This is an old post I had in draft format for awhile. I had written it anticipating “Clockwork Angels,” Rush’s 19th studio album of original material As such, CW isn’t part of this list.
The new studio album from Rush is supposed to be in the final mixing process. Based on the two songs they’ve released thus far (especially “Caravan”), I have high hopes. In celebration, I look back at their previous eighteen studio albums of original material and rank them in precise scientific fashion: my opinion.
18. Rush – It’s almost unfair ranking a band’s debut as my least favorite, but they just hadn’t become Rush yet. Peart wasn’t there yet (even though Rutsey does an admirable job of banging the skins), they sound too much like Led Zeppelin, and it’s just way too … young. Better things would soon appear.
17. Vapor Trails – Again, almost not fair. Neil Peart was still grieving his wife and daughter, both of whom he’d lost in a span of 10 months after the Test for Echo tour had ended. There’s nothing inherently bad about this album, but the best I can say for it is that it’s as good as Rush gets at background music; pleasant and not too distracting (the latter isn’t something you can say for their other weaker work).
16. Test for Echo -
15. Caress of Steel – Most of this album is an attempt at EPIC (the last two songs clock in at 12:30 and 19:58 respectively), but it mosty falls flat. “Bastille Day” is really the only song that survived this one. “I Think I’m Going Bald” is just terrible.
14. Counterparts – Rush tries to deal with the popularity of grunge. Well, that’s the conventional wisdom and normal knock against this one. Far from their best work from the 1990s.
13. Hold Your Fire – The synths are everywhere, Lifeson’s guitar has been relegated to pace-keeper status at best, and the songs haven’t aged well. A few stand out though, like “Mission” and “Lock and Key.” “Tai Shan,” however, should never have been recorded and is embarrassing lyrically and musically. Geddy Lee has basically said as much.
12. Presto – The synths are gone for the most part, but the songwriting isn’t as strong as what had come before. A transition album if there ever was one in their oeuvre.
11. Grace Under Pressure – hasn’t aged well. If I don’t hear “Distant Early Warning” again anytime soon that will be fine. “Red Sector A” is still quite effective, though. Like its surrounding albums, too much synth.
10. Snakes and Arrows – In my opinion as good as they ever did in the 1990s through the 2000s. “Far Cry” is a killer opening track, and “Spindrift” is a frequent spin from my iPod. It’s as if they re-found their sense of melody, and weren’t as concerned with balls-out rocking, which I think Vapor Trails suffered from. Actual enjoyable head-shaking songs here, something I believe they hadn’t done since Roll the Bones.
9. Roll the Bones – I wanted to rank this higher, but an uneven second half prevented it. The first three tunes are classics, though, and “Bravado” is my favorite post-Golden Era of Rush song. Just gorgeous.
8. Fly By Night – their first album with Neil Peart on drums and at the lyric pen as well. He makes his presence felt right away with the Ayn Rand-inspired “Anthem.” FbN also contains the first of the great Rush epics — “By-Tor and the Snow Dog.”
7. 2112 – I know, blasphemy. It should be in the top 5. I just don’t listen to it as much. The 2112 suite is, well, sweet, but the rest of the album is just a little bit too meh for my tastes. They nailed what they were trying to do (prove to their record company they could write epic concept rock), but underwhelm with the rest of the album.
6. Signals – the attack of the synthesizers begin, and it’s at this point that many Rush fans either mark “the beginning of the end” or “the start of their next great era.” I see both sides of the argument, and while I like Rush with fewer synth sounds (and certainly not overly-reliant on them like later albums), there are some truly wonderful songs on this record.
5. Power Windows – too highly ranked? Maybe, but this is a list of my favorites, and not where I think critics should place them. PW was, with Moving Pictures, the first Rush album I bought. I got it when it was released, in 1985, on vinyl. I listened to it nearly everyday for two consecutive months. I knew every word, every drum beat, ever guitar fill. It’s part of their synth period, but I love it, and always will.
4. Permanent Waves – the pre-cursor to Moving Pictures in both chronology and content. Radio-friendly songs mixed in with bold, long epics. A great entry album for the curious.
2. A Farewell to Kings
1. Moving Pictures – quite simply, everything I love about Rush in 7 songs. Inventive timing, cool but strange lyrics, unbelievable musicianship, and ROCKING tunes. The 3 had never been at the top of their game like this, and probably won’t be ever again. Sure it’s got some hits, and most people know “Tom Sawyer,” but how many casual AOR radio fans can sing “The Camera Eye” or “Witch Hunt.” A classic in every sense of the word.