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In a catalogue of many “Best of” compilations Chronicles is unique on several accounts. First, it was released in 1990, so it includes a lot of material but nothing from their 90’s output. Withstanding Roll the Bones (which is a good release) that is a good thing as the material was weaker.
Second, and in theme with the title, it actually dedicates tracks for each album released – including the live albums. Thus you have an interesting retrospective of each album, notably 2 tracks per album save 1 for the live albums and only one from Presto (it was the current release at the time). Also, Moving Pictures, being the golden child of the discography receives 3 tracks. This is pretty sweet, as you are not force fed “The hits”, but get something from all the albums.
Third, also fitting the chronicles theme, the tracks actually go in order of release. Thus you can listen to the songs and see the progression of the band through the years. That’s pretty cool seeing how many compilations just mix the songs up, forcing the listener to jump jarringly from one era to another without rhyme or reason.
At two discs, this is packed full of songs (28 total – 29 if you include the two parts of 2112). If you don’t own a lot of Rush, then you get a nice variety of material to listen to, picking from the albums you may wish to follow up on. This little exercise is further enhanced by the booklet which divides the tracks by album. Speaking of the booklet, you get a few bonuses. It offers an actual mini-history of the band and a picture of each album. The details are a bit light, and it would have been good to get commentary from each member of the band, live pictures, session notes, or at least a little something extra for fans that have most of these albums but alas it doesn’t happen. That wasn’t something the labels didn’t figure out to later unfortunately. Also, there is a lack of any unreleased material to add value for fans. No B-Sides, demos, cover songs, or even a new live song. If you are a Rush fan, you most likely already have these songs and will get nothing new to make this worth your time.
Despite the good selection of songs, I do have some gripes on the content. This album was released in the age of CD’s, and with the time these make available there is no excuse for the band to put some of their epic classics on here. Having Cygnus X-1 together for the first time on one CD would have been great, and would have been an excellent showcase for the bands history. I understand that would mean half of Hemispheres would have been reproduced and the label is probably banking on hardcore fans to just buy the respective albums, but this is a wasted opportunity to introduce new fans to the art-prog 70’s. Further, they blew a golden opportunity to include the “Fear” trilogy in its entirety. For those new to Rush, the “Fear” trilogy is three songs (“The Enemy Within”, “The Weapon”, and “Witch Hunt”) that appeared individually on three different albums. Fans will have to wait another 16 years to get it complete.
As I stated, if you are a Rush fan who has most of the albums, then this offers little incentive to pick it up. There is nothing new to make it a must have. However, if you are new to Rush, or have only a few albums, then this is one of the best Rush compilations on the market. Despite my misgivings on how the label blew some song selections this is a very good introduction to Rush. It’s chocked full of good material and highlights each release, giving you a chance to survey the entire catalogue and pick possible points of interest to investigate further.