Classic Albums is a television series that airs on VH1. Each episode is basically a short documentary chronicling the genesis and creation of a, you guessed it, classic album. These stories are told through archival footage, video clips, and interviews with the band members, production people, along with fans and notables in the industry. This episode highlights two seminal albums by Canadian prog-rock legends Rush: 2112 and Moving Pictures.
The first part of the disc covers the early career of the band, going over their initial success and their first few albums. After their concept album Caress of Steel fizzled with critics and fans, Rush was given one last chance by their label, Mercury Records, to create an album that had mass appeal. The band, outraged and defiant, wrote 2112, a treatise on conformity featuring a dystopian world where individuality and music have been smothered out by a fascist religious order. Though the album’s influence and acknowledgement to Ayn Rand’s Anthem was the source of some controversy, its themes of non-conformity and individualism, along with the fact that the music itself had pushed conventional boundaries and was, to put it simply, awesome, ignited fans all over the world. 2112 is described on the disc as the first time the group sounded like Rush. It is the album that defined their sound and truly set up their careers for everything that would come after.
The later part of the disc covers the making of Moving Pictures, arguably their greatest, and their most accessible album. Every song on the album is killer, from the band’s signature rock anthem Tom Sawyer, to the ultimate instrumental jam session, YYZ (and yes, all my American friends, it is Y-Y-zed, not Y-Y-zee).
For a fairly short program (it clocks in at under an hour), a lot of great stuff is packed into the show. There is terrific insight into the relationships between bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson, and drummer Neil Peart, both personally and professionally. The disc also includes really fun archival footage from their early days, as well as entertaining stories about how many of the songs came together. My favourite bits though, are the sequences at the mixing board with producer Terry Brown. In these segments he discusses the creation of the songs and actually deconstructs them on his board, playing the separate tracks while discussing them, then bringing them together for the final mix.
The disc is presented in 1080i widescreen at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. Video quality varies throughout the disc, due to the varying quality of the archival footage included. However, the content shot specifically for this disc looks excellent, featuring great detail and clarity (particularly on the close ups of fingers on strings), and a varied color scheme. Each of the guys is interviewed individually, and all three settings look good, with accurate and consistent skin tones.
The disc’s audio is presented in English LCPM 2.0. As for subtitles, the options include English, German, Spanish, French, Italian, Dutch, and Portuguese.
The program features dialogue for the most part, underlaid by music, and it is consistently clean, crisp, very easy to understand, and never drowned out by the music. The dialogue and much of the music (mixing board demos and the guys playing individually) use only the front channel. However, during the sections where the music is featured, the surround sound comes to life with a wide dynamic range that demands you turn your volume up to 11.
Bonus Material (54:25): Though divided into chapters, the bonus material is basically one long extended sequence covering a variety of topics. The menu lets you jump to a section instantly but after that section ends it will keep running into the next ones.
The material featured is incredibly deep, some of it even more fascinating to Rush fans than the material featured in the actual program. It is basically more of what is in the program, but without the burden of time limits. The chapter titles are as follows:
2112 Overture: Intro to the song by Geddy Lee, followed by the song itself, accompanied by archival footage and the guys playing their parts in separate shots.
Influences: The guys talking about the artists that influenced them.
Something for Nothing: A discussion of the song.
This is Not a Drum Solo (Neil Warms Up): For anyone else, this would be an awesome extended drum solo. Apparently for Neil it is warming up.
Geddy On Neil and Alex
Neil On Geddy And Alex
Red Barchetta: A discussion of the song.
Neil Waxes Lyrical: Neil discussing what he was reading on the road and how it influenced his lyrics.
Tom Sawyer: A discussion of the song.
Alex On Geddy And Neil
YYZ: A discussion of the track.
Rush: 2112 and Moving Pictures is an excellent little documentary and a must-have for fans of the band. For non-fans this is still a fine purchase/rental for anyone interested in music history or gaining insight into the industry. The reduced quality of the archival footage isn’t a drawback due to its illustrative importance to the stories, and shouldn’t decrease anyone’s enjoyment of the disc.