It may be heresy to say so, but I think this song got a raw deal from Broon. I thought I disliked it right up until I first heard the live version, from the Grace Under Pressure Tour video. That version absolutely rocks. The album version feels dead somehow - maybe the studio acoustics, maybe something in the mix, maybe an uncertainty about the track, I dunno. Now that I've gotten my head straight, I definitely consider it an excellent song.
I would have sworn this song opened with some sort of synthy intro, but actually, it opens with guitar and then synth, and both play lines that recur, at least in some form, again and again throughout the song. Around 0:16 the bass chimes in, and I love that bass line. Geddy doesn't play especially fast, but it has a precision that makes you think it's a loop - only I've seen him play it enough to be sure it's not. Alex, meanwhile, does a fairly Alex-typical chordus interruptus thing that seems pretty simplistic. Wait for it. Don't get cocky.
At 0:46 we get the next movement, which ups the energy level a bit while simplifying the parts. At 1:15 we get another movement that shows a definite reggae influence, with different parts sliding around each other. I don't remember ever trying to cover this track, but it would take a fairly tight band to get everything right.
At 1:40 we're back to the melody from the first verse - but now the guitar part gets a little more involved. Alex still just strums chords, so from a right hand / left hand point of view it's not complicated, but he keeps varying the timing. First it's just on the 1 and 3, then it's 2-3-4, then the 2 and the 4, then all out, then back again... this is not an exact transcription because I'm lazy, but you get the idea.
Into what I think of as the chorus at 2:10, and I think the guitar really needed to be higher in the mix here. It feels... compressed. Not literally run through a compressor, but lacking in volume and hence lacking dynamic range. In some ways this sounds like the same thing we heard at 0:46, but there's a different energy to it, driven by a much more active Neil.
After the chorus we get a reprise of the 1:15 melody, but again, they evolve it a bit, adding energy and variations. At 3:08 that turns into a long outro movement. I think this bit goes on a bit longer than necessary, honestly, and would have liked them to stick to rocking out a little longer.
I love the lyrics Neil wrote for this song. They always mesh perfectly with the rhythm. The rhyme scheme changes at will, and the words sound like they make sense but they really don't, and yet it hangs together as a poem about the need to realize when you hit a stopping point, back up, and try again a different way. There's also something meta about writing "unstable condition / a symptom of life" in a song that changes so many times and never precisely repeats. I love meta.
That wraps up Moving Pictures. When I think of my favorite Rush songs, I might actually get through my top 5 before I hit one from this album. Nonetheless, I side with those who consider it the best Rush album ever. None of the tracks ever feel labored or forced; each sounds like a true and well-crafted expression of an honest creative impulse, honed by a band and production team that had worked together for almost but not quite too long. If you're reading these reviews and you aren't already a fan, Moving Pictures is the first disc to buy.