#379: Moving Pictures, Rush
Winston Churchill once said: “If you want me to speak for two minutes, it will take me three weeks of preparation. … If you want me to speak for an hour, I am ready now.” This was the quote that sprung to mind when I read the RS blurb for this record, which quotes lead singer Geddy Lee stating “We learned it’s not so easy to write something simple.” Why? Because when you have plenty of time to get your point across, you can afford to riff a little. Simplicity equals precision.
Prog-rock masters Rush was a ten- to twenty-minute track-band before the time they released Moving Pictures in 1981. But this record is succinct. They released some truly mainstream-oriented four-minute tracks, with several charting hits.
It’s crazy to me that the only original member of Rush was guitarist Alex Lifeson, because drummer Neil Peart was kind of their heart and soul. He was their chief lyricist, unusual for a drummer, and even wrote several works of both fiction and nonfiction over the course of his life. The one I’ve read (which I highly recommend) is Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road, where he writes about how he grappled with the death of his only daughter in ’97 and the death of his common law wife in ‘98.
(Since Peart is so literary, it makes sense that one of the songs on this album, “Red Barchetta,” is based on the Richard Foster short story “A Nice Morning Drive.” In fact, Peart and Foster eventually met in 2007, and Foster wrote an article about it!)
Peart’s lyrics are intense and personal — “Tom Sawyer” is a battle cry, and “Vital Signs” is a bid for individuality. The crown jewel of the record, “Limelight,” is a brutally honest reaction to intense fame, which (in true Peart fashion) draws on the “All the world’s a stage” monologue from Shakespeare’s As You Like It. Alex Lifeson has gone on record saying that it’s his favorite guitar solo to play live.
Despite the general radio-friendliness, there’s still a prog rock sensibility. See “The Camera Eye,” a ten-minute epic about Peart walking through NYC and London, and “YYZ,” a math rock instrumental that literally takes its rhythm from Morse Code. Then there’s “Witch Hunt,” a creepy synthy tune that also serves as the third part of Rush’s “Fear Series.” Seriously, is there anything more prog rocky than a trilogy of songs about fear? That aren’t even on the same album?
There’s not a lot of prog rock on RS’s Greatest Albums list (which seems like an oversight to me — any TOOL fans here?) so I really enjoyed this. Peart is also just a cool guy to read about. Unfortunately he died of an aggressive brain cancer in January 2020, but not before he made a crater-sized impact on music.
Final Note: I would be remiss not to point out that this album cover is a hilarious visual pun.