RockSpite: The Camera Eye by Rush

I mentioned that I’ve been re-ripping my CD collection lately into higher-quality files, which has had the side effect of prompting me to listen to music I haven’t bothered paying attention to in years. For instance, Rush.

I know Rush is kind of a joke band for most people, though apparently they were in a movie recently that caused them to do the Journey thing where people hated them, then started liking them ironically, then eventually came around and began to enjoy them in earnest. Rush is pretty funny when you think about it: Three dudes whose virtuosic approach to rock gives them the sound of a much larger band (despite that they can play it all on stage, live, without cheats — or at least they could back in the day). The vocalist shrieks more than sings, yet he plays the manliest damn bass lines in the industry. The drummer is some kind of insane superman, and I mean that somewhat literally since he’s a hardline subscriber to Objectivism and writes all of the band’s Randian lyrics. And the guitarist is talented enough that he’d be the star of practically any other band but pretty much shrinks into the background here. Also, they’re Canadian, which some people find inherently amusing for some reason. I dunno.

But man, those guys can perform. Their work is super uneven — the early stuff wanders from blatantly Zeppelin-lite to tortuously conceptual (Caress of Steel is a travesty of an album), and about ten years ago they decided to reinvent themselves with a harder sound but foolishly went all-in on the loudness wars, so everything they’re recorded in the past decade is a monotonous wall of indistinct Hard Rockin’. But in between the two extremes, they put out some pretty amazing music, if you can get past the wailing banshee of a singer.

I spent a lot of time listening to Rush in high school and college, so I’m well indoctrinated in their “essentials.” These days, I find myself listening more to the tunes that tend to slip between the cracks — the solid songs that somehow didn’t become concert standards, that haven’t been compiled to hell and back. At the moment, my musical obsession is “The Camera Eye” from Moving Pictures. I’m pretty sure Moving Pictures is the band’s best-selling album, containing as it does “Tom Sawyer,” “Vital Signs,” and “Red Barchetta.” But you never really hear much about “The Camera Eye” — probably because it’s an 11-minute track recorded in an era where the band was beginning to move away from epic-length productions.

It’s a pretty strange song in some ways. The emphasis on synthesizers is really uncommon for Rush, and the particular synth sound they used here doesn’t really appear in other tracks by them I can think of. It is extremely late ’70s/early ’80s-sounding; in fact, it might be the single most dated thing in the band’s oeuvre besides maybe the rap from “Roll the Bones.” I think that’s why I like it. Rush has this really clean sound that, past about 1976, is fairly timeless. Hearing a tune like this, one so clearly anchored in a specific era of music technology, is a small novelty in their catalog.

I highly recommend watching the video above. The washed out still photos of New York City set to music makes me think of a Sesame Street musical montage from around the same era as the song. The whole thing is just wonderfully nostalgic. If you’re as old as me, anyway. Which you aren’t. Sigh.

6 thoughts on “RockSpite: The Camera Eye by Rush

  1. This whole album has a great sound. I prefer 80s rush, partly because of the clean sound you mention. Everything sounds huge with the synths and extra drum reverb. 80s Rush doesn’t sound nearly as dated as 70s or 90s rush. Even 2000s rush already has a dated sound.

  2. Good for you Jeremy with ripping your cds. So many people nowadays have no appreciation for good sound. People now love music as much as they ever have, yet they settle for crappy MP3s played on a phone or computer.

    I’m telling you, pick up the remastered Pink Floyd cds (I’m using them as an example because of the quality of their recordings and the remasters), grab yourself a proper, 2 channel receiver (yes, stereo receiver), a dedicated cd player and a pair of half decent speakers, and you’ll be blown away. It really is incredible.

    Too many people are caught up with the convenience of music, that they forgot about the sound quality of that music.

  3. You get used to people being younger than you after awhile. I’m an eldest sibling, so maybe it was easier for me than some. Anyhow, several tracks from Moving Pictures were on rotation on the “classic rock” station I listened to in the mid-’80s, “Limelight” and “Tom Sawyer” in particular. Maybe it’s thirty years of being accustomed to it, but Geddy Lee’s voice has never bothered me. It’s hard to imagine someone else’s voice singing those songs.

  4. Last year my wife bought me a few Rush Korean reprint albums. They are “basically” the same but for some reason the compression is so off balance that it feels like listening to a microcassette through a hifi. It makes it sound like they haven’t practiced for weeks and weeks on each track.

  5. I think Rock Band did Rush a huge favor. Tom Sawyer is probably the most played song in any rotation.

    Also, Lee’s voice is great. The singer from Dream Theater reminds me a lot of him, particularly in the album Images and Words (I hate the gravely thing he sometimes does in Awake, by contrast). Then again, I’m a sucker for singers that can really hit the high note.

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