Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

Rush – Caress of Steel (1975)

Okay, before I start, I remembered this tiny bit of trivia, and it took me forever on google to confirm it, so I better just paste it in. This album, in the original LP form, had a bunch of city names under the names of each track. Turns out that the album was written on the road, and those are the names of the cities where that specific song was hashed out. I only find this interesting because a couple of these were written just down the road from where I grew up, in South Bend, Indiana. Here’s the full list, since this has been long-since deleted on CD reissues, as far as I know:

“Bastille Day” – Beamsville, Pittsburgh, Louisville
“I Think I’m Going Bold” – Saginaw, Fort Wayne, Lansing
“Lakeside Park” – South Bend, Saginaw, Terre Haute, Cincinnati
“The Necromancer” – Los Angeles, Toronto
“The Fountain Of Lamneth”
“In The Valley” – Beamsville, Atlanta
“Didacts & Narpets” – Beamsville, Toronto
“No-one At The Bridge” – Beamsville, Dallas, South Bend
“Panacea” – Beamsville, Corpus Christi, Atlanta
“Bacchus Plateau” – Atlanta, Beamsville, Northampton Penn
“The Fountain” – Beamsville, Chicago, Dallas, Lansing, Detroit, Louisville

On to the review. This is a really lopsided album, I hate to say. It’s as if the band simultaneously realized they could write long-length prog rock epics, but needed to write short little AOR ditties to get on the radio. How did they reconcile this? By writing three little songs and two really big ones. They did some good stuff in here, but as an album, it’s not balanced. And the record company thought the same thing, especially since this album did not outsell its predecessor.

Both of the long tracks (“The Necromancer” and “The Fountain of Lamneth”) remind me entirely of playing D&D in my mom’s basement. Actually, they remind me a little more of the days before my driver’s license or the invention of the opposite sex, when I used to build model airplanes (when they still had the good glue) and listen to Rush tapes on repeat, over and over. Both of the long tracks are excellent and overly geeky, with lots of weird drumming and some strange vocal effects and stories of mystical times and places. “Necromancer” is totally about Lord of the Rings, while “Lamneth” is a more philosophical take on addiction and life. The former even includes a short tie-in to the last album, aka the song “By Tor and the Snow-Dog,” also a long-format tune that I guess needed just a little more.

It’s great to listen to this stuff for the pure nerdiness of it, and to also see a precursor of what would later lead to 2112, among other things. My favorite little bit is “Didacts and Narpets,” which is nothing more than a really quick drum part from Neil Peart, with Geddy shouting a bunch of weird, unintelligible stuff over it. (Yes, I know there are exact lyrics and even a meaning for the title, but I’m too lazy to google for it, and I’m to afraid that if I paraphrase, I’ll get a million Rush fanatics correcting me. The truth is out there.)

Of the other three songs, “Bastille Day” is strong, and gives us a little history lesson wrapped in a Zep-like rock number. It’s solid, but never landed with me for some reason. “I Think I’m Going Bald” is absolutely silly, and evidence that the band ran out of material in the studio. (It was actually written for Canadian band Max Webster.) “Lakeside Park” (written in South Bend!) is a mellower tune, talking about hanging out on Victoria Day at St. Catharine’s, on Lake Ontario. It’s a very sweet little song talking about hanging out with friends on the holiday, and I’ve always liked it. It got the band a fair bit of airplay, especially in their native Canada (although Geddy Lee, in a 1993 interview, says the song now makes him cringe.)

Overall, this isn’t a bad album, although back in the days of cassette tape, I had to do some careful fast-forwarding for each listen, to avoid the bits I didn’t like. It’s dated, and it’s not perfect, but it’s a good effort, considering all of these songs were written in hotel rooms after the band put in a full night gigging on the road. I wish I could like this more, but it’s not exactly like the kind of thing I’d leave in my car and listen to every other day. It’s probably my favorite of the pre-2112 albums, but that’s when things suddenly took off in full-prog-ahead mode, so this is more of an overlooked era for many.

Rating: 7