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Not the brightest moment for our beloved Canadians - 40%

greenberger, October 28th, 2013

Never mind the silly song titles, the unintelligible low-pitched narrator, or the contrived attempts at drama. The big problem with Caress of Steel is that it's just boring. I've given it a lot of attempts over the past 20 years, and, no matter how fresh my ears are, the album consistently fails on almost every level. In the context of Rush's career, the story of how this came about seems clear (even if it's all conjecture):

Young trio from Canada has a breakout hit with album #1, earn themselves a big record deal, replace their drummer. Album #2 is more ambitious, shows more promise, hints at greatness. New drummer is into sci-fi / fantasy in a big way, takes over the writing chores, which is fine with his geeky bandmates. They're all pretty young, smoke lots of pot, have read Tolkien a hundred times, listen to Yes and King Crimson over and over. "We can do shit like that!" they exclaim. Result: Caress of Steel, their most ambitious album yet, and an epic fail both critically and commercially.

The opener, Bastille Day, is basically the only song on the album worth listening to, a big tease since the album just goes downhill from there. The first three tracks mark the end of their classic rock era, which is odd for an LP- they basically switch from Zepplin-wannabes to bad Genesis clones halfway through the first side, but whatever. It's what comes next that's the issue, as Side A closes with the best evidence punk music would need in their case against the pretensions of prog rock: The Necromancer, which is actually three D&D-style songs glued together by a narrator who's voice has been pitched down so low, it's impossible to understand a damn thing he's saying. Spinal Tap couldn't have written a better gag. Part 3 (or should I say, Return of the Prince) is even more egregious as it steals the main guitar riff from the Velvet Underground's Sweet Jane outright- but uses it to create the exact kind of thing the Velvets hated. Take that, Lou Reed!

The Fountain of Lamneth takes up all of Side B. I have no idea who Lamneth is, let alone what Narpets are, or what Panacea and Bacchus have to do with the narrative, but it's all in there, apparently. Which would be fine, if the music was strong- that's the problem. Yes was equally ridiculous in their lyrics and imagery, but Close to the Edge (which is just as long as this plodding mess) is musically brilliant- even today, it's beyond what most bands have ever achieved. Clearly, Rush wanted to create a gigantic, epic masterpiece, but they had no idea how. Just going from loud to soft to loud again doesn't cut it; neither does throwing in a bunch of syncopated guitar riffs that bounce between two notes and contribute nothing to your ear. People who claim that this was the first progressive metal album have no idea what they're talking about- just one year earlier, King Crimson had released their dark masterpiece, Red, an influential record that remains one of the heaviest albums of all time- and they're not even a "metal" band. Next to that, Caress of Steel is like three 10-year-olds playing "grown up". It's a cute try, but you just can't take its sound or compositions seriously.

The Rush documentary Beyond the Lighted Stage gives the impression that this was a misunderstood artistic achievement ahead of its time which almost killed the band off. I'm sure the latter half of that statement is true, and if it was the stumble they needed to get to that next level, then great. They've certainly proven their abilities, and everyone has to start somewhere. But on its own, Caress of Steel is pretty awful, and useful only as a vital piece to a historical musical puzzle. Listen to it as a history student and you'll be fine.