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
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.