Album Review: Rush – Moving Pictures 40th Anniversary

It’s an album I never tire of playing. Moving Pictures, the eighth studio record by Canadian trio Rush, released on February 12th, 1981.  It was the first Rush album I bought. The second album to be recorded at Le-Studio in Morin-Heights, Quebec, it remains Rush’s most successful album, reaching No 1 in Canada, and No 3 in the UK and US. It’s sold over five million copies and is arguably the band’s greatest ever work. You are probably aware of it.

Although Rush had experimented with synthesisers towards the tail end of the seventies, it was only in 1980’s Permanent Waves that the band had really started to incorporate them into their music. By 1981, the synthesisers were a staple part of the band’s sound. The big swooshes and swirls through “Tom Sawyer” for example, or the more prominent keyboards during “The Camera Eye” saw Geddy Lee embed his keyboards alongside the band’s rockier sound. And there was still plenty of hard rocking to be had. The six-minute “Red Barchetta” features some of Alex Lifeson’s finest guitar work alongside Neil Peart’s brilliant storytelling. Then there’s the best instrumental of all-time, “YYZ”, the air drummer’s dream, as well as a riff to die for on “Limelight”, the biography of Peart’s push back against the ever-increasing intrusions as the band’s popularity continued to mushroom.

Flip to side two in old money, and you encounter “The Camera Eye”, the observations of Peart on two cities, New York, and London. At close to 11 minutes long this is the last ten-minute plus song that Rush recorded, regularly requested as a live song and finally brought back to life in 2010 on the “Time Machine” tour when this album was played in full. The track meanders gently in parts but maintains it direction thanks to Peart and Lee’s driving rhythm section. It’s one of Lee’s best performances for me, working the cleverly crafted lyrics hard whilst Lifeson’s subtle guitar work proved his quality once more.

“Witch Hunt” remains chillingly relevant today, the message of mob rule, hatred and intolerance of others proving that man has always reverted to his basest instincts. Recorded the same night that John Lennon was shot, it’s a clever composition with Peart’s lyrical wizardry painting a picture akin to Salem’s Lot. Interestingly, Hugh Syme plays the synths on this track and the crowd noises at the start were recorded by the band themselves, outside the studio, in various degrees of intoxication! “Witch Hunt” is part of “The Fear Trilogy”, the other parts being “The Weapon” on Signals, “Part II” and “Part I” being “The Enemy Within” on Grace Under Pressure (you can see and hear all three played in sequence on the 1984 Grace Under Pressure video).

Written quickly, “Vital Signs” is probably the most divisive track on the album. Its kaleidoscope of styles including the choppy reggae feel of the guitar riff and the overall vibe of the song took several tours for the devoted fan base to accept. Listening to it today, you can see just how determined and stubborn Rush were. This was their time, their music and eventually they were proved right. Everybody did indeed have “mixed feelings”.

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Although the band had moved to a more radio friendly style, the progressive elements that sat in the core of their music remained, albeit wrapped around songs that were instantly recognisable, infectious and dare I say it, catchy? Their playing was more adventurous, more expansive and on Moving Pictures Rush set out their template for the next three decades. It’s an album beloved by the band’s army of fans, those who only dabble and even those who know very little. Few rock and metal fans are unaware of the opening three songs, whose appeal means that even 41 years on, they still sit high on the playlists of the classic rock music stations across the globe. Only “The Spirit of Radio” has more pulling power.

There are numerous packages available to celebrate this anniversary, ranging from a digital deluxe edition to a gargantuan super deluxe edition. As well as the remastered work on the album, the main attraction for me is the Live in YYZ 1981 release that accompanies the main album. Recorded on March 25th, 1981, on the third night of the band’s shows at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens. There is always room for another Rush live album in my view, despite the plethora of releases over the years. For those of us who were still a few years away from experiencing the Canadians live at the time, this is a powerful demonstration of the power of Rush at that time; see it as a companion piece to Exit … Stage Left. Highlight of the entire set must be the magnificent medley that Rush delivers prior to a stunning “La Villa Strangiato”. Beginning with a freestyle reggae jam on Working Man, the medley races through a selection of early Rush classics including “By-Tor and the Snowdog”, “In the Mood” and culminating with a raucous “2112 – Grand Finale”.

Whichever one you decide to purchase, rest easy in the knowledge that you’ll have added another version of one of the all-time classic albums to your collection.

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Moving Pictures is out on 15th April

Check out all the bands we review in 2022 on our Spotify and YouTube playlists!

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