Album: Working Men
Genre: Progressive Rock/Live Rock
Release: November 17, 2009
For Rush fans, Working Men needs no introduction. For those unaware, Rush recently released a compilation album of live material from their most recent live releases (Rush in Rio, R30, and Snakes and Arrows Live). Those who know all about Rush's history will know that they are no strangers to the compilation album. Working Men is their 9th collection, and the 2nd one this year (Retrospective 3 was released in March). However, those who know their Rush music will know that Geddy, Alex, and Neil generally tend to be very hands-on when it comes to putting together collections. As such, we find ourselves with Rush's first live collection.
Working Men divides it's songs from their three most recent live albums. From Rush in Rio we get 2112 (abbreviated), Closer to the Heart, and YYZ. R30 gives us The Spirit of the Radio, Dreamline, Subdivisions, Working Man, and a previously unreleased version of One Little Victory. From Snakes and Arrows Live we get Limelight, Freewill, Far Cry, and Tom Sawyer. Rush didn't hesitate to bring the hits on this, so most of the songs are from 2112 to Moving Pictures. Only 4 songs are from after Moving Pictures, and Working Man is the only really old Rush song in here. It's a shame that they didn't throw in a lesser-known song or two, but the track list is otherwise golden.
The recording quality is spot-on. The best versions of each song were picked, particularly the Rio version of YYZ, where you can clearly hear the crowd sing along to every note. Actually the Rush in Rio stuff is probably my favourite of the bunch, as the Brazilian crowd energy is unbelievable. I'm only talking about the CD in this review, but the DVD of either Working Men or Rush in Rio is a great buy, just to see the crowd move like a solid mass along to just about every tune they play. The R30 and Snakes and Arrows Live material is great as well. The band seems to be a little more "on" with those songs, and the mixing is a bit cleaner. Also, I was happy to see that Subdivisions was taken from R30, as that seems to be the only live release where you can here Lifeson say "subdivisions".
The music needs no words, really. You know all these songs, and if not...where have you been? The old-school Rush fans may not care for the inclusion of One Little Victory or Far Cry, but they're definitely great tunes for those who love any and all Rush eras. Rush was nice enough to give us an unreleased version of One Little Victory from the R30 concert. In March's Retrospective 3, we were giving an unreleased live version of Ghost of a Chance, so it seems as though Rush still have plenty of goodies to hand out to the fans. This version of One Little Victory isn't vastly different from the Rush in Rio or Snakes and Arrows Live versions, but it still sounds great.
I don't have too many complaints for the track list. I'm not a big fan of songs like Limelight or Working Man, but I see the appeal of them as classics and great live songs. I'm a bit disappointed to have yet another version of Spirit of the Radio, Tom Sawyer, or YYZ around, even though those songs rock. I could have traded them for some more 80's or 90's tunes (when are they going to give me a live version of Lock and Key that isn't only on laserdisc?) Considering there's a whole bevy of albums that have been underrepresented in live albums, it's a bummer that they can't pull out a few songs from an album other than Permanent Waves or Moving Pictures. All in all, I enjoy the tracklist, but it has major balance issues.
Working Men is a pretty good buy. It's an hour of Rush's best live tracks from their recent years. There's nothing weak on here, but there's a lot of obvious choices that will please some fans, and may disappoint others. Some of these versions are exceptional, some are OK. This album will mostly be for Rush collectors, and the fans of their live stuff. Casual fans may not go for it, but it's not all that pricey, and the content is solid. I'll recommend it, but it certainly isn't for everyone.
Dreamline - This song hasn't been played to death yet, and it sounds great here.
Far Cry - I'm a big S&A fan, so I have a soft spot for this song. Great version, and the crowd get really into it.
Subdivisions - Definitely their best live version. Hearing Alex makes all the difference.
One Little Victory - Rush really likes this song, as it's been on a lot of recent releases. A new listen is a great bonus to the album.
Closer to the Heart - A great version of the song. A Rio crowd-favourite, so the band plays their hearts out.
YYZ - There's nothing like Rio's version of YYZ. The band and crowd are unbelievable. A version best seen rather than heard.
The Spirit of the Radio - Nothing wrong with this song, I just don't need another version of it.
Tom Sawyer - Nothing wrong with this song, I just don't need another version of it.
Working Man - Never was a fan of the song. Also, they shorten this version.
Limelight - Sounds fine. Nothing spectacular.
2112 - I never like the abbreviated version of this song. The crowd adds a lot, though.
Freewill - Sounds fine. Nothing spectacular.