It's time to go back to Canada and return to prog legends Rush and their groundbreaking 1976 effort 2112.
It's no secret that I'm a pretty big fan of this record and most of the Canadian power trio's other bodies of work, but 2112 marked a major turning point in the band's career. Following the release of their third album Caress Of Steel and the associated tour, the band were left in financial hardship thanks to lower-than-expected sales, lower attendances at shows and a highly unfavourable reception from critics. Mercury Records had considered dropping the band but manager Ray Danniels managed to wangle the band another album to prove themselves. Mercury wanted something commercial in an attempt to recoup some losses from Caress Of Steel, but with the band continuing to develop their soon-to-be-infamous progressive sound, the record label and everyone else would soon be amazed by what would emerge upon release as a timeless classic. 2112 is split quite differently to other previous albums - it's a six-track affair, but five of them come on the second side. What's on the first side therefore? The first side is taken up by one of the richest displays of musical prowess to come in the last sixty years - the 2112 Overture. Being a quintessential prog track, it lasts over twenty minutes and is split into seven sections, which might put people off at a first glance, but with this split, it means that you've essentially got seven different songs joined together. With this comes a flow that you just don’t get from any other musical genre, not least from any other band. From the hard rock opening and soaring soundscapes of Overture to the light simplicity of Discovery right through to the grit of Soliloquy, 2112 is an absolute masterpiece and undoubtedly the band’s best work. There’s an awful lot of skill on show as the piece develops and it’s pretty easy to see why it became their finest work so quickly.
To some, it's at this point where this record seems to run out of luck, with just five other tracks seemingly plucked out of thin air to make up the second side. Not so fast. Sure, the likes of A Passage To Bangkok and The Twilight Zone aren't linked by some overarching futuristic and totalitarian state theme, but it doesn't mean they aren't great in their own right. 2112, to me at least, is a record of two halves and one that aids in demonstrating the two sides to Rush themselves. The first offers the typical prog set, a twenty-minute concept album if you wish, but the second offers their commercial bread and butter - five easily digestible album tracks that offer enough variation to keep you interested throughout.
The aforementioned A Passage To Bangkok is undoubtedly a highlight of the second side, offering playful lyrics on drugs through a compendium of innuendo and a calm Geddy Lee vocal to boot. Of particular note is Alex Lifeson's guitar work however, especially with the Eastern-themed and gritty guitar riff than only he can deliver so eloquently. There's no doubt that his riff draws similarity to the likes of Led Zeppelin's Kashmir with that low and purposeful stride on the verses, but with Plant, Page, Jones and Bonham's track helping to influence Rush's own Asian anthem, it comes as little surprise. The following The Twilight Zone offers a tune that wouldn't have sounded out of place on either their eponymous debut record or the following year's Fly By Night. It's based on the old television series and runs through two episodes in the song's duration. It marks yet another fantasy trip for the listener, with some dreamy guitar work backed by nice drum fills and bassline from Peart and Lee respectively.
Lessons again draws comparison to Fly By Night's Making Memories with an optimistic acoustic guitar opening and smooth bassline that fits with the lyrics nicely. It's one of a few Alex Lifeson-penned Rush songs, which is evident in the lyrical patterns on show. They may not flow like Neil Peart's, but what's great about Lessons is the charm that this track holds. Tears brings forward a previously-unheard solemnity with a heartfelt ballad that you wouldn’t think would be the band’s forte, but this track goes to prove they can make it their own. With the assistance of a Mellotron, Geddy Lee’s vocal sounds angelic, and the sprinklings of acoustic guitar just help to eke out every possible ounce of regret and sadness that this song brings in a similar vein to Genesis’ Ripples and Entangled, both of which are also from 1976.
2112 ends with the more upbeat Something For Nothing which sees a return to the classic Rush sound with complex basslines, guitar solos and drum fills galore. Lee’s lyrical delivery and Peart’s lyrics are undoubtedly blunt – “Oh, you don't get something for nothing/You don't get freedom for free/You won't get wise/With the sleep still in your eyes/No matter what your dreams might be”. It’s a track about freewill and making your own decisions – a subject the band would cover on the following Permanent Waves on the five-minute epic Freewill. On the track, Peart was quoted as saying “All those paeans to American restlessness and the American road carried a tinge of wistfulness, an acknowledgement of the hardships of the vagrant life, the notion that wanderlust could be involuntary, exile as much as freedom, and indeed, the understanding that freedom wasn't free." In the mid-1970s, the band was driving to a show in downtown Los Angeles, at the Shrine Auditorium, and I noticed some graffiti splattered across a wall: 'Freedom isn't free', and I adapted that for a song on 2112.”
There’s no doubt that 2112 is Rush’s finest work. Whilst their other releases did make them a bigger band, this 1976 effort is the one that sent them on their way to rock stardom. It’s an eclectic mix of songs with everything from hard rock to solemn ballads covered in a forty-minute set that is just an irresistible listen.
If you want to pick up a copy, I’ll leave an Amazon link here: https://amzn.to/2DclBmg
Or, if you’d prefer, here’s a Spotify link:
More musical magnificence to come next week!
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