Any band that exists for any amount of time is, for the most part, unprepared for where their muse might take them. For every artist that chooses to release the same type of record year after year, there is another band who wishes to build on the previous release and take the road yet unpaved. Such is the case for the Canadian trio Rush, who deemed their 1976 live album 'All The World's A Stage' an ending to the first chapter of the band's existence. They didn't know what was in front of them, but what they did know, is that they had traveled the road they were on quite enough.
After the release of the before mentioned live album, the band took some time off, not to recharge their batteries but rather to further their craft. "We have had a year and a half between studio albums, a very welcome creative hiatus," said drummer and lyricist Neil Peart, "and a chance for the three of us to concentrate on our individual instruments, and the mastery of new ones to keep the music growing. Alex [Liefson, guitars] moved onto double necked guitar and the bass pedal synthesizer, Geddy [Lee, bass and vocals] also into double necked guitar and bass, and the bass pedal synthesizer, as well as the mini moog, while I have begun to dabble in keyboard percussion, such as tubular bells, glockenspiel and various little percussion devices here and there."
The results of this wood shedding came not in their hometown of Toronto but far off in Wales, deep in the countryside of Great Britain. The country like atmosphere of Rockfield Studios helped the band shape their fifth studio album, titled 'A Farewell To Kings'. "We found the seclusion and the mellow atmosphere at Rockfield very conducive to work," Peart says, "and we made good use of the varied facilities, including a huge acoustic room, and the unique opportunity to record outdoors. The birds of Rockfield can be heard out on the Elizabethan-jazz flavoured introduction to the title cut. This song is one of our favorites on the album, as it seems to encapsulate everything that we want Rush to represent. The birds can be heard once again on the introduction to the second piece, which is a fantasy exercise entitled 'Xanadu'."
"Xanadu"', inspired greatly by the poem Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, is the first Rush song to have synthesizers as an integral part of the song. This new trend of bringing synths into the forefront of the Rush aresnal became a great part of the Rush sound, one that would continue in much greater detail for the better part of a decade. The poem, however, was not Peart's initial idea for the song. "My original thought was 'Citizen Kane'. I really wanted to do something aligned with Citizen Kane so I had this title written around that angle. Then I came across that poem and those [first] four lines just etched like a burning image in my head. It hit me so strongly that all of a sudden the whole scope of the theme changed. It just made me freeze inside; it's so frightening. I'm not into poetry and never have been but I just happened to see that one, Kubla Khan, and I wanted to read it because of the Citizen Kane connection. It just grabbed me; it was so powerful."
Side two of the album begins with "Closer To The Heart", a song that is a staple of the band's live act even to this day. Coming in at just under 3 minutes, "Closer To The Heart" could be seen as a precursor to the condensing of their epic soliloquies into concise statements that the band would embrace fully on 1980's 'Permanent Waves'. Reaching #36 on the UK Singles Chart in February 1978 (and #76 on the US Hot 100), "Closer To The Heart" is one of five Rush songs that were inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame on March 28, 2010.
The finale of 'A Farewell To Kings', however, is when Liefson, Lee & Peart recapture the science fiction element that made '2112' so engaging to their fans. "We find ourselves in the farthest reaches of outer space, in the middle of the black hole of 'Cygnus X-1'," Peart comments. "This is the first part of an epic story which is to be continued and concluded on our next album. The music was almost entirely created right in the studio, and it was a very satisfying accomplishment for us all. It has to be one of the most powerful things we have done. If it doesn't give you goose bumps, you're not playing it loud enough!"
A transitional album of sorts between 1976's '2112' and 1978's 'Hemispheres', 'A Farewell To Kings' could be seen as a "sleeper" album for those who aren't entirely huge Rush fans. The album has a little bit of everything for the Rush fan, from short catchy songs to extended tracks that showcase the band's entire musical arsenal. With the foreshadowing of not only the short term (where the 'Cygnus X-1' story continues on 1978's 'Hemispheres') but also of the long term (with synthesizers taking up more and more space with the band during the 1980's), the album truly is an important one in the band's development. 'A Farewell To Kings' is an album that wasn't loved by the critics (who universally panned the album at the time) but was loved by their fans, making it reach #33 on the US Billboard 200 and #22 on the UK Albums Chart. Released 35 years ago today, 'A Farewell To Kings' is not only an essential album for the Rush faithful but, in the larger scheme, the late 70's progressive rock scene.