This is Rush… but not the way you know it. There are no tricky time signatures, brainy lyrics, keyboard embellishments, side-length epics or mathematically complex Neil Peart drum fills to be found here. The group’s self-titled debut is instead a reflection of the band’s early, pre-Peart years as a Canadian power trio club band with arena rock dreams. If you like rootsy, blues-inspired hard rock a la early Led Zeppelin or Bad Company, there is an earthy, “people’s band” kind of fun to be had here.
Side one opener “Finding My Way” sets the tone: good-time hard rock with a simple yet dynamic arrangement that allows guitarist Alex Lifeson to riff and solo his heart out as he receives psychically attuned, subtly melodic support from bassist/musical partner-for-life Geddy Lee. John Rutsey was the drummer here and also served as the band’s live show M.C. and lyricist at the time. Unfortunately, he destroyed his lyrics before recording without showing them to his bandmates so they had to make up new ones on the fly. Hence, you get the dippiest lyrics of Rush’s career on “Need Some Love” (an ode to horniness) and “Take A Friend” (which proposes getting friends as a solution to loneliness). Thankfully, the riffs and energy carry the listener past the first-thing-comes-to-mind lyrics. Things get moody on side closer “Here Again,” a bluesy tune with interesting ennui/repetition-themed lyrics about the musician life and a melody reminiscent of “Heartbreaker” by Grand Funk Railroad.
The second side offers a strong, consistent set of rockers. “What You’re Doing” is a fun cruiser with a Zep-influenced swing to it, strong stuff that would become a heavy encore number on the first Rush live album All The World’s A Stage. “In Your Mood” is a rare number with music and lyrics solely by Lee: it’s a fun one that offers a self-deprecating approach to the usual “chasing girls” rock scenario and a catchy, sing-along refrain. “Before And After” offers the first hint of Lee and Lifeson’s prog ambitions with a clever arrangement that starts with an acoustic idyll before craftily shifting gears into a driving rocker. However, the side’s killer cut is the closer “Working Man”: the lyrics’ evocation of blue-collar hard work is convincing and the arrangement, which boasts a Sabbath-esque main riff and effective changes of tempo, allows this version of Rush to show everything they offer in just over seven minutes.
“Working Man” would also be the song that opened doors for the band, getting them their first U.S. airplay in Detroit and paving the way for a contract with Mercury Records. Peart would enter the scene as Rutsey departed for health/musical difference reasons and Rush would become the prog/hard rock crossover fave it was destined to be. That said, this debut remains the foundation of the catalog, both for establishing the skills of the Lee/Lifeson team and the introduction of producer Terry Brown, who entered the project to salvage a problematic mix, recorded new tracks for it and ended up becoming the band’s producer through 1982. The end result may not be as intellectually engaging as the rest of the catalog but it’s got a heft that appeals to your inner air-guitarist.