On September 1, 1977, "Rush" released their fifth studio album, "A Farewell to Kings".
This is a very important album in the development of the band, both musically and in terms of expanding the range of instruments on which the band members play, but all this would not have happened without the success of the previous album "2112".
For those who have not read our review of the album "2112", we will mention that after the release of the third album "Caress Of Steel" the future of "Rush" was not clear at all. The record company sought to terminate the contract with them due to poor sales and only after a massive campaign of persuasion did they agree to give "Rush" one last chance, but on the condition that the band goes in a more commercial direction. The three band members didn't care about the record company's demand. They were confident they were about to record their last album and preferred to go with their music to the end, opening the album with a 20-minute sci-fi epic, which eventually turned out to be a huge success, not only in Canada and the US but also in Europe and around the world.
Following the success of "2112", Rush was finally given freedom of creation by the record company to write as they pleased. The freedom of creation allowed the band to continue to experiment and develop musically.
In 1977 the band moved to Rockfield Studios in Wales, UK to record "A Farewell to Kings". The band members will tell that the creative process was very significant for them and was a milestone in their musical development. In an interview given by Geddy Lee a few years ago with the release of the expanded edition of the album on the occasion of its 40th anniversary, he noted that this album was very important to him and that he learned a lot during his work.
Indeed, "Rush" learned, experimented, and challenged themselves on this album. they broke away from their comfort zone and deepened their grip on the progressive-rock genre, adding more advanced motifs to their work than on previous albums.
To emphasize the progressive motifs on the album, the band uses, for the first time, the Minimoog Synthesizer, which substantially diversifies the band's sound and opens up new musical worlds. Although in the album "2112" the band also used a mellotron in the song "Tears" and a synthesizer to create the effects in the opening of "2112", in both cases the one who played the instruments was the band's cover designer Hugh Syme. This time Geddy Lee learns and experiences playing this amazing instrument for the first time. .
In addition, Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson used 12-string guitars, and Neil Peart added to his drum set a wide variety of percussion instruments, including wind chimes, gong, and tubular bells. The band even finds a solution that will make it easier for them to play the new material in live shows, without the assistance of guest musicians. One of the tools that made this possible was the Bass-Pedal Synthesizer used by Alex and Geddy. It is a keyboard that is operated using the legs and allows the band to expand the range of sounds in their performances.
The album opens up with the theme song "A Farewell to Kings" with Alex Lifeson's quiet and caressing classical guitar and the birds chirping in the background, later Geddy Lee joins in with the Minimoog and the atmosphere takes us back 500 years to the Middle Ages. This opening track was recorded outside the studio as the band members watched the rural scenery of Wales. The band's producer Terry Brown placed microphones outside the studio to capture the atmosphere, and the birds chirping in the background at the opening of the song (and also in the song "Xanadu") are of real birds that were outside the studio at the time of recording. A minute plus into the song and we get the first entry that immediately reminds us that we are dealing with a band whose roots are firmly rooted in Hard Rock. Then, at 1:32 a break, a change of pace, and an entry by Alex Lifeson with the leading riff of the song. We have not yet calmed down from the previous rhythm change and at 3:10, again, a rhythm change with Geddy Lee's bass solo who as in a relay race hands over the pole to Alex Lifeson who takes us on a trip with his own solo. The band members will testify that this is not a simple song to play due to the unconventional time signatures and the frequent changes in rhythm (we have another one like this at 4:02 and more and more). So maybe this is also the reason why they did not perform this song live. While it is not new to us that Neil Peart is an avid literary lover, the title of the song was taken from Ernest Hemingway's book "A Farewell to Arms". The song ends with the words "Closer To The Heart" which is actually the name of the third song on the album.
From there we move on to one of the peaks of this album and one of the band's best songs ever written - the mini-epic "Xanadu". A track that spans more than 11 minutes and opens with an instrumental section that lasts almost 5 minutes, and is without a doubt one of the longest instrumental openings that exist for a song. The opening is meant to put the listener in the mood and help him imagine as an introduction to the story. Alex Lifeson's pedal-guided guitar, Peart's spectacular percussion, and the chirping of birds recorded outside the studio lead us down the hall into the story. The lyrics are based on Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem "The Unfinished Kubla Khan" in which Neil Peart talks about the search for the mystical place "Xanadu", which is supposed to grant its finder eternal life. This is Rush's first song in which the Minimoog synthesizer is an integral part. Performing the song live requires a lot of virtuosity from the band. Alex Lifeson plays a 6-string double-necked guitar and a pedal synthesizer. Geddy Lee sings, plays double neck guitar, bass and 6-string guitar, synthesizer, and bass pedals and Neil plays drums and a very wide range of percussion in a way that illustrates his virtuosity and adds to the mystical and mysterious atmosphere of the song. It is interesting to note that the extended version of the album on the occasion of its 40th anniversary includes an accurate and instructive rendition of "Dream Theater" for this masterful song. Another interesting statistic is that in 1980 a movie called "Xanadu" starring Olivia Newton-John was released. "ELO" also co-wrote the soundtrack for a movie with a hit of the same name. Of course, there is no musical connection between the songs, but I wonder if the idea for the film and album came in the wake of Rush's interpretation of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem.
The other side of the vinyl opens up with the semi-ballad "Closer To the Heart", which became the band's first hit during the Christmas period of 1977. This is the band's first song in which credit is given to outside writer Peter Talbot who was a friend of Neil Peart. This is one of Rush's most popular songs, which is played in almost all of their performances. The band stopped playing the song during the Vapor Trails tour from 2002, but due to crowd pressure and knowing how popular it was in South America, it was included in the setlists of the band's shows in Rio, which was also recorded and released on audio and video. Unlike Rush's complex material, this is a seemingly musically uncomplicated song, especially when compared to the previous song "Xanadu". At the same time, the bridge after the second verse reminds us that this is still "Rush" and what at first seems simple turn out to be more complex.
The second track on the second side of the vynil "Cinderella Man" is one of the band's only songs where the lyrics were not written by drummer Neil Peart, but Geddy Lee. Geddy Also wrote the music that was influenced by the movie "Mr. Deeds Goes To Town" from 1936 starring Gary Cooper. The film tells the story of a man from a small town who gets a big inheritance and is considered crazy when he starts spending all his money on helping the poor. Musically there is a very interesting melody here with a beautiful combination of Alex Lifeson's acoustic and electric guitars with Geddy Lee's very bold and special bass playing, especially in the slightly funky transition section.
The third track on the second side of the album "Madrigal", is perhaps the weakest and strangest track on it. The piece is led by Geddy Lee's minimog synthesizer which sounds just like a whistle, with a soft guitar, a bit of jazzy bass playing, and a bit more percussion. Seemingly it seems to be a song about dragons and knights but in fact, whoever delves into the lyrics will find that it is a kind of love song.
The album ends with "Cygnus X-1 Book 1: The Voyage" which is the first of two books, while the second part continues on the band's next album "Hemispheres" which was released in 1978 and is called "Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres".
The work "Cygnus X-1 Book 1" is divided into three parts and tells the story of an explorer on a spaceship named "Rocinante" who makes his way to the black hole "Cygnus X-1", while believing he can cross it and discover what is beyond it. The first part of the epic track begins with "space" sounds and effects and with word recitation performed by producer Terry Brown. The "spacy" section is interrupted by Geddy Lee's wild bass riff with syncopations and frequent 3/4, 7/8, 3/4, and 4/4 rhythm changes that last until the guitar and drums join in. At the end of the musical section, Geddy Lee enters singing and describing the black hole and what will happen to whoever falls into it. The second part of the work tells the story of the explorer's journey towards the black hole, the track includes a wild "Wah, wah" solo by Alex Lifeson. The third part of the work tells how the explorer approached the black hole hand is ship got out of control and was sucked very powerfully into the black hole. This part of the song records the highest vocal range of Geddy Lee ever recorded (9:30 min to song). This concludes the album and also the first book of the story.
The second book found on the album "Hemispheres" tells how the same explorer survived and managed to get out on the other side of the black hole into Olympus.
In conclusion, this is an essential album in the "Rush" catalog which contributed greatly to the development of the band both musically and in terms of the range of instruments and sound. But the importance of the album is not only in the band's development, as it is one of the milestones in the development of the Prog-Metal genre, that began on the band's previous album and will continue to intensify on the next album.