As a teenager, my introduction to Rush came, I think, through 2112, with its side-long sci-fi epic, and collection of shorter songs. This was my introduction to Geddy Lee's trademark vocals - a kind of harsher Jon Anderson; Neil Peart's enigmatic lyrics; and Alex Lifeson's sweeping guitars.
A Farewell To Kings, its successor, came out in September 1977, just as I was embarking on my A-Level studies, and it seemed to me to be a 'grown-up' album, alongside the cheeky, rude, laddish punk of The Sex Pistols and their ilk. I suppose I was still trying to find where my musical tastes lay: was it (as John Miles emoted) 'music of the future' or 'music of the past' that was to guide my burgeoning adulthood? I think, in the end, it was a bit of both - though as I get older, the more I delve back.
A Farewell To Kings still has that mix of long- and short-form songs that Rush had developed over the last couple of releases, but here a little more integrated, rather than short songs on one side and long on the other. It opens with the title track, which itself opens with acoustic guitar and keyboards, before the crash of cymbals and the full electric band enter. There appear to be a number of distinct themes present, but it is a good rocker with some interesting changes in tempo and signature, and it ends with a nod to a later track (and surprise hit single!). Xanadu starts ponderously with interesting percussion and guitar, building over the drone of keyboards, before the 7/8 guitar riff comes in. (As a 16 year-old I learnt to play this riff, along with others in this song!) I have to say that this is still one of my favourite Rush songs, for its mix of styles, its complexity and its sheer fun, rather than its talk of immortality or its allusions to Coleridge. It's just a great song, and still has the excitement I loved as a young lad! Side One ends with the hit single from the album, Closer To The Heart, which reached the dizzy heights of number 36 on the UK charts! It was quite an achievement in those days for music such as this to potentially be on Top of the Pops, so I and may of my friends rejoiced at its success, even though, on reflection, it's not that great a song - good, but not great.
Side Two opens with the other single from the album, but one which didn't trouble the charts - Cinderella Man. This is an odd song, as it combines a harder edge with acoustic passages, and a more conventional song structure but some experimental guitar work in the instrumental section. Maybe it was a bit too much for the British record-buying public at the time. Madrigal, the shortest song on the album, may have been a better bet as a single. It is a simple ballad, and quite beautiful in its overall feel, if a little twee. Not a dance-floor song, but maybe one for a slow dance at the end of the evening. The album ends with Cygnus X-1 - or at least part one of it - the beginning of a sci-fi epic about a spacecraft flying into a black hole and the consequences thereof. There are some interesting musical themes to accompany the fantastic journey, and the lyric sheet contains the enigmatic 'to be continued' which heightened my and some of my classmates' anticipation for the next album, 'Hemispheres', which brought the tale to its philosophical climax!
Returning to this album after a while I come to it with mixed feelings. This was the band's first album to chart in the UK, and produced their first hit single, so in that sense it was an important release for them. Some tracks, like Xanadu and, to a slightly lesser degree, Madrigal, still stand out; Cinderella Man never really did it for me, to be honest, and the rest is definitely take it or leave it. but this is only one in a long line of material from the band, and while most of their 80s output sounds very same-y to me, there are still some great songs in their repertoire, and maybe it's not quite time to say farewell to A Farewell To Kings, just yet.