By: Chris Miller
Of all the rock bands out there, few deserve to be given the VH1 Classic Albums treatment more than Rush, with their 24 Gold and 14 Platinum records, universally acknowledged instrumental brilliance, and thousands of devoted fans worldwide. The fact that they are finally attaining this kind of popular recognition is surprising to many Rush fans, who for years have seen their idols panned by critics and ignored by the radio.
This past year has been particularly surprising, with the premiere of Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage, an award-winning documentary film, and now with the release of VH1 Classic Albums: Rush 2112 and Moving Pictures. Unfortunately, this new Classic Albums release doesn’t live up to the precedent set by Beyond the Lighted Stage, or to fan expectations.
The one-hour special falls short in a number of areas, most grievously in its attempt to cover two of the band’s most important albums in only a single hour of television. The only other episode of Classic Albums to cover two albums was the Grateful Dead special, a band whose albums, regardless of their great music, have much less to be revealed behind the mixing console than the layered production on Rush’s albums.
This leaves the viewer, most of whom are actually interested in how the album was made, a bit disappointed, when all they get is producer Terry Brown sitting behind the board playing ten second clips exactly as they appear on record. On the few occasions that a little more depth is attempted, all we get to see is an isolated vocal part, or a rhythm guitar track, not an in-depth look at the creation of Alex Lifeson’s signature guitar tone on 2112.
One hour of television is over very quickly when half of it is spent recounting the band’s history, especially when trying to compete with Beyond the Lighted Stage in terms of quality and depth.
I understand that the context in which the albums were made, and the mindset the band was in at the time of production are important. All I’m saying is that if VH1 hadn’t tried to squeeze two albums into one hour, we would be left with a much more fulfilling and much more informative hour of television.
Granted, a lot of the new interview footage is very interesting, particularly the segments dealing with the issues between the band and the label during the making of 2112, but then it all comes back to trying to cover two albums in one special.
It could be argued that choosing just one classic album by Rush is impossible, but in this case, I’d have to go with Moving Pictures. It’s the band’s only quadruple-platinum album, it contains four of the band’s biggest hits, including the immortal “Tom Sawyer,” and Rush even saw fit to perform the album in its entirety on this year’s Time Machine tour.
The album is from a more successful period for the band, and a more interesting period in terms of production than 2112, which makes the half hour spent on it seem all the more cramped, having so much information left out for the sake of time.
The DVD release does remedy some of these problems, with nearly an hour of bonus footage, including additional interviews, performances, and documentary segments that didn’t make the original broadcast. However, the quality of these additional scenes just like the original broadcast version, leave the viewer with a “shallow” feeling, like there’s still something missing.
The band performances included are no more than the band in a studio jamming along with the original master tapes. This could be cool if the audio of the band playing live was included, but all that the viewer hears is the same audio that they already have on their copy of one of the two albums. This is all the more apparent when Geddy, Alex, or Neil deviate in any way from the original performance, giving a bad “lip-sync” effect where the audience sees one thing, but hears another.
I suppose what I was looking for out of this DVD, both as a Rush fan and a fan of music and recording in general, was an in-depth look at the creation of two of Rush’s masterpiece albums. What I got is more of a spark-notes listen through with some entertaining color commentary from the band and tidbits of band history thrown in for good measure. I know from watching the Pink Floyd, Def Leppard, and Nirvana episodes, among others, that the Classic Albums series can produce satisfying, detailed looks of some of the greatest albums of all time.
This unfortunately is not the case with Rush: 2112 and Moving Pictures, which left me feeling slightly sold short. I’m not saying the makers of the series didn’t put time and effort into making this special, I’m just saying they may have bitten off more than they could chew trying to squeeze two Classic Albums into one hour. Luckily, Rush has never relied on the media or popular recognition for their success; their fans are loyal and their music truly is classic.