RUSH 'Exit . . . Stage Left' (Phonogram/Mercury 6619053) Three Stars
FOR REASONS locked securely in the shadowy obscurity of my perverse logic, the sleeve for this collection blew me unreservedly away. It presents prominent curios from each and every past cover assembled with bizarre coincidence behind a stage left curtain, poorly dubbed over a crowd shot I might add. This catalogue of bygone glories shows images as startlingly contrasting as the sounds they originally bore and protected, as 'Fly By Night' clashes with 'Moving Pictures', for example. The soberly attired city gent from 'Hemispheres' stands by the majestically scraggy puppet king 'Farewell'), with the period 'Permanent' lady decked out in blue and the painting-mover's Russian red overalls (sort that one out, politicko-vultures), by the other half of the 'Hernispheres' concept) the brazen naked chappie (make an effective anti-BO ad, he would).
Consider: if it was 'Stage Right', this ungarmented character would have to face the other way, making for a mighty naughty obscenity. But the graphics were a masterly stroke here.
Of the music there's very little to say, especially as any self-respecting Rusho will by now already possess his precious copy, greenbacks permitting. It's a selective anthology of the recent live repertoire, with easily counted frills attached.
There's Neil Peart's springy three-minute drumburst in 'YYZ', and bone-chilling Glaswegian participation with 'Closer To The Heart' (rock's equivalent to the Hampden Roar, I guess - next to soccer whisky and McEwans, Rush are the grossest act north of Hadrian's bricks and mortar). 'Broon's Bane', the only new composition, is a splendid petite acoustic dabbling by Alex Lifeson, yet predictably the overture for a featherweight rendering of 'The Trees'. We're also treated to some nonsensical Gypsy Lee lyrics in 'La Villa Strangiato' and a lazy intro to 'Jacob's Ladder'.
However, otherwise this double-disc set is disenchantingly straightforward, being groove for groove as true to the original incarnations as possible, played off against which these here versions stand as much chance of coming out tops as Colonel Gadafy has of winning the Nobel Peace Prize. How so? Well, where it's left lackadaisically languishing is juice, adrenalin, punch, or whatever you call it. Where 's the spontaneity of 'Intensities' or 'Tokyo Tapes', the thrill of 'Strangers In The Night' or Hagar's 'Loud And Clear' or the grand divinity of 'Seconds Out' or Journey's 'Captured'? It's not there.
So much brainpower seems to have been channeled into reproducing the complexity attained before (which I am the first to admit is absolutely brilliant), in trying to transform studio to stage, that all we're left with is slightly muggy re-takes.
Having decried Rush's beloved project in such a dastardly manner, I'll now opine that though irritatingly deficient in the above respects, it's probably the most accurate representation possible. Intricate webs of sound can't be the easiest fish to net, and no doubt every listener will stigmatize me by picking his favourite, this being a trio which inspires a variety of "most savoured songs" and broadcasting its merits far and wide. For myself, a split decision I guess.