms. The lyrics are about walking around on New York and London and the song is divided into two parts with each part about each city. Listen closely to the sound of Big Ben at the very end.
"Witch Hunt" opens with eerie sound effects and chanting (the band and crew went outside into the cold). The song has lots of percussion instruments including wind chimes, glockenspiel, tubular bells, conga and cowbell, as well as a moody synth pads and a heavy guitar riff. It is slow-paced, dark and almost gothic in its sound and has a superb bass solo at the end. The lyrics about the mob mentality of fear and prejudice feeding xenophobia and racism thanks to propaganda are sadly truer today than they were forty years ago. It is hard to pick a favourite as they are all so different and equally brilliant, but it is probably my favourite song on the album.
Final song "Vital Signs" has a new-wave and reggae influence and shows the direction the band will take on the next two albums. There is also an arpeggiated synth line sequenced on the Oberheim OB-X synthesizer. The vocal line “signals get lost” would even provide an album title for their next album a year later.
The band are not Prog, but they are what I would call progressive hard rock (all lowercase) and Moving Pictures combines both the 1970s and 1980s Rush sound. It was very popular at the time of its release and brought Rush into the mainstream. It got to number three in the UK and US album charts and to number one in their home country of Canada and has sold millions around the world. There is a reason for this. The album is stunning. There is no filler and because it is just forty-minute-long with most songs around the four-minute mark, it is a very concise album. There are melodies but also experimentation and the songs are catchy. Lyrically, it has a dystopian feel running through but also there are moments of great hope and it is an optimistic album. Rush is an acquired taste and Geddy’s vocals do take some getting used to as his voice is quite high. The album has some of the best writing and playing of all three members throughout their entire back catalogue but especially Neil’s lyrics and drumming. If you only want one Rush album, make it this one. It is a wonderful legacy for a legendary drummer/lyricist and a band that will be never be forgotten