Tuesday, June 05, 2012
FLY BY NIGHT
Packing more flash on stage than Neil Diamond's jacket, Rush have long been respected for their instrumental prowess. Heading toward the forty year mark as a recording unit, they will soon be unveiling a new disc called "Clockwork Angels".
What more can be said about this venerable rock trio?
Traveling back to the summer of 1974, the group had a debut album under their belt and faced the difficult task of replacing their drummer (John Rutsey), whose health issues precluded his involvement with an upcoming US tour.
Enter Neil Peart.
Rutsey had been a fine drummer, though Peart was an explosive player with technical skills beyond those of his predecessor. He also was/is somewhat of an introverted sort, who preferred the charms of good literature over throwing himself headlong into crowds to socialize. Seizing upon the fact that they had a writer in their midst, Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson handed off the task of creating lyrics to their new member.
Creatively, Fly By Night was an astounding leap forward for the band. With their first record, they had been merely reflecting the styles of early 70s hard rock (Led Zep), rather than charting their own course. Stylistically, residual bits from their debut are still present ("Best I Can", "In the End"), though it's no coincidence that both tunes have zero input from Peart in terms of writing credits.
"Anthem" heralds the arrival of a new attitude.
Anthem of the heart and anthem of the mind
A funeral dirge for eyes gone blind
We marvel after those who sought
The wonders of the world, wonders of the world,
Wonders of the world they wrought
Light years distant from "Hey baby, it's a quarter to eight", Peart drove home these couplets with fierce triplets, beautifully executed rolls and galloping ride cymbal work. Geddy's virtuoso bass lines followed the drummer around each hairpin turn, while Lifeson turned heads with guitar acrobatics that rivaled all of his peers. Lee's battle cry sealed the deal: this is where they truly became RUSH. Extra points awarded for the technical side of Fly by Night, as Terry Brown took great care to ensure that everything went to tape in pristine fashion. His not so secret weapons? Studer 24-track recorder + Neve mixing console. Haul out your vinyl copy and compare it to other hard rock recordings of that period: the final mix is worthy of any audiophile's wet dream.
If you do own the LP, don't stare too long into the owl's eyes or you will feel a sudden urge to start sleeping through the day...
Critically, this set hasn't received a fair shake, which is a shame, as it is certainly not a minor work. The title track still garners heavy play on classic rock radio, hanging its hat on Lifeson's rippling arpeggios. Epic piece here is "By-Tor and the Snow Dog" which would serve as a signpost of the long-form, album side-gobbling compositions lurking just around the corner. "Beneath, Between and Behind" is another stand-out, obviously a group favorite, too, as it remained a staple of their live show into the next decade. Peart takes a not so thinly veiled swipe at the culture that he viewed south of the Canadian border while touring. His scattershot wordplay is earnest as it is interesting, while the riff is taken wholly from the solo section of Zep II's "Heartbreaker". To be fair, they run it through a shifting series of time signatures with monster chops supporting the entire affair.
"Making Memories" still grabs my ear as being a one-off in the Rush discography. They never quite structured anything in this manner before or since. Very underrated early tune complete with a tasty slide solo.
Fly By Night won new converts with an infusion of experimentation, yet their collective feet were still planted in the "rock" camp. Still, it was a bold stake in the ground that would forge an entirely new identity for the musicians.