A Rush album of covers? Okay, I didn’t buy this when it came out, because I’d already seen all of the car commercials that featured these songs. It’s always amazing how old hard rock goes from the AOR stations to the brokerage commercials now. I mean, I love Led Zeppelin and The Who, and I’m glad somebody’s providing them some cash during their later years, but I don’t think the works of Jimmy Page are going to make me get off my ass and buy a Cadillac. Maybe if Keith Moon drove one into a hotel pool and expounded on the various safety features that kept the car from sinking like a rock, I’d pay attention. Anyway, the Rush album: a collection of cover songs, from a band that’s known for never covering songs. I’m not a big fan of buying filler albums of throwaway content. And how would a band that plays so surgically handle a bunch of old covers? What spin could they put on them, other than Geddy’s high-pitched voice?
It turns out this isn’t a bad piece of work. The band decided to celebrate the 30-year mark since their debut album by dipping back into their influences and cranking out eight tracks of classic/60s/brit-rock. They start the 27-minute fest with a replay of The Who’s “Summertime Blues.” This isn’t a jokey stab at a cover, like a tongue-in-cheek attempt a band would throw on a b-side or a fan club giveaway disc. It’s an honest attempt at capturing the spirit of Townshend’s execution of the Eddie Cochran original. The guitar is awesome! This rocks in a Zep-blues way even more than the earliest Rush. There’s tons of feedback pouring off of the heavy riffs, thick bass lines, and pounding drums. This doesn’t sound like a band that’s been doing their own thing for three decades – it sounds like a garage band slamming out old-school rock in a bar.
There’s more Who, two cuts by the Yardbirds, two by Buffalo Springfield, and one each by Love and Cream. All of the cuts are more of the same straightforward jamming. Geddy is not Neil Young vox-wise, but “Mr. Soul” is decent. It’s odd to hear “For What It’s Worth” (i.e. the song used in every other Vietnam protest montage in a film), but the mellowness gives you a nice breather from the rest of the scorching on the album.
I dig their take on “The Seeker,” which shows Alex Lifeson’s ability to channel Pete Townshend and really windmill through the power chords. There’s also a good Love cover of “Seven and Seven Is,” where Neil takes off on the drums. (It’s funny that on the original recording of this, Snoopy Pfisterer couldn’t keep up with the 30-some takes needed in the studio, and frontman Arthur Lee had to take over for him. Peart, of course, has no problems with this.)
The hottest cut on the album is “Crossroads,” the old Robert Johnson classic best known for its coverage by Cream. Alex does just as good a job as Eric Clapton on the feedback-laced fretwork for this one. You can tell the band had a lot of fun with this EP by the way they blast through these songs, and this is no exception. It’s funny that many panned Rush’s first album as being a Zep/Cream ripoff, and thirty years later, they’re covering a prototypical Cream song. What’s even funnier is that they sound so much like a bunch of 19-year-olds playing this stuff out at a local gig, and not a trio of multi-platinum artists who have spent decades filling stadiums by playing odd-meter geekfests of songs about nuclear war and talking trees.
I really enjoy this album, although it started a bad precedent. They toured in support of this EP, and a few years later, they’re releasing a live album for the tour supporting the live album they released when they recorded a DVD of a tour they did supporting an EP that they… hey, when is a new studio album coming out? Okay, it wasn’t that bad, but I think we all wish they would get back on the four studio albums/one live album rotation. I’m glad they had fun with this one though.