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Moving Pictures

1 rating: 5.0
An album by Rush

WithMoving Pictures, Rush's complex songwriting and musical virtuosity reached new heights. It's that rarest of creatures, a highly listenable progressive-rock album; even the all-instrumental "YYZ" is of interest to listeners besides musicians. The … see full wiki

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1 review about Moving Pictures

Fantastic musicianship and songwriting

  • Jan 29, 2007
I recall once telling Mike Godwin that this was one of my favorite albums, to which his reply was, "But you can't dance to it." I'm not sure if he was being facetious at the time, referring of course to the traditional rating comment on American Bandstand, but it's a comment that's lived with me to this day. Of course you can't dance to Rush--it's progressive, "arty," rock, that's meant to be listened to, and somewhat closely at that, kind of like Take Five in the jazz world. Moving Pictures is Rush at their best, full of time and key changes, masterful interplay between lead and bass guitar, innovative synth sounds and production, and the best drumming in modern rock. While Geddy Lee's high-pitched nasally voice is not for all, this is an album where his screetches are somewhat muted, and he often sings in mid-range rather than the higher register that characterized earlier albums (as he has aged, he's lowered the range at which he sings on each successive Rush album it seems). The lyrics are an overview of the classic Rush themes: science fiction ("Red Barchetta"), the disillusionment of youth ("Tom Sawyer"), fantasy ("Witch Hunt"), science ("Vital Signs"), fame or the life of an artist (or at least, being in the spotlight, as in "The Camera Eye" and "Limelight"). Nothing was that new here, in comparison to Rush's previous albums, but here it was presented in more manageable chunks (unlike, say, the Cygnus tunes that take up entire LP sides) with radio-friendly production.

"Tom Sawyer" is probably the most played Rush song and it sounds as fresh today as when I first heard it in the 80s. The lyrics are nonsensical to some degree, almost as much as "Burning Down the House" by Talking Heads, another big some of the time, where the lyrics are more of a style than necessarily trying to tell a story or make a point. For Rush, that was something of a novelty. Most of Neil Peart's lyricism was based on stories, such as the previously mentioned Cygnus songs, or the side-long epic "2112." When they didn't tell stories, they were fairly clear what the songs were about, such as "Spirit of Radio" being about the business of music radio or "The Trees" being a warning about bigotry. But there are moments of "Tom Sawyer" where you just wonder what the hell Peart was smoking to come up with "The world is, the world is/Love and life are deep/Maybe as his skies are wide." But the song works, and the sense you get from it is that Tom, Mark Twain's rebel child, still exists today.

Much more like their normal songs is "Red Barchetta," based on a science fiction story. In it, the protagonist talks about escaping the stultifying confines of the modern city to escape to his uncle's farm in the country, where his uncle keeps an old automobile that the protagonist then takes out, "commit[ing] his weekly crime." It's basically the same story as "2112," except made much more palatable by not being about music, but about cars, and clocking in at a decent Album Oriented Rock single time limit. The chase sequence between the government aircars and the old automobile gives Lee and Alex Lifeson another opportunity to play dueling guitars, something they've liked to do since "By-Tor and the Snow Dog" from the Fly By Night album.

"YYZ," the instrumental on the album, is named after the airport code for Toronto Pearson International Airport, a code that Rush, being Canadian, were always happy to see, because it meant they were headed home. What's interesting about the opening to it is that the guitar part plays out the letters YYZ in morse code. "Limelight" and "The Camera Eye" are companion pieces of a sort, although the former talks about being the focus of the camera while the latter is a descriptive piece that tries to put into words what is being caught by the camera as it is being used. Of the songs on this album, "The Camera Eye" is probably my least favorite, but that's really no fault of its own, but just how it pales in comparison to the other six songs.

The final two songs are as strong as the opening two. "Witch Hunt" repeats a motif originally used by Peart in the Cygnus pair, wherein he compares something in the past to something in the present. Here, the Salem witch trials to modern discrimination. It's pretentious and would have collapsed under its conceit if not for the moody nature of the music that fits the general paranoia and tension that Peart is trying to say go hand-in-hand between the two time periods. (Interestingly enough, for a band and an album that has always been the bane of the Christian right--something about their pentangle in a circle symbol has always made the more paranoid fundamentalists brand Rush as a satanic band--this is the only song on the album that refers to anything actually otherworldly. Most of the songs are about technology or modern life, not cavorting demons.) The album ends with "Vital Signs," which should have been as big a hit as "Tom Sawyer," and is one of my all-time favorite Rush tracks. It begins with a repeated synthesizer sequence that musically represents a EKG graph, with a very stacatto Lifeson guitar part. The lyrics are wonderful, with some quite strange words being placed together in a rock song, such as in the opening, "Unstable condition/A symptom of life/In mental and environmental change/Atmospheric disturbance/The feverish flux/Of human interface and interchange." This is a far cry from what rock and roll was originally about--i.e., sex, or at least romance--and for me typifies why I was drawn to them, because they weren't afraid to be intelligent.

This is an album that I've listened to since high school, and it has continued to hold up for me over the years. While I can still listen to many of the other bands that I first started listening to at that time, including Styx, Journey, Genesis, and Yes, I consider many of those guilty pleasures, perhaps not something I'd mention as a favorite to a new acquaintance. I'm not embarrassed by this album, though. Genesis and Yes may have had the same musicianship and intelligence, but their songs didn't have the hooks that Rush had, and while Styx and Journey may have had the hooks, their music is actually quite simple and formulaic, more obvious in retrospect than it was for me at the time. Re-listening to this album to write this review only renewed my appreciation for it and for Rush.

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Moving Pictures
Label: Polygram Records
Artist: Rush
Release Date: October 25, 1990

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