A Farewell To Kings
Mercury Records, 1977
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/16/1999
How draining was tax season this year for me? Not only did it empty my wallet, but it took almost all my energy to listen to anything this week. Hell, I didn't even feel like running possibly the most hated review we've ever featured on these pages - my basting of Yes's Tales From Topographic Oceans. (Too bad we already reviewed Revolver by The Beatles; I could have had a field day with the song "Taxman".)
Needing a serious pick-me-up, I turned to the halls of the Pierce Memorial Archives to find an old standby that had never failed to improve my mood. Enter, stage right, Rush with their 1977 release A Farewell To Kings. I first discovered this album when I was getting into Geddy Lee and crew in high school. I picked it up mainly because it was (I think) $4.99, but this album quickly won me over. Today, it still ranks among Rush's best work.
At first glance, one could say that this album is both sparse (only six songs make it up, and the album clocks in at just over 37 minutes) and overblown (three of the tracks seem to be production pieces). Granted, it's a short album - but it is a step down from the "production" that was 2112. If anything, A Farewell To Kings is ambitious, but not in a snobbish way.
From Alex Lifeson's opening classical lines of "A Farewell To Kings" to the blast of the full band, Rush almost constantly click on all cylinders on this album. Lee's vocals still bordered on banshee wailing at times, but he continued a pattern of moving towards more middle-of-the-road vocal lines. Lifeson's guitar lines flow quite well throughout this album, while Neal Peart begins to show the expansive knowledge of percussion that he has. The opening portion of "Xanadu" shows this, with Peart performing on everything from tubular bells to temple blocks.
"A Farewell To Kings" and "Xanadu" take up the whole first half of the album, but they are tracks that set the mood for the whole album and remain some of Rush's best (if underappreciated) material ever. Simply put, these songs blow me away every time I hear them.
A Farewell To Kings will always be remembered for the song "Closer To The Heart," which is rightfully considered a classic of the Rush discography. Again building up the musical layers of the song (starting with guitar to bells, bass to drums and synthesizers, crescendoing with the full band kicking the song into overdrive), Rush achieves musical nirvana on this song. (I'll always remember this track as being one of the few guitar solos I could actually play almost note-for-note.)
Of the remaining three tracks, "Cinderella Man" and "Madrigal" both have strong moments, and are still pleasurable to listen to (even if they're not quite as strong as their neighbors). The only negative - and I use this word loosely here - track is "Cygnus X-1," which builds on the space theme from 2112 and creates its own monstrosity. Had this track been pared back a bit, it would have been a little better - this is the only example I found where Rush gets too ambitious.
A Farewell To Kings could well be the sleeper in Rush's vast catalog - falling in between the groundbreaking 2112 and the disappointment of Hemispheres (that's another review for another day), it tends to be forgotten until people really start getting serious about this band. If anything, I'd like to consider this album a treasure chest waiting to be discovered by new legions of fans. It's well worth the investment.