Where to start?
This was my first 'new' Rush album - the first one to be released after I was indoctrinated to the cause, and I still vividly remember the anticipation before it hit the shops in 1977. On the day it was released, I literally ran out of my final class of the afternoon, and ten minutes later I had a copy in my trembling hands. I ran all the way home, too. I was so excited, and proud, finally to be part of a new Rush album from the very beginning. In those days my devotion to Rush was more or less an obsession. It was like a religion to me, still the closest I've ever come to religion thankfully.
I ran upstairs, closed the bedroom door. Somehow my shaking hand managed to apply the stylus to the groove and I sat down to listen to Rush's latest gift to humankind.
My anticipation and excitement was replaced with massive disappointment. I tried to like it - I was almost desperate to like it - but, I didn't (and I still don't). In the weeks following its release, I would wake up each morning, remember A Farewell To Kings, then feel sick, disillusioned and disheartened. I played it over and over and over again, hoping that I would somehow grow to love it. No chance.
I have never quite forgiven Rush for A Farewell To Kings. It was a cruel blow to inflict on a 17 year old.
It's not quite a stinker, but it's most certainly a dud; the songs aren't particularly strong and at times it's unbearably pompous. More importantly, it has none of the purity of form, the passion or the finely-crafted edge of its magnificent predecessor - where 2112 was sharp, graceful, dramatic, assured, A Farewell To Kings is blunt, awkward and overblown. I admire their eagerness to develop their sound for the opening page of 'chapter two', but I think that - at least as far as this album is concerned - perhaps they were too ambitious. It's an experiment that emphatically failed.
"Xanadu", perhaps the album's showcase piece, I quite like - mostly. Admittedly, it takes what seems like half an hour to get going, but the guitar work is particularly strong, and it's a very imaginative piece in parts. But even this suffers from an extended, pointless self-indulgent instrumental section. The bit where Alex and Geddy start practicing their scales in the middle - what's that all about?
But "Cygnus X-1" - oh please. Indigestible chunks of thoughtless heavy metal riffola clash with sequences of overlong, repetitive guitar noodling that seem to have been lifted from an entirely different song. I wouldn't go as far as Neil Peart, who is reported to have said years later "I hate that song", but I certainly dislike it. It still beggars belief that the band who came up with 2112 should have been putting out nonsense like this a mere eighteen months later.
The shorter songs often work better, but are not particularly strong. "Closer to The Heart" is a perfectly inoffensive but ultimately not very stimulating pop-rock tune. The title track has a lovely acoustic guitar intro, then turns into something very jerky and brash indeed, with a wholly inappropriate instrumental section where Lifeson delivers a savage heavy metal solo while Geddy twangs away, pointlessly jumping octaves on a single note. I still wince when I hear the wanky major key lead guitar fills that pipe up every now and then in this track. "Cinderella Man" has a boring folk-rock verse, a nice chorus and (this time) a lovely, inventive funky instrumental break - but ultimately, it fails to convince.
More generally, Peart's lyrics - "we turned our gaze from the castles in the distance" for example - are often as pompous and inappropriate as his selection of attire for the inner sleeve photo. And the production seems so very 'in your face', mostly graceless and crude instead of atmospheric.
I can't deny that A Farewell To Kings has a certain naive, inelegant charm in places, and the passing years have afforded it a patina of nostalgia that has made it slightly more palatable in retrospect. There are some good bits. There are some REALLY good bits - the lovely nylon-strung intro to the title track, Alex's lovely harmonic intro to "Xanadu" (although it gets a bit tedious after the first half-hour), its riff and its expressive guitar solo, the catchy, affecting chorus of "Cinderella Man" - but these are the icing on a somewhat unappetising and haphazardly thrown-together cake.
A very interesting album. Not a very good one. It just doesn't 'gel'.
Happily, Rush's next recording project brought forth an album which was a stunning artistic achievement, every bit a worthy successor to 2112, and which rekindled my faith in Rush to a bright, blazing flame. But, that's a story for another day.