Following the success of Permanent Waves, it was only natural to question whether the band's follow-up effort would be able to build off of that success, or if instead would the group would slip back into the relative obscurity of hard-rock/prog-rock circles?
The album in question, Moving Pictures, was to become the band's signature album.
To the dickhead who stood behind me and my wife at the Vapor Trails tour when they played Philips Arena in Atlanta back in 2002, whining audibly every ten minutes or so because they weren't just playing their older stuff, and that “they haven't had a good album since Hemispheres”... GROW THE FUCK UP and get over it. The band moved on in a direction you didn't care for. You don't have to like it, but if you're going to pay good money to attend the concert anyways, knowing that the group has had a large body of work to draw from, don't be so incredibly stupid as to act disappointed when they actually dare to play songs from their later albums (including songs from the then-current album, which they were touring to support – funny how that works, isn't it, Einstein?). In any case, if you still want to buy the ticket, feel free to mope after the fact about how they didn't cater solely to your personal tastes, but during the actual concert please kindly show a modicum of basic decency and SHUT THE FUCK UP, letting the rest of us enjoy the show – you're not impressing anyone with your 'I was a fan back when they were good' schtick, by the way... you're just marking yourself as a narcissistic asshole.
Ah, where was I? Oh yes, Moving Pictures.
The album starts off with 'Tom Sawyer', which is pretty much the iconic song for the group, even though it isn't their highest charting single. Co-written with lyricist Pye Dubois (who would go on to assist lyrically on a few other Rush songs later down the road), the song still has a great deal of resonance with even casual fans three decades later. Musically, all three band members get a chance to show off their chops, with their combined efforts resulting in one of the group's tightest pieces ever. It has shown up in numerous films and TV shows, is recognizable by those who have no other knowledge of Rush, and has had enough of an impact on pop culture to even warrant a re-imagining by the creators of South Park:
Next is 'Red Barchetta', an allegorical tale (recorded in a single take) of a future where the private use of automobiles is outlawed, and one man's act of civil disobedience against that law. Following that is 'YYZ', one of the band's best instrumental pieces, if not arguably the best of their instrumental songs (how you feel about that particular debate depends on how much you like 'La Villa Strangiato' by comparison). Named for the airport code of the Toronto airport, like 'Tom Sawyer' the instrumental gives each of the band member a chance to show their stuff, in a tight, multi-tempo piece that is truly astounding in its musical virtuosity. Side one of the album (back when albums actually had two sides) concludes with 'Limelight', another popular song for the band (hitting #4 on the U.S. mainstream charts), dealing with the struggle to balance the highs and lows provided by success and celebrity. All told, these first four songs make up what is one of the strongest album sides in the history of rock music.
If side two of Moving Pictures is less immediately recognizable to the general public, that doesn't make it any weaker musically. 'The Camera Eye' is the band's last composition of an extended length, an eleven-minute farewell of sorts to their earlier prog-rock ways. The song compares and contrasts the cities of New York and London, a sweeping musical travelogue. Following that is 'Witch Hunt', a dark, gothic, and moody piece, which is subtitled as Part 3 of the 'Fear' trilogy (parts 2, 1, and 4 would show up on later albums – oh Neil, you wacky, wacky lyricist). The song deals with the mob mentality, and how fear both creates and is created by it. Sadly, the song is as relevant today, if not more so, than it was when the album was released in back in 1981. The album concludes with 'Vital Signs', in which Peart once again uses the science-as-metaphor trick, using technological terms to describe the human condition. The song also has a bit of a reggae feel to it during the chorus, something that also showed up on 'The Spirit of Radio' on the Permanent Waves album.
Overall, Moving Pictures is probably the band's greatest effort. All of the songs sound amazing, thanks in no small part to Terry Brown's superb work on the production end of the album. Quite simply, any serious Rush collection would be incomplete without it. As for the casual fan looking to dip their toes into the water, this is the album for them to give a listen to, catching the band at a true artistic high mark (as well as the commercial pinnacle) in their long and storied career.