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Chronicles: the DVD Collection

(Mercury; US DVD: 25 Sep 2001)

What’s in a name, indeed? Probably no rock band has lived up its name quite like Rush. And probably no song captures the amusement park ride giddiness of Rush’s music better than “Red Barchetta”, rock’s ultimate car chase song from 1981’s monumental Moving Pictures album. A scourge among pious critics and self-righteous rock snobs, Rush has been chastised repeatedly for making mechanical, soul-less music. It must be conceded that their music is not for the heart. Neil Peart’s preachy, Ayn Rand-inspired lyrics are meant for the head, but ask classic rock fans and they’ll tell you they pay little attention to his self-aggrandized polemics. No, it’s the music: pedantic, meticulous, precise, three men playing in loud but calibrated unison, stimulating the neurons and nerve-endings of their euphoric devotees. Beyond sentimentality and Peart’s philosophical ruminations, Rush creates music for its own sake, and there’s not much purer than that.


Chronicles: The DVD Collection is invaluable because of the time frame it synopsizes. Rush’s career can be delineated into three distinct periods. Early Period Rush consists of recordings from their eponymous 1974 debut through the bombastic live double album All the World’s a Stage (1976). The most representative record in this period was 2112, which was busy, pretentious, and pre-occupied with goofy sci-fi themes. Those years put a quirky, nerdish face on Canada’s rock laureates.


With the arrival of A Farewell to Kings (1977) Rush began a gradual but noticeable transition into their Middle Period. The title of that album was somewhat prophetic; apart from the grotesquely obtuse space epic “Cygna X-1” (about an astronaut being sucked into a black hole, featuring Geddy Lee’s hyper-falsetto stretched by an exponential acceleration of gravity), most of Farewell moved in a slightly more accessible direction, sans the minor hit single “Closer to the Heart”. Between 1980-81 Rush logged back-to-back albums that not only defined their successful Middle Period, but which rank among the finest classic rock albums of all time. Permanent Waves delivered the second-tier classics “Spirit of Radio”, “Freewill”, and “Jacob’s Ladder”. But it is Moving Pictures that stands as the penultimate landmark. The album delivered “Tom Sawyer”, a powerful anthem for disaffected, post-modern youth. It also showcased the spectacular instrumental “YYZ” and “Witch Hunt”, the first of a descending order three-part discussion on the subject of “Fear”. Although not as ground-breaking as Moving Pictures, 1982’s Signals continued the trend of more compact and studied pieces, including the well-known “Subdivisions” and the marvelous band-bio “Chemistry” (the personal favorite of guitarist Alex Lifeson).


Latter Period Rush (beginning with 1985’s Grace Under Pressure) is characterized by a more linear and technical sound. The song “The Body Electric” features a lyric where Lee sings, “1 - 0 - 0, 1 - 0 - 0, 1 SOS”. Indeed, it seemed for at least a time that the band was succumbing to the warped space effects of cyborgism. The growing sterility of this period reached its unwelcomed zenith with Presto, and in desperation the band even toyed with rap-rock on Roll the Bones.


Originally released on VHS in 1990 as Chronicles:The Video Collection, Chronicles: The DVD Collection has been digitally mastered and features DVD-ROM playability and its interactive menus allow the viewer choice of continuous play or instant song access. It is perhaps unfortunate that of the 14 videos that comprise Chronicles: The DVD Collection only six are culled from Rush’s monumental Middle Period. While Chronicles does contain excellent pre-MTV concert footage of “Closer to the Heart” and “The Trees”, the listener will regrettably be forced to endure gracious doses of Rush’s less inspired, toned-down, keyboard-driven, techno-laden latter period with such forgettable videos (and songs) as “Lock and Key”, “Time Stands Still” (with guest vocalist Aimee Mann) and “Mystic Rhythms”. From this same period are the more inspired moments like “The Big Money” complete with state-of-the-art (for 1985) computer animation and a monopoly board soundstage, the nuke-threatening “Distant Early Warning” and a live, laser-light performance of “Red Sector A”.


However, the greatest value of Chronicles comes courtesy of the Middle Period numbers, “Limelight”, “Tom Sawyer”, “Red Barchetta” and “Subdivisions”. It was the scant rotation of these videos that got rock fans through (and able to bear) MTV’s early ‘80s fascination with British acts like Culture Club, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Adam Ant and Duran Duran. The videos for “Limelight” and “Tom Sawyer” were shot on location in the cozy confines of Le Studio, while “Red Barchetta” is the performance shot during filming and recording of Rush’s classic live set, Exit Stage Left. Chronicles also features two previously unreleased hidden tracks (not included on the original VHS version) in “The Enemy Within” and “Afterimage”, both from Grace Under Pressure. When they say “hidden” they aren’t kidding. These two tracks are so cleverly hidden that it took forever to figure out that their only accessibility comes via selecting the “Rush Chronicles” logo in the “Play Videos” menu.


Chronicles:The DVD Collection is not for casual, bandwagon-jumping Rush fans. For Rush diehards, though, this collection is a must-have—a video time capsule that traces the progressive evolution of one of rock’s most polarizing bands.

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