The Fountain of Lamneth
I: In The Valley
I have no idea what to expect, here. There must be a reason why I don't remember listening to this - I generally give everything a fair listen, but this is all (with one short exception) completely unfamiliar to me. I'm afraid my heart sank when I heard the opening; why would they do a Stairway to Heaven track? However, it very quickly redeems itself, and resolves into a terrific Rush riff, and a veritable mini-epic. The two vocal styles really clarify the story (we're going to hear that device again, as I recall) and the story is clear - the tale of a life, the 6 ages of man.
Love the ending - crisp, clear chords, very Rush, very effective. My spirits are suitably uplifted.
II: Didacts And Narpets
(Presumably 'parents' is not a cool word). Wow. All together now: Heeeere's Neil! This puts a huge grin on my face - fills and rolls which still get an airing 30 years later, originated here. Fantastic, if a little too King Crimson.
III: No-one At The Bridge
Part three is the 'troubled twenties'; unsure of what life will bring, our hero feels adrift and aimless - gone is the certainty of youth, to be replaced by a nameless dread. Ditch the sound effects, and this will be a great song. It's interesting that there was obviously not enough confidence in the ability of the music to give the nautical feel, so we have seagulls and waves, just in case we don't get it.
But I love this, and not just because it's a tightly put-together song. Long, long ago, in a flat in Edinburgh, I taught myself to play this: the rippling low-end arpeggio, and the sudden shift to chords. It took me ages to transcribe from sheet music, but was (and is - I still play it whenever I pick up a guitar) deeply satisfying to play. The weird thing is that I barely remember the recorded original, but of course I know it intimately. To hear it again after all this time is shocking - I thought the chorus had more power chords in it, and the voice more panic - probably that's just the way I did it. Now I hear it again, I notice two things - it's just fine the way it is, and my left hand is unconsciously fingering the 'sea swell'. Cool.
As we near the end, the bass goes practically subsonic, a very powerful effect, and Alex lavishes a glorious solo all over it. Love it.
OK, I gots to know: is this the Canadian pronunciation of 'panacea'? 'Cause it set my teeth on edge, and I needed three listens to appreciate that this is actually a mighty fine song. The redemptive power of love is a hackneyed concept, but this is beautifully done, from the 'Farewell to Kings' opening to the sumptuous chorus, I'm right there with it, and find myself humming it for days afterwards.
At this point, I should mention that the production on this whole album is excellent. I hear it particularly here, where the mix of instruments and voice is just about perfect - the drums are almost inaudible in places, subsumed to the common good, and it's a little jewel of a song as a result.
V: Bacchus Plateau
(or: Days of Wine and Roses - so much of this whole side has been done before, but it all sounds fresh. Impressive work, guys) I'll ignore the fade in (as you know, I'm not a fan), and concentrate on the song. Take this section in isolation from the rest of the song, and - although it's very much a Rush song - you could just imagine someone like The Byrds having a hit with this - all 12-string and harmonies. The first time the chorus hits, it's a wondrous resolution of the early tension (like all the best music), and because it feeds on Neil's middle-age wannabe status, it's probably the strongest of the six parts here.
Quite exceptional bass and guitar work, too - once again, I love the solo. We're firing on all cylinders here, but I have to deduct a mark for fading out. Sets up the finale beautifully, both lyrically and musically.
VI: The Fountain
And here we are - journey's end; life's end and it appears we go out the world backwards. Part 6 is, of course, part 1 in reverse, but where 'In the Valley' was a little cumbersome lyrically, this has been well-tempered, and flows nicely - musings on spirituality, even a hint of Buddhist reincarnation. Certainly the drum fills have been reincarnated from the first section, although I think that's a different solo. Nice staccato ending again.
And then we complete the reverse journey with a recapitulation of the opening, followed (to my surprise, as I was about to switch off) by a reverse chord. Neat.
You know, if this was split into six songs, and didn't suffer from a ) being on 'Caress of Steel', or b ) being a 'concept', this would be some of the best-loved early Rush stuff. 'Panacea' and 'Bacchus Plateau' in particular are really strong songs, and deserve a wider audience. Much to my surprise, this is probably my favourite so far.
I always thought this was the weakest Rush album. I think I was wrong (although don't ask me to make that call just yet) - I'm going to have this in the car from now on, principally because I love the whole sweep of 'Fountain of Lamneth'. If you haven't heard this, or have forgotten about it, do yourself a favour. If you have, and you don't like it, try just listening to side 2 - there are definite weaknesses in side 1, but they are easily compensated for by 'Fountain.'
As always, just one guys opinion. Your mileage (kilometrage?) may vary.