Although never darlings of critics or conventional radio stations, Rush has one of the most devoted and largest followings in hard rock. 19 full-lengths and a multitude of stylistic approaches throughout their 44-year career make it difficult to dig into their discography, but most casual listeners already have a good starting point. It’s apt that “Tom Sawyer” is the band’s most popular song; it gives potential fans a decent grasp of the various approaches within Rush’s music. Geddy Lee’s notably high-pitched tenor leads over Alex Lifeson’s lively guitar work, which is often a mixture of numbing rhythm guitar and dazzling solos. His rhythmic guitar sections often allow the band’s famous rhythm section to shine. Lee’s bass and Neil Peart’s drums comprise one of the most legendary rhythm tandems in rock music, expertly blending jaw-dropping dexterity with concisely melodic hooks. Lee’s bass lines are often a heavy feature in the mix, as they are in “Tom Sawyer”; it’s a trademark of Rush’s hard-rocking but polished sound.
1981’s Moving Pictures is widely considered to be Rush’s greatest album, propelled by an opener in “Tom Sawyer” that immediately showed the group as willing to try a more radio-friendly approach without sacrificing the ambitious prog-rock that earned them a diehard fan base throughout the ’70s. Even casual listeners are aware of that track, though. The consistency of Pictures makes it Rush’s biggest success. “Yyz” is a technical showcase, where Lee succinctly mirrors his bustling bass lines with Lifeson’s soaring guitar solos. When a Rush fan picks up a guitar or bass for the first time, this is one of the tracks they aspire to play. A warm synth provides a quickly deceiving bridge, as the track swiftly turns back into the Lee and Lifeson show. It’s almost ironic how straightforward the subsequent track, “Limelight”, sounds in comparison – with its jangly chorus and crisply melodic guitar swipes. On the other end, “The Camera Eye” sees the band take a successful stab at synth-rock. All-around quality efforts like these exemplify the excitement of Moving Pictures; changes in direction never make the album sound dull. Here, Rush maintained their hard-rock approach while refining its edges, cohesively balancing virtuosity with radio-friendly appeal.
Moving Pictures represents Rush taking multiple approaches to their hard rock sound, noting the approaches of thumping prog-rock and melodic synth-rock. Several of their other releases show a more linear approach, but the first example of their ingenious ambition was displayed on 1976’s 2112. A futuristic theme is prominent throughout, and especially on the epic self-titled opener, which is a 20-minute display of Rush’s flexible song dynamics. The first half is pure build-up. Acoustics flutter over the gentle stream of a creek, slowly increasing in tempo as Lee begins to assume his arena-ready grandiosity. The track’s first half is gentle and developmental, while the second half presents the fast-paced tightness that has become a trademark of their sound, instantaneously furious and melodic. Crunchy guitar riffs flow over Lee’s hopping bass lines, and listeners are treated to one of Rush’s peaks. Everything on 2112 is worthwhile, but it’s the bookends that make it Rush’s first classic. Closer “Something for Nothing” plays with halted thunderous guitar riffs, with Peart’s hastily brilliant drum fills providing the perfect accommodations for Lee’s vocals, which take on more squealing emotion than ever.
2112 and Moving Pictures are excellent representations of Rush’s earlier career, and their release dates show another Rush tendency; they usually release one outstanding album every five to ten years. 1989’s Presto followed up Moving Pictures by eight years, after a middling ’80s period that emphasized synths and ambience more than most fans would have liked. At the time of Presto’s release, Rush were no longer a band that could put out a quality track with the intensity of guitar attacks or a technically inclined rhythm section alone. That didn’t mean it was forgettable, though. A track like “Superconducter” balances a super-catchy chorus typical of ‘80s rock, resembling Squeeze and Prefab Sprout more than hard-rock. But it was still polished and well-executed; “Superconducter” touts some of the most frequent hooks of any Rush track. Other highlights included “Show Don’t Tell” and “Scars”, the latter almost resembling a Tears for Fears pop mold with a more advanced rhythm section. It sounds oddly invigorating. By 1989, Rush were no longer the Rush of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, but they were still producing quality songs nonetheless. Though they are more of a live attraction now, Rush still reap sold-out shows due to a dedicated fan base that never tire of albums like 2112, Moving Pictures, Presto, and others that provide wonderfully massive set lists.