Not long after Rush had released their first album, drummer John Rutsey left the band for medical reasons. Shortly before they were to begin their American tour in support of that album, they hired on Neil Peart to take over on drums, which would forever change the band. Not only was Peart, even in those early days, an astounding drummer, but he also would take over writing the band's lyrics, adding a strength to the songwriting that Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson had not been able to contribute. He was also more open to being experimental musically, something Lee and Lifeson were in agreement with, but Rutsey had been resistant to.
As a result, Fly By Night is a much stronger album than its predecessor. It's still a bit uneven in spots; there's a couple of songs that are holdovers from before Peart joined the group (even without looking at the liner notes, it's fairly easy to guess which songs these are), and the band is still finding their footing, musically. That said, it's still a huge leap forward, and you can start to see the real beginnings of what the band would eventually become, with the lineup that would remain in place for over three decades.
Standout tracks on the album include the title track 'Fly By Night', which holds up nicely to this day as a straight-ahead rock single; 'By-Tor And The Snow Dog', the group's first foray into progressive rock, and a nice display of each member's musical chops; and 'Anthem', Peart's first attempt at mining Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism for song lyrics (the group would later gain more notoriety for the Rand-inspired '2112', but 'Anthem' is much more blunt and unsubtle in its approach - “live for yourself, there's no one else/more worth living for/begging hands and bleeding hearts/will only cry out for more”). Other noteworthy songs include 'Beneath, Between & Behind', with a none-too-subtle condemnation of U.S. Policy at the time; the ballad 'Rivendell', which would not be the last time that Peart would look to Tolkien for inspiration; and the Zeppelin-esque 'In The End', the better of the non-Peart songs on the album.
This is very much a transitional album, with one foot still very much inspired by various British blues-rock groups, and the other reaching out toward the land of prog rock. The group is stretching their muscles, musically, but still haven't fully hit their stride just yet. That said, even if it's not the group's best work, it is worth a listen, if only to hear the band in its early days, as they begin to form their own unique musical identity. The production is also better on this album than on the previous one (this was Terry Brown's debut as producer, and he would go on to produce several other Rush albums). Overall, it's a good album, just not an exceptional one.