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Rush: 2112 & Moving Pictures Classic Albums DVD Now Playing

Rush: 2112 & Moving Pictures Classic Albums DVD Now Playing

The Classic Albums series continues to explore the creation and success of seminal rock albums with the Sept. 28 DVD/Blu-ray release of Rush: 2112 & Moving Pictures Classic Albums. The 112-minute film (including nearly an hour of bonus material not included in the VH1 Classic broadcast) presents the stories of the Canadian trio’s two most seminal albums, 1976’s 2112 and 1981’s Moving Pictures.

Against the backdrop of the heyday of heavy mid-’70s arena rock, 2112 transformed Rush from a spirited, hard-working trio struggling to remain afloat commercially without compromising its artistic principles into a spirited, hard-working major international rock act assured of creative control over its own work.

Against the backdrop of well-established worldwide fame and the new-music boom of the early 1980s, Moving Pictures presented a band that had deliberately reinvented itself by eagerly devouring diverse musical influences, pouring all of its immense creative firepower into what became and remains to this day its most successful album.

In extensive interviews with and individual musical demonstrations by bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer/lyricist Neil Peart, 2112 & Moving Pictures Classic Albums takes the viewer through the creation of both albums. The story is further illuminated by archival footage, isolated tracks from the original multi-track recordings, interviews with longtime Rush manager Ray Danniels and 1970s-early-’80s-era producer Terry Brown (known affectionately in Rush liner notes as “Broon”), and guest commentary from Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins, Barenaked Ladies vocalist/guitarist (and fellow Canadian) Ed Robertson, Rolling Stone journalist David Fricke, ’70s-era Mercury Records A&R rep Cliff Burnstein and others.

The film provides fascinating comparisons and contrasts between 2112 and Moving Pictures. In so doing, it also provides an equally fascinating picture of Rush itself—not only as an incredibly skilled band fiercely protective of its artistic identity, but also as three guys with a shared sense of humor who’ve stuck to their guns on great adventures together to emerge time and again genuinely liking each other. As such, Rush: 2112 & Moving Pictures Classic Albums makes a good companion to acclaimed 2010 documentary Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage, which presents a detailed survey of the trio’s entire history.

Of the two albums, 2112 came first, by five years. Released in April 1976, it was the fourth Rush album, and very nearly the last Rush album. Third LP Caress of Steel (1975) met with commercial failure, merciless critical lambasting and lackluster fan response, and Danniels describes in the film how he scrambled to persuade Mercury Records—which was demanding shorter songs and more accessible material—to put out one more Rush album.

Lee, Lifeson, Peart responded by delivering exactly what Mercury didn’t want—an album containing a sidelong epic that was their most ambitious and lengthy concept piece to date. All three band members recount on the DVD how they were determined either to succeed on their own uncompromising terms or to go down with guns blazing, and the voices of all three are still tinged with defiance in the film when discussing the album they released in spring 1976.

The album, 2112, was an enormous breakthrough success. All of side one was occupied by the “2112” suite, a seven-part epic about a citizen of a future dystopian society who discovers a guitar that leads him to a vision of the beautiful society of the benevolent but exiled “Elder Race,” has his ideas and ambitions crushed by the evil Solar Federation priests who rule the totalitarian state, and kills himself just before a climactic battle in which the returning Elder Race liberates the galaxy by vanquishing the Solar Federation (Peart confirms on the DVD that the good guys won, something not readily apparent in the conclusion of the suite itself).

Nice light stuff, in other words. Side two consisted of five shorter songs unrelated to the story on side one (thus precluding 2112 from being considered a true concept album)— “The Twilight Zone,” “A Passage to Bangkok,” “Lessons,” “Tears” and “Something For Nothing.”

On the DVD, Lee, Lifeson and Peart fondly recount their fourth album’s inspiration and creation, and their reaction to its success. They’re shown playing segments of it individually in the present day (Lee even busts out his old black Rickenbacker 4001), and while Rush has always been known for its musical dexterity, it really is a treat to be reminded of just how musically muscular 2112 really is. At the time, Rush was still immersed in its late-’60s Zeppelin-Who-Sabbath-Tull tradition of its first few albums—Page-y pentatonic soloing and slashing Townshend-esque rhythm work from Lifeson, busy Bruce-Entwistle-Squire-inflected bass work by Lee, and powerhouse Bill Bruford-meets-Keith Moon drumming by Peart. Vocally, 2112 found Lee’s distinctive shriek at its shriekiest (especially when he’s singing the part of 2112’s bad-guy priests); lyrically it found Peart at the height of his most overt interest in fantasy, science fiction, philosophy and mythology, with plot elements broadly based on Ayn Rand’s 1938 novella Anthem (she is acknowledged in the album’s liner notes) and Samuel R. Delany’s 1966 novel Babel-17.

Aside from achieving huge sales, ending their uncertainty about the band’s future with Mercury and vindicating their sense of integrity, 2112 bestowed on its three creators the assurance of complete artistic control over all subsequent albums, the next two of which (1977’s A Farewell to Kings and 1978’s Hemispheres) continued in a similar prog-rock vein before Rush shifted gears both musically and lyrically as the 1980s dawned.

That began with 1980’s massively successful Permanent Waves—Rush’s first top-five album in the U.S.—with its shorter songs and flirtations with other genres, musical structures and lyrical themes. But it was the next album that was an even bigger hit and truly marked an enormous milestone in the band’s history.

Released in February 1981, Moving Pictures became Rush’s biggest-selling album ever. From the very first note of its opening track, the smash hit and enduring rock radio staple “Tom Sawyer,” it was clear that Rush had matured and evolved considerably in the five years since 2112. It was also clear that Rush was eagerly absorbing newer musical influences such as the Police and Ultravox and incorporating new elements into its music. In a deliberate been-there-done-that move, Moving Pictures eschewed sidelong multi-part prog epics in favor of seven well-crafted songs, five of which were under five minutes long. Lifeson’s guitar still had elements of Page and Townshend, but it also showed flashes of Andy Summers and Allan Holdsworth. Peart had clearly been attentive to what Police drummer Stewart Copeland was doing, and Lee exchanged the metallic clank of his 4001 for the tight, focused growl of a ’70s-era Fender Jazz Bass guitar, giving a new low-end dimension to Moving Pictures.

Make no mistake, though—this was still Rush. Moving Pictures had its share of odd time signatures, and it did boast a single 10-minute-plus song (“The Camera Eye”) and some high-minded concept work (“Witch Hunt” was credited as part three of the band’s four-song “Fear Series,” which consisted o
f one song apiece on Moving Pictures, 1982’s Signals, 1984’s Grace Under Pressure and 2002’s Vapor Trails, all dealing with the concept of fear). But the band had hit a creative high mark in sharpened songwriting, and the album boasted not one or two but four hits—“Tom Sawyer,” “Limelight,” “Red Barchetta” and “Vital Signs”—the first two of which have become enduring classic rock staples. It also boasted a dazzlingly kinetic instrumental, “YYZ,” that set a new standard for instrumental prowess for a generation of musicians; bass players and drummers in particular (the band members pronounce the song’s title as Y-Y-zed, which might sound odd to U.S. viewers).

Lyrically and thematically, Peart had moved on from most of the fantasy/sci-fi elements of Rush’s ’70s output; since Permanent Waves in 1980, his lyrics were more focused on social, emotional and humanitarian issues. “Red Barchetta” was about as sci-fi as Moving Pictures got, and the star of that song was an Italian sports car rather than a space ship.

On the DVD, Lee, Lifeson and Peart recount the creation of both 2112 and Moving Pictures as especially rewarding experiences that took Rush to new and higher levels of commercial success, musical creativity and artistic expression. Rush: 2112 & Moving Pictures Classic Albums shows a band eager to redefine itself and explore new musical ground while keeping the same fierce commitment to personal and artistic integrity that propelled it to stardom in the first place.

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