Reviewing the “Every Rush song ranked” article

I thought I took on a massive task when I reviewed every Rush album through 2008 (see most of the “rush” category here). I didn’t realize until today that I’d forgotten to review Clockwork Angels, so I’ll do so here: It’s good. Really good. A couple of dud songs, but overall, their best album since the Permanent Waves through Signals heyday.

Then Ultimate Classic Rock’s Ryan Reed, who is not one of the UCR staffers I know from Popdose, took it upon himself to rank every Rush song.

So let’s put off work a little longer and take a look. I won’t replicate the whole list (take a look), but I’ll highlight a few worth emphasizing or disputing.

Starting with the bottom …

167 (last) – In the Mood. A little harsh. Their debut album was basically three teenagers distilling Led Zeppelin and other influences into a blues-rock album from which the only real standouts were the blazing Finding My Way and the rock-radio anthem Working Man. Yeah, In the Mood is a little immature, and its inclusion in latter-day setlists was probably ironic, with the happily married Geddy Lee singing about picking up the hot woman at the party. It’s all quite silly, but it doesn’t pretend to be anything else, and the guitar riff is pretty good.

(No argument with the next two)

164 – Roll the Bones. Some people hate the rap segment here with the heat of a bunch of prog-rock fans being forced to listen to Taylor Swift and Vanilla Ice. But again, Rush owned the silliness here, and this was always a crowd-pleaser in concerts.

162 – Peaceable Kingdom. Wow, really? This was one of my favorites on Vapor Trails, though like much of that album, it wasn’t recorded particularly well. Even the remixed version of that album, which removed much of the sludge that made the album a difficult listen, didn’t do this song many favors. But I love Neil Peart’s lyrics here, and Geddy Lee weaves some wonderful melodic bass lines throughout.

159 – Lock and Key. The keyboards are a bit overboard here — it’s late-80s Rush, after all — but this doesn’t seem worth dumping at the bottom here along with the remainders from their immature debut or the synth-rockers from Roll the Bones that didn’t age well.

154 – Mission. Love it. Sure, it might be worth a remake without quite so many layers of keyboards, but the tribute to heroes is inspiring.

152 – Resist. Come on, man. Gotta love the hammer dulcimer.

148 – Time and Motion. Yeah, Test for Echo doesn’t fare well on this list, and I can’t disagree with that. Peart’s lyrics were dealing with abstract stuff in no real meaningful way, and the performances were getting a little repetitive. And this album could easily have been their swan song after Peart’s family tragedies. I don’t know what inspired Peart to come back to make two more half-decent albums and one great one, along with several terrific tours that allowed the band to revel in their surprising late-career popularity, but I’m grateful.

144 – Tai Shan. Kind of funny that it’s ranked higher than many others from Hold Your Fire (including a couple that I personally loved) when even Geddy Lee doesn’t like it. I never hated it, but it doesn’t make me race back to listen again.

139 – BU2B. I liked the original single better than the album version. Lyrically, it’s fascinating — it fits well with the Clockwork Angels narrative but also as a critique of those theological strains in which God is micromanaging things.

137 – Emotion Detector. Yeah, it’s not a highlight of Power Windows. It has glimmers of being a good one, but at some point, we have to accept that Peart simply wasn’t, to cite Sara Bareilles, going to write you a love song.

129 – Before and After. I have absolutely no memory of this track from the debut, which means it probably deserves ranking below some of the synth-driven songs the author have already mentioned.

125 – Nobody’s Hero. The best-written critique so far: “It’s easy to root for this poignant power ballad” about tolerance and untimely deaths, but it just doesn’t follow through.

124 – Dreamline. This is weird. He says it’s easily the best song on Roll the Bones, but he ranks it one step below Bravado. I liked both of those and Cut to the Chase (#122), in which Peart pokes fun at his own tendency to get lost in the philosophical weeds.

120 – You Can’t Fight It. I didn’t know this song existed. Wow.

117 – Countdown. This tribute to a space shuttle launch is a highlight of Signals for me, and I know I’m not alone.

113 – Workin’ Them Angels. Why is this one so high?

112 – Territories. This is my biggest complaint so far. I quote this song all the time. Imagine if someone tried to refer to the flag as “a colorful rag” today in a popular song. The right-wing media would slaughter them. And Peart’s electro-African drums are a nice touch, as are Alex Lifeson’s quirky guitar riffs.

110 – The Weapon. Again — maybe people have major issues with Rush’s synth phase, but this song speaks to me.

105 – Available Light. This one inspired me at a particular point in my life. It was the middle of college for me, after all. I still think at times that I’d love to freeze the world in place and run around to take a look, like Fry and Leela in that Futurama episode. I’m not sure if should be any higher than this, but we’re getting into stiff competition, no longer just sifting through the experiments that didn’t quite work.

104 – Tears. Nowhere near this high.

101 – Halo Effect. Another clunky look at romance. Shouldn’t be this high.

98 – Something for Nothing. I didn’t care much for Side 2 of 2112, but this was a fun one to play on guitar.

95 – One Little Victory. It’s hard to judge this one out of context. We thought for a couple of years we might never hear from Rush again, and when they came back, we had no idea what kind of shape Peart would be in. He answered that question with authority, opening up their comeback album with a blazing double-bass drum extravaganza underpinning some exuberant lyrics and some soaring Lee/Lifeson riffs. As with much of Vapor Trails, the production could’ve been much better. But this needs to be much higher.

94 – The Body Electric. Good eye for some standout bass work.

92 – Ceiling Unlimited. I’ll sound like a broken record on the Vapor Trails material because Vapor Trails is indeed a broken record. The production muddied some nice melodic hooks and lyrics throughout the album, and this is another example.

90 – Not Fade Away. Another single I hadn’t heard before. It’s a cover of a tune Buddy Holly made famous, and it barely sounds like Rush. Will this list also include the recordings from the Feedback album of covers they tossed out late in their career?

89 – The Anarchist. Their concert opener in some of their last shows, and with good reason — it’s a propulsive start, with drums, guitar and bass joining the mix in that order, all building to a powerful sequence and a promising verse. It fizzles a bit in the chorus, though, and the lyrics are more or less exposition to the Clockwork Angels narrative.

88 – The Main Monkey Business. The band had three instrumentals on Snakes and Arrows, and they were really the most memorable songs. The drums in this are more restrained than the typical Peart performance but creative and compelling.

87 – Driven. Take a powerful riff and develop it. Sounds obvious, but it was too rare on Test for Echo. This was a nice exception.

82 – Malignant Narcissism. Another Snakes and Arrows instrumental, and another good one. I wish they’d played it more live. One of the shortest songs in the Rush discography, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

81 – The Fountain of Lamneth. We’re finally getting to the stuff from Rush’s worst album, Caress of Steel? There’s no way this is better than the singles from the synth era.

79 – Afterimage. We get it, man, you don’t like the synth-driven Rush. But this was a powerful tribute to a friend who had passed away, and it did indeed take on new meaning when Peart lost his family.

76 – Animate. The opener on the underrated Counterparts could be a little higher.

75 – Red Lenses. Probably about right. I initially hated it but grew to appreciate it.

73 – Red Sector A. The analysis here is right, too. This is basically a sequencer-driven song with Lifeson and Peart adding some fills while Lee sings a heartfelt paean to prisoners — it sounds futuristic but was inspired in part by Lee’s mother’s memories of surviving a Holocaust concentration camp.

72 – 2112. “An adorably campy baby step” is about right. The overture and “The Temples of Syrinx” are terrific, and the menacing “We have assumed control” closer is unforgettable. The 10 minutes or so in between are quite forgettable.

70 – The Necromancer. It’s 13 minutes of stoner crap not worth a repeat listen, and it should be in the bottom 10.

68 – We Hold On. One of the best non-instrumentals on Snakes and Arrows. 

65 – Clockwork Angels. I’d nudge the title track of their startlingly excellent final album a bit higher.

64 – The Trees. I’m glad Peart outgrew his Ayn Rand phase, but this parable of the forest is still a clever allegory against Communist “we’ll make you equal by crushing everyone” philosophy. (Granted, we’ve overcorrected really far in the other direction these days.)

62 – Earthshine. A good one that actually fits the “wall of sludge” production on Vapor Trails, which makes me wonder why it ranks behind a couple of lesser tracks from that album and Snakes and Arrows. 

57 – Between Sun and Moon. Good spotlight for a highlight from Counterparts.

54 – Madrigal. Never performed live? Interesting. An easily forgotten one from A Farewell to Kings but certainly a pleasant listen.

49 – Hope. The last of the Snakes and Arrows instrumentals and the only Rush song I can think of that featured only one member — Alex Lifeson on a 12-string acoustic. It’s a short, lovely piece that makes me want to hear more solo acoustic work from the oft-overlooked guitarist.

48 – Headlong Flight. Have I mentioned how great an album Clockwork Angels is? This is indeed one of the high points of a masterpiece, with the band chugging along through a couple of verses from the defiant protagonist and an entertaining extended bridge that builds up and then releases into the final verse. No idea why it’s ranked behind the forgettable The Wreckers from the same album.

46 – Mystic Rhythms. Good call here. One of the best mixes of Peart’s electronic drums, Lee’s synths and Lifeson’s creative arpeggiated riffs.

44 – Anthem. The Peart era (which would end up as roughly 95% of their recorded output) kicks off here with an Ayn Rand tribute whose lyrics haven’t aged well. But it’s tough to deny the power of those riffs and Peart’s full-bore polyrhythmic drum attack.

41 – The Garden. Certainly an atypical song to wrap up the Rush catalog — I remember being surprised to see Lifeson playing keyboards when they did this live — but it’s beautiful and heartwarming. It’s especially appropriate for these troubled times. We can’t save the world, but we can tend our gardens and revel in our families’ love. (Not literally on the former. My yard is a disaster area.)

38 – Far Cry. I wasn’t happy at first with the math-rock “hey, look how many weird time signatures we can toss in” opener here, but a great song and killer chorus emerge.

37 – The Big Money. Certainly a Power Windows highlight. Yeah, Lifeson doesn’t have much to do while Lee is getting funky on bass and stepping on some synth pedals, but that’s a minor complaint. And the “eat the rich” theme is a bit removed from Ayn Rand, ain’t it?

35 – Beneath, Between and Behind. I’m not sure I ever heard them play this early highlight live, and I’m not sure why. Great riff, soaring melody … certainly one of the best from their pre-2112 days.

30 – Lakeside Park. Another stupid one from Caress of Steel, inexplicably included in the upper echelon along with some other dubious choices. (Rivendell??) 

26 – Show Don’t Tell. One of their most rhythmically interesting tunes, popping up just as they were starting to scale back the synthesizers.

25 – Time Stand Still. Aimee Mann FTW.

24 – The Pass. Probably the most moving song in the Rush catalog — a plea to bring a despondent friend back from the brink of suicide. It could be a sappy mess, but it’s brilliant.

23 – Digital Man. Awww, yeah. Bring in those reggae rhythms.

22 – YYZ. They have 21 songs better than this, probably the most memorable instrumental in the last 40 years of rock? Wow. I haven’t gotten to La Villa Strangiato yet, which I also love but shouldn’t be higher than this.

20 – The Analog Kid. I may be biased because I was in high school for this, and dreaming of the future was all I did. But it certainly stands up.

16 – A Passage to Bangkok. Look, if we’re going to dump all over the young Rush’s couple of songs about women, can we also dump on their most explicitly stoner-oriented song?

14 – Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres. I thought I was the only Rush fan who would rank this above the other side-length epic, 2112, but I guess not. It’s a little dull at times, but it’s a good story with some memorable moments. He ranks this just behind the original Cygnus X-1, which is indeed a pretty good one but not what I would call a top-20 Rush song, especially after Lee hits (sort of) that ridiculously high note at the end.

Also, it’s a wall calendar …

IMG_4071

12 – The Spirit of Radio. An obvious choice, and I’m furious that it’s mistakenly called “The Spirit of the Radio” here.

11 – Fly By Night. Another early one that strangely disappeared from their live shows despite a killer guitar hook and fine vocal melody.

10 – New World Man. A “hit,” strangely enough, and a pretty worthy one. Another one they didn’t play much in the shows I saw.

9 – Subdivisions. An ode to the outcast, and let’s speak up on Alex Lifeson’s behalf here. I remember reading a review that said he took a “creative nosedive” on Signals, and this song alone should prove otherwise. Listen to those pretty harmonics in the guitar solo, all swirled together with the whammy bar.

6 – Closer to the Heart. It’s a standard, yes, but I’ve grown a bit weary of it, and I think the band did, too. That raises a question of how to gauge a song that is good by any standard but simply played to death.

5 – Xanadu. I’d never really stopped to think which of Rush’s epics was the best, but yeah, this is probably it.

3 – Red Barchetta. A classic, any way you look at it. Funny how it’s set in a dystopian future but is so upbeat and energizing. I would’ve ranked it ahead of Limelight.

The top pick is obvious, with good reason.

 

 

 

 

 

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The “Life of Brian” debate, nearly 40 years later

Having spent a day on the soccer fields and being ready to think about anything other than soccer, I watched something I’ve been meaning to watch for years — a legendary BBC program in which John Cleese and Michael Palin of Monty Python defend the film Life of Brian in a debate with satirist and Christian convert Malcolm Muggeridge and Anglican bishop Mervyn Stockwood.

I watched it in four parts, then found that someone else posted the whole hour intact:

It’s equal parts fascinating and irritating.

Fascinating in the sense that it’s the sort of the discussion we simply can’t imagine having today. The participants are given plenty of time to speak. For the most part, it’s a genteel discussion that seems utterly foreign to anyone who has watched modern cable “news” for five minutes.

Irritating in the sense that the “Christian” guys are virtually caricatures. They make smug comments about the “10th-rate” film, and they insist on a rather narrow interpretation of the film. When Palin insists that they are not ridiculing Christ, their idea of a response is “humbug.”

 

What I love about Life of Brian is the same thing I love about a lot of my favorite comedies, including most of my favorite Simpsons episodes. It’s about the absurdity of the mob. It’s about groups that yell, “Yes, we are all individuals!” It’s about the splintering between the Judean People’s Front and the People’s Front of Judea.

It’s about us. Not Jesus.

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Every recap of The Americans, ever

I watched the first couple of episodes of The Americans and was quite impressed. But it’s a little too intense for me, especially given what happened to these families in real life.

But I’m interested in what happens. My hope is that the finale addresses the reckoning of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, but my guess is that they just kill off Paige.

To keep up, I’ve read recaps of the show over the years. I’ve detected a trend.

And so this is, as the headline says, every Americans recap ever.

Ready?

It’s soooooooo good.

Elizabeth is sooooooo good in this episode.

Hey, remember that character they wrote off the show two seasons ago? She was soooooo good.

The wigs were soooooo good.

Everything is soooooooooooooooooooooooooo good.

So I really have no idea what’s happening in the show. But I hope the finale is good.

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Review: “Last Days of Knight” is flawed but essential

Cross-posting at duresport.com 

ESPN is gambling these days.

The new “30 for 30” documentary, Last Days of Knight, gambles on three levels:

  1. It’s being shown exclusively on ESPN+, the company’s new pay service, a good way to draw attention to it but not the best way to get this film the wide audience that many previous 30 for 30 entries have found.
  2. It tells the story of a journalist, CNN’s Robert Abbott, who pursued the story for months. As an Awful Announcing review says, the film attempts to tell Abbott’s story and Knight’s, and it sometimes falls between the two stools.
  3. A lot of people still maintain loyalty to Bobby Knight after all these years.

Others can debate No. 1. The questions here are No. 2 and No. 3, and the disappointment of Last Days of Knight is that we get too much of No. 2 and not enough exploration of No. 3.

Like all 30 for 30 films, LDON is a slick presentation. And the story is compelling, even with the unusual focus on Abbott. CNN’s reporting became part of the story itself, for better or for worse, and you don’t have to be a journalism junkie to appreciate the insights on how everyone involved interacted with the media — Knight as one of several bullies, players and staffers afraid to speak, administrators being weasels, etc. Abbott’s reflections and the nitty-gritty at CNN, including some clumsy threats by people working on Knight’s behalf, provide a new angle to an old story.

But that story bogs down with an extended, guilt-ridden take on the post-scandal life and death of Neil Reed, the player Knight assaulted in a video that hastened his downfall. It’s a sad and yet sweet story of someone who reclaimed his own life and was clearly loved before his untimely death from a heart attack, but its placement in this film is odd, as if it’s suggesting Reed’s death was somehow collateral damage from Knight’s antics and/or the media coverage. Abbott regrets making Reed uncomfortable in his pursuit of the story, but it seems a bit much for him to interpose himself in the family’s mourning process.

And we’re left wanting something more. Abbott and some of his colleagues are seeing the old story in a new light. Anyone else?

Perhaps it’s me — I wrote about irrational mobs in my review of Jesus Christ Superstar — but I really wanted to see some reflection from the people who defended Knight when he was quite clearly indefensible. Knight, predictably, wasn’t interested in participating. But what about the students? Former players? Now that the heat has died down, what would they do differently?

But even if we don’t see such reflection on camera, we have to hope it’s happening elsewhere. It’s not happening in this dismissive review from The Daily Hoosier.

The value of a story like Knight’s is that it holds up a mirror to us. How much are we willing to excuse if a guy wins some basketball games? Can a man impart military-style discipline and behavioral values if he doesn’t live up to it himself or hold himself accountable?

We see hints of these questions in Last Days of Knight. Just not quite enough.

 

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Jenna Fischer’s wonderful new show … and why it won’t last

I checked out the first episode of Splitting Up Together today, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

That said, I’m not sure I’m interested in watching another episode.

Of course, I’m *rooting* for it because I just love Jenna Fischer. She was wonderful on The Office, and I enjoyed her WTF podcast interview talking about her book. And she is, as you’d expect, absolutely terrific in this. Maybe TOO terrific. There are times you want to reach through the screen and slap Oliver Hudson for taking her for granted. What were you THINKING, dude?

But Hudson is good, too. While things may seem a little stereotypical — Mom fastidiously assembles every ingredient for the kids’ breakfasts and lunches, while Dad gives them some lunch money and lets them fend for themselves — it’s not that Hudson is a neglectful jerk. It’s the “free-range vs. helicopter” parenting dilemma at play here, and it’s done with both earnestness and good humor. Fischer’s character really thinks parents can and should solve everything for their kids; Hudson’s character sees reasonable limits for that concept.

So if this were a short-run series — one of those British shows designed to run six episodes — it would surely be worth watching.

The problem: There is no way they can drag this out to a full sitcom for multiple seasons.

Some of the reviews I’ve seen pick up on the issue. It’s an unrealistic long-term premise. Money is part of it — we can understand why a newly divorced couple in the era of overpriced real estate can’t afford separate places, but some reviewers have pointed out that both parents have lax attitudes toward employment and financial restraint, undermining the “financial necessity” point.

The other part is that we’re going to like both of these characters, and we’re not going to wish a divorce on either of them. Even in the first episode, we see Hudson starting to realize what a great life he has thrown away. What will we see in episode 45?

Even in The Simpsons, where they can create and then destroy an alternate reality in each 22-minute episode, they’ve gone to the “Homer and Marge split up” well far too many times over the years. Imagine if Homer was living in the garage, pining for a reunion with Marge for 10 seasons.

It’s a pity, because the first episode is certainly worth watching. The scene in which they inform family and friends over dinner is priceless. I like the supporting cast, too, especially the guy who worships his wife and can’t comprehend why Hudson didn’t do the same. (But again — he makes such a convincing case that the writers are going to have to contrive ways to make Hudson not listen.)

They could surely get about six good episodes out of this, ending either with a reconciliation or one of the parents finally moving all the way out. But we’re probably not even going to get six good episodes out of it because they’re going to have stretch things out and rely on sitcom cliches (oh, no — a misunderstanding and jealousy!) to keep this couple apart long enough to make a second season.

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Sinclair and muddled media-ownership rules

Deadspin is not one of my favorite media outlets. They tend to favor snark over substance, and they intentionally cover sports without getting to know any of the people involved so they don’t have to think about the consequences of their words.

But let’s give credit where it’s due. This piece on Sinclair Broadcast Group forcing its member stations to read a subtle propaganda script on “fake news” (cleverly worded to sow doubt on all “other” media while giving the appearance of transparency) is worth checking out, if only for the video showing the absurdity of scores of “news” anchors all reading the same script.

The definitive word on Sinclair, though, still belongs to John Oliver:

The Nation, itself an erratic publication I wouldn’t cite on every topic, digs in a bit to point out that the issue isn’t editorial bias per se. It’s media consolidation.

I’ve worked in the belly of the media consolidation a couple of times, and it’s funny to Sinclair doing the things — particularly central editorial control — that readers often thought my old papers were doing. In Wilmington, a lot of readers seemed convinced that our owners at The New York Times were micromanaging every page we printed. The truth was that we could pick from several wire services (including the NYT service) for national/world content (my job on many days), and the NYT rarely noticed anything we wrote locally. The actual problem with non-local corporate ownership in Wilmington was far duller — due to geography, we had a monopoly over several fast-growing counties, and we were not coincidentally severely understaffed. I’d love to see the Star-News profit margin for the 1990s.

So to quibble with The Nation, it’s both media consolidation and irresponsible use of that consolidation. As the John Oliver piece notes, Sinclair is essentially spreading fake news while subtly discrediting other media.

Now here’s the question …

Why is Sinclair allowed to do this shit (and why is Facebook allowed to reap the revenue off journalism), but your local newspaper can’t combine ownership with a local TV station?

Yeah, we’re still talking about that. Oddly enough, it’s the Republicans who want to roll back the restriction on such things, while the Democrats are suspicious of more media consolidation.

I get the suspicion. If Sinclair were to start buying up local newspapers to run the same crap they’re running on local TV, that’d be pathetic.

But consider two trends:

  1. Local newspapers continue to put out vital journalism while their staffs shrink like the demand for carbon paper.
  2. Local TV stations rarely have online content worth visiting. It’s usually a few pictures of the on-air personalities and bad rewrites of stories from the local paper. That reality tends to throw some cold water on any concerns over “media consolidation.” If your local TV station (and often your local radio news outlet) is just ripping and reading, you might as well let them make it official.

Surely we’d all benefit if a local TV station and local newspaper could combine news-gathering organizations. An enterprising local TV station could dominate the news market with the best and biggest journalism shop in the region. A newspaper wouldn’t have to keep struggling to move into video.

We’d need rules in place to keep Sinclair from buying everything. But allowing a TV/newspaper combo might actually open the door to some more competition. Maybe when one local TV station combines with a newspaper, another TV station hires more journalists to create online content to compete. And then you’ll have the diversity of voices we need.

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Neil Peart through the ages

Observe how Neil Peart plays a particularly tricky passage of Tom Sawyer around the 3:05 mark in this video from the early 80s:

Now see how he did it in 2011:

Looks like he’s using two hands to do what he used to do with one.

My guess is that’s a pretty impressive adaptation to a natural decline in hand speed. Or maybe just more ergonomically correct.

(Yes, I know I need to be blogging at MMM more. I still love this blog.)

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