Skip to main content

Rock Solid: Rush

"If you only own one album by Rush it's gotta be ____________________."

Welcome to Rock Solid, where we fill in the blank. Our goal is to pseudo-scientifically determine the best, the beloved, the most classic album in an artist's catalog.


Here's how it works: I've consulted two main sources. The AllMusic Guide provides the professional critical point-of-view and Amazon.com offers the fan perspective (because most people who choose to review albums on Amazon are adoring fans of the artist in question). The album with the highest combined rating from both sources is the one I'll consider the best.

An artist's entire body of work is eligible, with
 two exceptions: No compilations (i.e. greatest hits) or live albums. In each case, I'll also share my personal favorite album by the artist in question, as if you care.


* * *

The wonderful and terrible thing about this Rock Solid method is way it subverts expectations.

If you had asked me before I looked at the numbers, I would have predicted the battle for Rush's best album would be between 1976's 2112 and 1981's Moving Pictures. I was close; those two were in the top three. I didn't predict the dark horse from 1980, Permanent Waves. It actually tied Moving Pictures for the highest combined rating and then won the tiebreaker, garnering a higher percentage of 5 star ratings from Amazon.com reviewers.

Since it was so close, this is a case where the reasoning takes on a special importance. Unfortunately Greg Prato's AllMusic review is more informational than evaluative. He says that Permanent Waves found Rush incorporating new wave elements while keeping their "hard rock roots intact," and points out that this got them their biggest hits to that point, Freewill and The Spirit of Radio. His only judgement comes in the final line: "Permanent Waves is an undisputed hard rock classic, but Rush would outdo themselves with their next release." Which, of course, was Moving Pictures.

So Prato makes no compelling case for Permanent Waves. In fact, he does the opposite. But what about the Amazon reviewers?

Indigo Larson feels that, in the unrealistic theoretical situation of a person being allowed to purchase only one album per artist, Permanent Waves should be your Rush selection. Samhot says it's a great introduction to the band: "This would be a perfect place to start for anyone interested in Rush. Features a nice balance of complex musicianship and accessibility that's hard to beat." Similarly, Bill R. Moore writes that Permanent Waves has "the best of both worlds" in terms of bridging early and later Rush.

This is a good start but then something starts to happen in the subsequent reviews, an avalanche of comparisons to Moving Pictures. You know the advertising adage that only the (perceived) inferior product has to mention its rival? Well that seems to be the case here. It would be okay if reviewers brought up the comparison to genuinely argue for Permanent Waves' superiority, but instead we get the following:

  • musicfan585: "Although I still believe Moving Pictures is the band's greatest album (and the best album ever made), Permanent Waves comes awfully close." [Yes, but what do musicfans 1 through 584 think?]
  • Huge Viking: "This is a great album for any Rush fan together with Moving Pictures I consider both as my personal favorites. These two albums alone could have easily been one album"
  • Tom Benton: "With Permanent Waves , Rush burst into the experimental '80s, showcasing a new sound and attracting more attention than ever before. It seems impossible that the band would reach higher heights than this - yet on their subsequent release, Moving Pictures, Rush did just that."
  • Andrew G. Fisher: "Permanent Waves is a preview to Moving Pictures."

Then we come to K. Parsons, who starts out definitively touting Permanent Waves as the best Rush album, and then
Natural Science is the second-to-last great Rush opus (along with The Camera Eye), and "Spirit of Radio" is just as wonderful a radio oriented song as Tom Sawyer....Oh, yeah, I nearly forgot - Rush doesn't get any more "Rush" than on Freewill - the fantastic solos, Randian lyrics, explosive drumming and again, Alex just soaring... reminds me of Red Barchetta a bit. Hmmm. Looks like I'll have to take TWO Rush CD's - this one and Moving Pictures after all. They really are quite inseparable."
If you lost the thread, Parsons compared a bunch of Permanent Waves songs to Moving Pictures songs and then realized how much he or she loves the latter record.

Obviously none of this convinced me that Permanent Waves deserves to be considered the best Rush release, though as always I bow to my methodology. And it is a great album, with the atheist mission statement of Freewill, the optimistic pessimism of The Spirit of Radio, the confessionally affecting Entre Nous, and the instrumental thrills of Natural Science. Wait, did I just talk myself into declaring it my favorite Rush record? No. Moving Pictures still gets the nod, with Roll the Bones (seriously) not far behind.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

12 by Weezer

Here's the drill: 12 songs to summarize an artist's career, in chronological order (of course). This one features... I decided to take an unconventional route for this 12 by, and pretend Weezer have already released a "greatest hits." Here's what I think that would look like:  1) "Buddy Holly", 2) "Undone - the Sweater Song", 3) "My Name Is Jonas", 4) "The Good Life", 5) "El Scorcho", 6) "Hash Pipe", 7) "Island in the Sun", 8) "Dope Nose", 9) "Keep Fishin'", 10) "Beverly Hills", 11) "We Are All On Drugs", 12) "Pork and Beans".  Here's a different take: 1. " Say It Ain't So"  (from Weezer , 1994)  A little bit heavy, a little bit catchy, quiet-loud dynamics. So basically, it's Pixies lite. The song is interesting lyrically because it's basically nonsense until the "Dear daddy..." bridge, which lets out a t

12 by Jenny Lewis

Here's the drill: 12 songs to summarize an artist's career, in chronological order (of course). This one features... Completely separate from Rilo Kiley, Jenny Lewis has put together an impressive oeuvre that is very difficult to winnow down to just 12 songs (if you include her work with Rilo Kiley, fuhgeddaboudit). But I've made what I feel is a valiant attempt. Because I admire Jenny's lyrics so much, I'm going to limit my commentary to a favorite couplet from the song. (If you have Amazon Music Unlimited, you can listen along here .) 1. "Rise Up With Fists!!!" (from Rabbit Fur Coat , 2005) "But you can wake up younger, under the knife / And you can wake up sounder, if you get analyzed." 2. "Melt Your Heart" (from  Rabbit Fur Coat , 2005) "It's like a valentine from your mother / It's bound to melt your heart." 3. "Born Secular" (from Rabbit Fur Coat , 2005) "God works in mysterious ways / And God give

12 by Vicious Vicious

Here's the drill: 12 songs to summarize an artist's career, in chronological order (of course). This one features... If you need a reference point for the work of Vicious Vicious mastermind Erik Appelwick, the most appropriate would be Beck. Like Mr. Hansen, Minnesota-based Appelwick has the ability to navigate between making you laugh and making you cry and making you want to dance, and embraces genres from country to R& B to folk to pop.  I've included songs from the two albums Appelwick did under the name Tropical Depression, because honestly there's not a lot of difference between that and Vicious Vicious.  I very literally  wrote the book  on Appelwick, so please feel confident you are hearing from an authority here.  If you have Amazon Music Unlimited, you can listen to an alternate version of list here  (sadly, not all of VV's music is on the service). 1. "Shake That Ass on the Dance Floor" (from Blood + Clover , 2003) A loungy, laconic come-on