Caress Of Steel
Mercury Records, 1975
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/08/2001
Looking back at something always gives you a moment of clarity which you should have seen coming.
For example, people shouldn't have been surprised that Rush would delve into concept album land (even if it only took up one side) in 1976 with 2112. In fact, Geddy Lee and crew had been building to that point, starting with the epic piece "By-Tor And The Snow Dog" on Fly By Night. Their third album, Caress Of Steel, could be seen as the "pre-quel" to 2112, even if it wasn't nearly as strong an effort.
If "By-Tor And The Snow Dog" was Rush's test to see if they could indeed do a concept piece, then Caress Of Steel has the boys happily showing off their new knowledge - often a little too much. The twelve-and-a-half minute piece "The Necromancer" has some beautiful moments, especially in the closing segment "Return Of The Prince", but the general storyline is a little difficult to follow. (Yeah, like the storyline in "By-Tor And The Snow Dog" came with a road map.) In all, it's not a phenomenal piece, but it's enjoyable... even if By-Tor is brought back at the end of this piece. (Why does something tell me both songs have their roots in Ayn Rand stories?)
The same can't always be said for the full-side piece "The Fountain Of Lamneth" - a piece which, like "The Necromancer," has sections which are absolutely beautiful, but shows that Rush was still working on creating such long pieces which had a natural flow to them. At times, if it weren't for a signature guitar riff that Alex Lifeson played, one might not realize that these six selections were all tied together. (Yes, I know that the B-minor guitar line from "2112" was used in certain passages to show the songs were intertwined, but at least those selections flowed and ebbed together.)
In a sense, it's almost as if "The Fountain Of Lamneth" was written to prove that Rush was more than just a hard rock band - explained by the occasional dip into weirdness, especially noted on "Didacts and Narpets" - what the hell was that all about? By the time the listener reaches "The Fountain," the sixth and final "chapter," they find themselves ready for this piece to come to a merciful end. And, no, it's not that I'm against Rush doing concept pieces, but they just hadn't found their niche with this particular track.
Caress Of Steel shows Rush trying to grow as a band in more than just the concept pieces. The three short selections range from the powerful "rock-god" stance ("Bastille Day") to the introspective and beautiful ("Lakeside Park") - to the just plain silly and forgettable ("I Think I'm Going Bald").
Caress Of Steel is a tentative step for Rush, one which would lead to their masterpiece in conceptual work. This particular album is probably the most ignored from Rush's early period, and it does have moments which are definitely worth checking out. But it's not the strongest outing from Rush.