Rush’s A Farewell to Kings. 45 Years Later

When I joined the fandom of Rush, it was inspired by the 1989 live album “A Show of Hands”. Hearing “Marathon” knocked me out and drove me towards the bass. In my dive back through the catalogue, “A Farewell to Kings” would be the first additional album I added to my collection. Why this epic masterwork? Because I was moved by the extended live version of “Closer to the Heart” from A Show of Hands, and wanted to hear the original. This record remains a personal favourite from their storied discography.

In a Twitter exchange with 2-time Toronto Blue Jays Manager John Gibbons, I learned that this is one of his favourite albums.

Forty-five years after the release of A Farewell to Kings, there are new generations of fans discovering Rush and understanding the massive influence and impact they have. Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson recently appeared on stage during the Taylor Hawkins tribute concert, covering the classic instrumental “YYZ” from Classic Rock Radio staple “Moving Pictures”. Drumming great Omar Hakim did Neil Peart great justice with his usual power and professionalism.

It would be unfair to define A Farewell to Kings just by the success and brilliance of the single “Closer to the Heart”. The opening track (the title track) showcases Alex Lifeson at some of his finest work with intricate classical guitar works. Neil Peart’s orchestral-like percussion timing bring the composition to a build up. The heavy rock takes over after a short, built-up pause. It turns into a real delight of melodic mastery and insightful storytelling thanks to Geddy Lee’s vocal range, and Neil Peart’s philosophical, reflective lyrics. The song closes with Alex returning to the classical guitar, taking everything back to the level it began, setting a base for an easy landing for the track to end on.

“Xanadu” is the longest track of the record, opening with a five-minute instrumental progressive buildup before Geddy Lee even sings a word. It’s a broad and beautiful landscape of percussion and guitar notes that brighten the audio senses. In my view, Geddy Lee delivers one of his best recorded bass performances in this composition. He skates easily with riff-doubling and counter-melodies with more than enough boom to hold up the bottom end. By the end of the track, each note is making this painted picture brighter. It is a way to use the whole audio canvas to show what can be done with a range of different things on the instruments.

The album’s defining song “Closer to the Heart” remains a fan-favourite of fans and classic rock radio programmers. It’s opening guitar line is memorable, and audiences singing along with Lee during the opening verse. During live performances, it often turned into an extended jam with a buildup of Lee on bass increasing the intensity before Lifeson and Peart bringing things to a crescendo and eventual close. Shortly before the time of this writing, Lee and Lifeson appeared on stage during the 25th anniversary show of the animated series “South Park”. They performed this song with members of another legendary trio, Primus. This marked the first time Lee and Lifeson performed live since Neil Peart’s passing.

The second single, “Cinderella Man” deserves more credit as a composition than it receives. The lyrics on this song were written by Geddy Lee, with some revisions and assistance by Alex Lifeson. It has been widely interpreted by audiences over the decades since it was released. It was revealed some time ago that the song was inspired by the 1936 romantic-comedy “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town”. Lee has panned his lyrically abilities over the years given he contributed words to the early albums. His lyrical abilities were much sharper by the time of his solo release “My Favourite Headache”. Cinderella Man’s words and the vocal melodies fit quite well into the track’s structure.

“Madrigal” is a nice short ballad clocking in at just over two and a half minutes. Long enough to be a song, short enough not to realize it is actually a love song. The instruments have a nice echo, light flange type of sounds.

The album closes with part one of the exploratory sci-fi Cygnus X-1 Book I: The Voyage. A progressive piece with intricate arrangements and the promise of a further story to come. That story would continue in the follow-up album, 1978’s “Hemispheres”. Geddy Lee’s bass creeps into the mix with a slightly distorted tone. The track is complemented well with heavy-hitting percussion and a wide range of effects on the instruments. Lee’s powerful vocals hit some of the highest points in his recorded career, proving he has one of the defining and distinguished voices of heavy and progressive rock.

A Farewell to Kings proved to be a good first look into the discography of a band that has been a big part of my life. It opened my mind to appreciating longer songs that progressive rock and metal acts recorded. It is more than just the catchy memorable notes of “Closer to the Heart”. It’s the story of a band that found its’ stride and wanted to continue creating audio landscapes that could connect powerfully with people.

@WriterDann

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