Working Men is a really odd package. Live albums are basically greatest hits plus crowd noise already, and this live Rush album is made of tracks culled from three previous live DVDs and albums, which I guess makes it a Greatest Greatest Hits DVD (also available as a CD). Sure, there’s a previously unreleased track (“One Little Victory”), but that’s just another version of a song that’s been on multiple previous live records, and it’s almost indistinguishable from the existing versions. This is back-catalogue flogging and repackaging hoodoo of the highest order.
So who is this album for? Is it a primer for potential Rush fans, listeners who don’t want to leap head first into the thick of one of the other live albums, which are all two or three discs long? Is it meant to be a gift from bald-spot-and-ponytail uncles to their metalheaded nephews? That’s certainly the charitable view—the only other demographic I can think of is the small cult so slavishly devoted to Rush that they’ll buy a whole album just because it has a previously unreleased live version of a song they’ve already heard a million times, and marketing to those helpless completists seems almost like taking advantage of the mentally ill. Anyone who likes Rush probably has all these songs already. Anyone who doesn’t like Rush is probably not in the market for Rush products. This DVD could evaporate into thin air and nobody would care but a handful of crazy people.
To play right into Atlantic Records’ moneygrubbing hands, here’s a review. Rush is the most committed power trio since Cream, and they sound pretty damn good, more or less just like they always did. Geddy Lee’s epic howling-chipmunk vocals are entirely undimmed by age, and the many close-ups on Alex Lifeson’s flurrying fingers show that his chops are sharper than ever. Rush is probably the catchiest, most radio-ready prog-rock band there ever was, and working the same style for three decades doesn’t seem to have diminished their joy or enthusiasm at all.
There’s a cornily delightful visual appeal to the performance, and the arena-rock trappings—flashing strobe lights, smoke machines, lasers, moving video screens, Neil Peart’s nine-billion-piece drum kit—are at hilarious odds with the three aging music nerds in the middle, cranking up their gloriously precise din. But that’s always been part of Rush’s appeal—watching three nebbishy guys conquer the world with soaring math-rock. Thus, we have the fan-service instrumental close-ups, which are far more worthwhile and impressive than the same shots in concert footage of less virtuosic bands. It’s all in good fun.
There—Atlantic got me. I said a bunch of fairly nice things about this bald-faced cash-grab of a disc. But reader, don’t buy it. Save your money for the stuff Rush puts out on Roadrunner, their new label. If you spend money on this thing, you’re only encouraging the bastards and the bean-counters.