Whatever you feel about Neil Peart, whether you think he’s a great drummer or a show-off, whether you think his lyrics are thoughtful or straight-up pretentious, his addition to the Rush line-up inarguably gave them the edge they needed.  Not only was he a straight-up better drummer than John Rutsey, he was also well read and willing to take the mantle as the band’s lyricist, giving them a more eloquent, verbose style.

Compare the first two songs on their second album, “Fly By Night”: “Anthem” and “Best I Can”.  “Anthem” comes roaring out of the gate, grabbing our attention with a  tight riff and Neil’s staccato drumming.  Rush has definitely grown since their debut, and they’re not wasting any time this round.  While I deride Ayn Rand’s books and inconsistent philosophy, Neil took the best part of her writings in her championing of individual rights and responsibility, which fits perfectly with what would become Rush’s defining stable lyrically.  It’s not completely there yet.  A weakness of “Anthem” lyrically is how it specifically references Rand’s glorification of “nobility in selfishness”, an attitude I always thought was bullshit.  But it makes a much stronger statement than anything on the band’s debut.

Speaking of the debut, that brings us to the second song on the record, “Best I Can”, a song I’m pretty sure is a leftover tune from that record (since Neil has no writing credit on it, I’m almost certain of that).  One again, the lyrics and the tune are generic and not memorable.  Geddy’s vocals has more attitude and Neil’s drums add more “oomph” than Rutsey’s would have, but it still feels like a step backward.  I have similar feelings towards the next song “Beneath, Behind, and Between”, even though Neil does have a writing credit on that one.

There is fun to be had though, with the band’s first multi-part piece “By-Tor & The Snow Dog”.  That’s the best way to describe the song: it’s not “epic” per se, but it has a bounce and step to it that makes it energetic and a lot of fun to listen to.  The gleeful echoing anarchy of Lifeson’s playing during the breakdown would later be fully realized in “La Villa Strangiato”, and it’s a blast to hear the band clearly loosening up and indulging in the occasional madness.

“Closer to the Heart” was Rush’s first big success in writing a three minute pop song, but the wistful tone of “Fly By Night” was a great first step.  Inspired by Neil’s failed musical aspirations while living in England, it was one of their tightest and catchy singles yet, and showed great potential for things to come.  It’s also cleaner, less riffy until you get to Alex’s solo, and doesn’t sound like many other singles in the Rush catalog.

“Making Memories” was improvised by Lifeson on an acoustic guitar during a car ride to a gig, and was one of Rush’s first forays into folksy rock that would later define them.  After their debut, it’s nice to see them not switch back to the butt rock halfway through the song and stick with a consistent tone.  It’s all acoustic on this track, save for the brief but tasteful solo, which seems to be the way to go to me.

“Rivendell” continues the trend, with Geddy on nylon string guitar and Alex chiming in occasionally with his distant, echoing guitar.  Again, good they don’t flip the switch into butt rock and keep the same gentle tone all throughout.  Still, on this album and it’s successor “Caress of Steel”, I find myself ambivalent to Neil’s references to Tolkein, for this reason: that was already Led Zeppelin’s thing, and frankly they did it better.  Songs like this just fed people’s arguments at the time that Rush were just a Led Zeppelin rip-off, which really did them a disservice.

The album closer “In The End” abandons the chiming acoustic guitars for the electric ones about 1:45 in, but it goes for the epic open chords instead of the grinding butt rock, which is a massive improvement over their debut.  Still, it has Geddy’s generic lyrics instead of Neil’s eloquent ones, so it’s still held back from its full potential.

That kind of sums up the album: Rush were on their way to finding themselves with their addition of Neil, but they hadn’t completely shaken their weaknesses from their first record.  He was however making them tighten up their song writing and introducing better lyrics for Geddy to sing.  Sadly though, things would get much worse before they got better on their next record…

BEST SONG: “Anthem”

BEST LYRIC: “Start a new chapter/Find what I’m after/It’s changing every day”
WEAKEST LYRIC: “Blankers and boasters/All the bluffers and posers/I’m not into that scene.”

RATING? “Good”