A Farewell To Kings (1977)


1.A Farewell to Kings
2.Xanadu
3.Closer to the Heart
4.Cinderella Man
5.Madrigal
6.Cygnus X-1

 

If I had been a Rush fan back in 1977, this would have been the first album I would have looked for when the Compact Disc made its introduction in the early eighties. Of course, this wasn't even released as a compact disc until around 1987 or 88. This album has so many precise and careful sound effects throughout the songs, that listening to this record on an old, scratchy vinyl record simply doesn't do the product justice.

Fresh off the success of their first "blockbuster" (2112), the band keeps up the wayward move into slightly newer territories, yet hanging on steadfast to the majority of their winning formula. Geddy Lee has now discovered synthesizers and keyboards. They're used sparingly, unlike on their albums a decade later, and really are a welcome addition. Neil is playing with a lot of various percussion instruments. There seems to be a lot of chimes, croctales, bells, whistles, etc. that are being attacked with drumsticks, yet they never overburden the listener, and are again carefully arranged to where they help the overall sound. Alex, well, I guess you can say there are more acoustic guitars this time around, so he's expanding a bit, too.

They haven't lost their core sound. They still rock, and rock hard when a song calls for it. The title track, which leads of the record, features all of the above said enhancements in spades, yet still manages to sound very Rush-like indeed. If you like the title cut, you'll like the rest of the stuff here. Or in my case, you'll love the rest of what's here.

There are no side long epics as on the predecessor, but two of the tracks, Xanadu and Cygnus X-1 are both about ten and one half minutes in length. Other than that, there aren't that many similarities – other than they both kick ass. The former sort of has a bit of a mythological feel through tout, telling the story of Kubla Kahn, the "last immortal man". Listening with headphones makes you feel as though you're floating through a Lord of the Rings movie. Speaking of headphones, Cygnus X-1 must be heard with headphones – on a CD. This song has an astral "space" theme that you know the guys had a blast while they were composing. You feel like you're traveling in hyperspace towards a black hole. It's a bit creepy, yet an incredible ride.

Because of the above mentioned size of those two tracks, there's only enough room for three other songs. None of them are as stellar, yet they work very well within the confinements of time limitations that were forced upon those working with vinyl. Closer to the Heart, in my judgment, sounds a bit too much like the song A Farewell to Kings, and I confess that I never found the studio version that riveting. It would become a fan favorite, however, and would appear on more than half of the band's plethora of live releases in the future. This song would always get reworked a bit in concert, and whereas the studio version is a bit limited, the song would sound much better when played live.

Cinderella Man sounds as though they're still trying to produce a hit single. This is the one song on the record that still only (at least as I recall) feature bass, drums, guitar and vocal. It seems to have a bit of a "formula" groove, and doesn't really sound very Rush like. Again, though, it's still pleasant in places. Madrigal is the "slow" number on the record (they've been trying to do this on every record since Fly By Night). It has all of the right textures and accompaniments, yet the whole song is barely two and one-half minutes in length, so it never really has the time to grow on you. Again, you have to wonder if they wanted to expand a bit more on this song, but had to stop since the vinyl clock was running out.

Since Rush would soon have a pattern of releasing live albums after every four studio albums, many fans divide these chunks into "phases" of the band's career. Therefore, we could surmise that this album was the beginning of "phase 2". Most diehards would argue that this was the best phase of the band's illustrious career. You certainly wouldn't get any argument from me. Whereas 2112 showed the band perfecting their craft, this album shows them comfortable settled within, while still occasionally branching out a bit.

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