Thursday, September 13, 2012

Neil Peart: A 60th-birthday playlist

Last week I wrote about a so-called prog band that doesn't really fit that mold. I held Rush up as a band that does conform to what prog is commonly understood to be, but you can't put them in a box either. I've been listening to and loving Rush for more than half my life, and they're still one of the staples of my musical diet. Say about them what you will, but it's important to understand that the thumbnail version of Rush—screechy vocals, OCD drumming, sidelong songs—is way out-of-date; for the last 30 or so years, since around the time of Moving Pictures, Rush hasn't really been a prog band at all. They've gradually streamlined their sound to the point that what they are is a great rock band, period—a lofty and brainy one, sure, but no more self-indulgent than, say, the Radioheads of the world.

Following this post is a playlist of some of my favorite Rush tracks, all released within the past decade. I offer this as a modest birthday tribute to drummer-lyricist Neil Peart, who turned 60 yesterday. I attempted a close read of a key Peart performance on DFSBP back in ’06; that's not what this sampling is about. My goal is simply to demonstrate the pleasures of late-period Rush. Peart shines here, of course—not just as a drummer but as a lyricist, especially on the harrowing "Ghost Rider," which captures his haunted state of mind in the wake of the deaths of his daughter and common-law wife—but more importantly, these are just good songs. The current/recent Rush output means as much to me as anything they've done. The new Clockwork Angels is scary-good; it's probably my favorite Rush album since 1993's stunning Counterparts.

We'll start with an instrumental off the latter record. Look out for the heavenly delayed crash-cymbal/bass-drum accents that Peart throws in on what I'll call the prechorus starting at :32. Then we move on to "Dog Years," which features Peart playing more or less a punk beat, followed by a quasi-disco one. On "BU2B," listen very closely (headphones will help) after the bombshell kick-in at :50, and you'll hear Peart offering up tasteful commentary with the left foot on the hi-hat; I also love the slashing China-cymbal syncopations that start around 1:15. Re: "Workin' Them Angels," I have little to say other than that I think it's a great, dramatic song. And we end with the darkly majestic "Ghost Rider." Happy birthday, sir, and thank you for your music.


Unknown said...

Much thanks for introducing me to Spotify but also, WHO KNEW rush were still so vibrant. I played the whole list.

Found your blog via The Bad Plus.

Phil Freeman said...

I never listened to Counterparts until earlier this year, and it really is amazing. Are you going to the Newark or Brooklyn show next month? (Or both?) (I'll be at Newark.)

shabba said...

Hi Hank - found you recently through DTM. So totally in to the fact that you are touting the evolution of Neil's playing. 90's/ 00's Rush has been glossed over in so many ways. That band has really been continually evolving for it's whole life. As all bands should IMO.