Monday, January 03, 2005

Feedback - Rush Pays Tribute

My very first rock album was "Presto" by Rush, purchased from a little store in Kathmandu, site of many memories (Kathmandu, not the store). I can still remember the powerful visual images the songs engendered in me, especially the title song, with the images of star dust and evening planes rising up over constellations of light. Much of my creative experience since then seems to have been defined by the early experiences with "Presto", "2112" and the live shows.


Rush returned to the studios in 2004 and gave us in "Feedback", not one of their trademark theme rock albums and not an electric funk-rock collection, but rather a brief, 28-minute, 8 song collection of cover versions of classic rock and blues songs from the 1960s and 1970s, when they were young and callow. Songs that they cut theit teeth on are now reframed through their own gifts of musical style and substance. The selection of pieces has been called a political statement by some, but it seems more like a collation of memories and formative experiences.

1. Summertime Blues - The Eddie Cochran classic, one of the 500 greatest songs of all time, as per the Rolling Stone list, is transformed into a breakneck very typical Rush speed scene, with fast bridges, vocals that rise above the wall of sound and hyperfast drums. Other versions of this classic have been by Joan Jett, T Rex, The Who, Van Halen and Olivia Newton-John. A social youth protest song, appealing to any rebel with a cause

2. Heart Full Of Soul - The Yardbirds hearbreaker is redone with a mellow, slow air, by Rush standards, that takes up the theme with strumming chords where the words leave off, communicating the essence of love, regret and need to be loved through a simple arrangement that repeats throughout the song. Very Beatles-like, and quite close to the original.
And if she says to you
She don't love me,
Please give her my message.
Tell her of my plea.
And I know
That if she had me back again,
I would never make her sad.
I've got a heart full of soul.


3. For What It's Worth - The Buffalo Springfield song from Woodstock dealt originally with the Vietnam war, then in the telling became a youthful resistance anthem against cops, the 'Heat' et al. The selection here by Rush might be a comment on the state of things today. Then again, it just might be a favorite song, reinterpreted for the zeitgeist. "Everybody, look what's going down"

4. The Seeker - This was a tribute song in its own right by The Who, invoking "Bobby Dylan, the Beatles, Timothy Leary" to help answer the fundamental questions of life. Surprising vocal range is displayed in this version, with a few brief, abrupt pauses that serve to set off the typical Rush slides into artistic, seamless fretwork.
I'm looking for me
You're looking for you
We're looking in at other
And we don't know what to do


5. Mr Soul - The Neil Young song is done in a voice eerily reminiscent of Neil himself. The theme is the price of fame, and the desire of the artist not to lose his 'soul' in the pursuit of success, a theme that Rush themselves are quite familiar with. Interesting analysis of the original song here. This version ends with a few taps on the steel drums (methinks) that linger for a long while.
In a while will the smile on my face turn to plaster?
Stick around while the clown who is sick does the trick of disaster
For the race of my head and my face is moving much faster
Is it strange I should change? I don't know, why don't you ask her?


6. Seven And Seven Is - This relative unknown, originally by Love, is given the full Rush treatment. Hyperfast guitarwork and a deceptively simple beat by Geddy Lee mark this off as one the band is claiming for their own. The song itself seems to be about growing up and realizing that growing up isn't quite what one expects it to be when one is young.

When I was a boy I thought about the times I'd be a man
I'd sit inside a bottle and pretend that I was in a jam
In my lonely room I'd sit my mind in an ice cream cone
You can throw me if you wanna 'cause I'm a bone and I go


7. Shapes Of Things - Jeff Beck's poem set to music with the Yardbirds, about what lies ahead in life is possibly the weakest song in this Rush album. Although the song itself sounds pretty good, it seems too derivative and strained, expect perhaps at the very end, where Alex Lifeson leaves a few personal touches.

Shapes of things before my eyes
Just teach me to despise
Will time make man more wise
Here within my lonely frame
My eyes just hurt my brain
But will it seem the same

(Come tomorrow), will I be older
(Come tomorrow), maybe a soldier
(Come tomorrow), may I be bolder than today


8. Crossroads - The Eric Clapton/Robert Johnson song is done in almost the same style as the original, with few Rush-specific touches. This revitalizes the classic song, which is still so bathetic in it's tale of asking for one last chance to retrieve the guitarist's soul from the Devil. It almost sends a frisson of fear down one's spine as if it were all for real.

In all, an excellent compilation, not perhaps what some aficionados of the band might have expected after the albums of the 1990s, but a good album to set off against the early blues rock albums, reinvigorating a genre not much heard from nowadays. The liner notes add some detail on the selection of the songs themselves, and the 'back to the roots' theme.




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Time traveler, world traveler, book reader