- Flying into a black hole just for the hell of it
I’ve always said there are 2 kinds of people in this world: Those who love Rush, and those who don’t (those of you who fall into the second category can kindly take your precious reading attention elsewhere. That means you Matt…) At this point, an introduction to the Canadian Power Trio is kind of unnecessary, as is me trying to persuade you to be their fan; you’ve probably heard of them, and your opinion is most likely already decided. However, this article does kind of need an introduction, and I apologize in advance for being long winded. I fully realize that Rush does not really fit into Progulator’s “paradigm” since we are more of a metal/prog site, and Rush is more of a classic rock band with closet prog tendencies, but I don’t really care. This review is for all you audiophiles out there who are still impressed with the incredible production quality found in their albums, for all you long time diehard Rush fans that still love them, and anyone interested in the blossoming world of 5.1 mixes. Some of you no doubt hail rush as a huge influence on progressive music and/or metal (and rightly so in a lot of cases), and as one of the greatest bands of all time. Some of you don’t, though hopefully those people have stopped reading by now, because I’m about to let my badly dressed Rush fanboy out of the closet.
See, I owe a lot to this band. Rush was my gateway into prog. I was introduced to them by my dad, who grew up on their jams. Their first album came out when my dad was 14, and they’ve been his favorite band for a long time. I remember him showing me (on casette tape no less!) Moving Pictures, Permanent Waves, and A Farewell to Kings when I was a wee lad. I liked them back then because my dad liked them. That’s good enough reason for any little boy right? But then came that day in 8th grade that changed the course of my life. I had been playing the drums for about a year, and had learned some popular songs to play along with to practice (Kryptonite by 3 Doors Down, some Smashmouth songs, 3rd Eye Blind, and other various craps). My dad suggested with a hint of challenge that I try to learn a Rush song. Since I had now graduated with flying colors to smart-ass teenager, anything my dad liked or suggested was automatically suspect, but I had to prove that my newfangled music was better! So, enter Tom Sawyer. It sounded simple enough when I listened to it, so I thought I’d give it a crack. Learning that song changed my mind pretty quickly. That song is HARD to play. There’s some 7/8 stuff in there that really messed with my puny brain, and I just couldn’t seem to get it. I knew that all the songs couldn’t be this hard, but to my chagrin, I couldn’t find anything that was that much easier. But the challenge had been issued, and I wasn’t about to back down. Believe it or not, the first song I learned was YYZ. It wasn’t terribly hard, but it was a far cry from Smashmouth. During this whole discovery of music that was actually interesting and fun to listen to, I also checked out their lyrics. Compared to Semi-charmed Life, or pretty much any other song I knew, Rush’s lyrics were like poetic gold that I drank in. I loved the messages and depth they contained. All of the sudden, I found that the music I had been listening to left a bitter taste in my mouth knowing that someone who cared a lot more was making music. And so, I became a pretentious Rush loving 13 year old (but what 13 year old isn’t pretentious about something), looking down on the world of pop music with disdain for their shallow and uninspired “songs.” Rush lead to Dream Theater, which led to the metal and prog I love today. I owe everything in my musical life to them. I still remember the day when I cracked the 11/8 section in Cygnus X-1 and could play it when I was in 9th grade. Odd time signatures have just felt right ever since then.
Well, I’ll stop rambling, and actually talk about the album. A Farewell to Kings, for those of you who don’t know, is from the “More is Better” era of Rush. Not the kimono era, or the subdued sophisticated era. This is era of long hair, longer moustaches, double necked guitars and basses, and mounds of legit percussion instruments (and probably mounds of substances of questionable legality and origin); more music, more pretentious long songs, more epic journeys, more drums, more balls to the wall. As such, A Farewell to Kings sits comfortably in my top 5 Rush albums. When I saw that they were releasing it in 5.1, I might have made some inappropriate noises at my computer. maybe. The 5.1 mix of Moving Pictures was so good, that I had nothing but high hopes for this album. And, gladly, it fulfilled them, but at the same time gave me some food for thought.
I’ll start out with the bad/ugly. Kings is before the keyboard-heavy era of Rush, and as such, the songs lack a certain depth that synths can bring to the table. Effectively, this makes the surround mix just sound like a bigger, deeper version of the original. You don’t really hear anything new. I’m probably just spoiled with my opeth/pink floyd/porcupine tree 5.1’s that offer such a different and vastly superior experience compared to the stereo album. This one just makes it sound a little cooler. This isn’t a huge negative though, since its more the music’s fault than the mixers, and like I said, it does sound quite a bit more awesome than the original. But, this small complaint leads to my big complaint: The crash/splash cymbals are mixed in the rear channels very heavily. I can’t really blame the mixer too much because besides some reverb and percussion, there’s not much to put back there. But it does make for a strangely disjointed drum set, where the hi-hat/snare/toms are clearly up front, then the crash shoots out at me from the left or right behind me. Strange to say the least. My last complaint also has to do with the drums, but I think this is just a consequence of budget/old technology heard through new technology. The drums are hissy. I don’t know which microphone(s) are responsible, but there are a few sections like the end of cygnus x-1 where the guitar is playing by itself, and the drums and bass hit together, where you can actually hear the mixing of the drums. It sounds all quiet and nice with just the guitar, but about a measure before the drums hit, hiss fades in quite loudly, the drums and bass rock it for a few seconds, then the hiss fades out. Something that has to do with the recording, not the mixing, but still kind of a bother. But its also kind of cool to be able to hear things like that, even though it takes away from the mood.
Now for the positives. Its freaking A Farewell to Kings in high definition and surround sound. I don’t think I need to add more to that. The songs rock, they sound better than they ever have before, and its just glorious. Xanadu and Cygnus x-1 are incredible, and the other songs are not far behind. If you don’t already own this album (or the other four that come with it in the box set), I would strongly recommend it. The packaging is nice, you get very high quality digital transfers and remasters of the old albums (including Exit…Stage Left, which sounds amazing), plus a 5.1 mix of A Farewell to Kings. What more could a Rush fan desire? How about 2 other box sets! Even though it wasn’t included on this edition, if they ever do a 5.1 of hemispheres or 2112…I might have a musicgasm and go into a pleasure coma for weeks.