Call it “Revenge of the Nerds.” Vilified by the music mainstream and critical cognoscenti for decades, Rush became the prime beneficiaries of some clear-cut revisionist history and ultimately a 2013 berth in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, all of which served to reinforce what many of us knew all along: the Canadian trio is one of the most innovative, most progressive, and most interesting-sounding bands of the rock era.
“Rush literally changed my musical life,” confirms John Petrucci, producer and lead guitarist for Dream Theater, the Long Island-bred prog-metal band who adroitly covered “Xanadu” on one of the bonus discs included in both versions of Rush’s A Farewell to Kings 40th anniversary Deluxe Edition multidisc sets in 2017. “After listening to [1978’s] Hemispheres, they became my favorite band ever, and Alex Lifeson became a huge influence on me as a kid and guitar player,” Petrucci continues. “And, of course, stylistically, I found my niche. I knew I wanted to play music in their style—a rock and metal style that was also really progressive—and not be afraid to tell stories and have long songs with multiple parts and conceptual plots. So yeah, Rush really changed everything for me.”
Although the band itself is officially kaput—following drummer/lyricist Neil Peart’s retirement from touring in 2015, the Canadian trio ultimately called it quits for good in 2018—the fruits of over five decades of grandly designed recordings continue to be revisited and duly upgraded via high-grade vinyl (dub those “The Analog Kids”) and hi-res-oriented multidisc box-set releases (aka “Digital Men”).
Over 20 albums from the band’s core Mercury and Atlantic-era catalog have seen proper wax upgrades to 180-gram and/or 200-gram LPs via Quality Record Pressings in recent years, the bulk of them remastered by Sean Magee at Abbey Road Mastering Studios in London. Terry Brown, the noted British producer who was behind the boards for every Rush studio and live album from 1975’s Fly by Night through 1982’s Signals, very much approves. “Today, mastering for the higher-weight vinyl makes a huge, huge difference,” Brown believes. “Back in the day, we were mixing to analog tapes, and we really ran into format limitations when we were making the original vinyl. I remember we had a little bit of a problem because of Alex [Lifeson’s] acoustic guitars on [the 1977 LP’s title song] ‘A Farewell to Kings,’ so we had to go to a classical pressing plant, one that could handle the more delicate aspects of the mixing. That way, we didn’t have to compromise in order to get it done right. And it all had to be handled carefully, so it didn’t overpower what Rush was.”
More recently, the band’s latter-era live output has finally seen high-grade vinyl debuts. Rush in Rio, which chronicles the frenzied 2002 denouement of the group’s comeback Vapor Trails Tour in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, was issued on wax by Anthem/Atlantic/Ole/Rhino in 2019, and rightly spread over four 180-gram LPs to a much better (albeit not perfect) result than the overly shrill original 2003 CD set. (The latter format’s loudness issue was due in part to the volume level of the audience during the show’s first half-hour.) The full band’s whisper-to-a-scream buildups on “Earthshine,” “One Little Victory,” and especially “Secret Touch” all serve to show how three hard-working men can sometimes sound like a force of ten. Meanwhile, the acoustic/unplugged nature of “Resist” and the freeform pseudo-improv jazz of “La Villa Strangiato” reinforce the trio’s collective understanding of dynamic range.
Less than six months after Rush in Rio’s bow on wax, Time Machine: Live in Cleveland 2011 made its own in-full vinyl debut in 2019 on four 200-gram LPs via Anthem/Roadrunner/Ole/Rhino. Actually, the complete-album run-through of 1981’s Moving Pictures in this collection saw its own single-LP 180-gram offering in 2011, but that segment of the overall set is more of an embedded revelation here—the fierce guitar, drums, and bass interplay that crackles and burbles all across the stereo soundfield on the instrumental Morse-code workout “YYZ” and the continent-spanning 10-minute travelogue “The Camera Eye” alone are worth the price of admission (even with bassist Geddy Lee’s somewhat strained lead vocals). The one-two punch of “Marathon” and “Subdivisions” characterize how 80s-entrenched technology beacons can flourish with slightly updated arrangements, while “Caravan” and “Far Cry” flex the band’s songwriting and performance musculature of the 2000s.
In addition to some much-needed vinyl upgrades and LP debuts, the Rush catalog has also seen a plethora of hi-res digital and physical box-set releases, with a successive trio of them coming under the “40th anniversary” banner (2112, A Farewell to Kings, and Hemispheres).