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Rush - Hemispheres CD (album) cover




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4.37 | 2484 ratings

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TGM: Orb
Prog Reviewer
2 stars Review 61, Hemispheres, Rush, 1978

Hemispheres is rather a mixed album for me. On the one hand, we have a couple of standout moments, and a fairly light-hearted and strong second side, on the other, we have some of the most funny-spot-wrenchingly-bad lyrical content I've seen since First Aid's Nostradamus (released around the same time, coincidentally). Additionally, Cygnus X-I Book 2 is not really a sequel per se, and certainly isn't consistently powerful and interesting like the first 'book'. Even worse, it actually damages the mystique of that incredible piece of music. There is some stuff here that is seriously interesting progressive rock, but not nearly enough to merit the 'essential' tag.

Hemispheres (AKA. Who shot Cygnus X-I?... book 2) takes up the whole first side of the album. It's a very mixed piece, in my opinion, simultaneously containing some flashes of brilliance and some of pure irritation. A rather grandiose overture, which I could conceivably see tagging onto the end of Cygnus X-I book 1, leads up to a basically complete instrumental rendition of the first couple of verses. Of some interest is Alex Lifeson's odd tone and very soft guitar sound. Geddy Lee is on good form throughout this overture.

The vocals open accompanied by some stabbing Rickenbacker bass work, and some interesting twists on the usual thick Rush guitar sound. Peart does a couple of his classy rolls, but is otherwise pretty bland, and a few swirls on the synth try to give a vestigial spacey atmosphere and fail miserably.

Apollo, Bringer Of Wisdom, is the beginning of the true lyrics debacle, as well as opening after a rather ineffectual pause for effect. Not exactly a sequel to Cygnus X-I, but rather a prelude to it and an epilogue set around the classic with a feeble philosophical lesson of balance attached, and with some truly appalling lines. Musically, the accompaniment isn't stunning, either. Just a wandering bass, guitar and drums, seemingly doing not much interesting. However, the tune picks up with Alex Lifeson's typically 'scientific'-feeling solo, with a squeaky edge and supportive bass.

Dionysus, Bringer Of Love, is basically a lyrically altered re-rendition of the above. I didn't see the reason to type out another paragraph to describe it.

Armageddon, The Battle Of Heart And Mind is where the piece picks up with plentiful references to Cygnus X-I book 1, containing some of the ideas in the original, but with a slowed-down nature and softer twist. Geddy Lee's vocals, watery, and they almost sound weak, but are nonetheless somehow likeable. Finally, the lyrics move onto the original's storyline. In addition to hearing a stunning riff thing from the original (I really do love that song so much), and some backgrounded nods to the original over a lush keyboard backing, the piece finally improves.

Cygnus , Bringer Of Balance, features a jaw-droppingly generic keyboard soundscape. But I love it. I have no idea why. I just do. Keys are prominent throughout, and thunder-rolls add a more genuine atmosphere to the piece than any previous work. Even the return to the more rock-based section and even more abysmal lyrical content sort of works, and includes a functional solo, though nothing as mindblowing as 2112. A crashing conclusion with almost classical drumming ends the part fairly effectively.

The Sphere, A Kind Of Dream, works surprisingly well as an acoustic conclusion, with a nice melody (however basic) and a light vocal to accompany it. There is, much to my amazement, a single great verse of lyrics crammed in there. Overall, a bit awkward, ambling and semi-connected, but at times superb and very charming. If the album stopped here, though, it would probably crash in at sub-Moving Pictures levels.

The second side picks up pretty substantially, and is much stronger overall. It's opened by Circumstances, a typically sophisticated commercial-lengthed Rush rock song. After the terrible Rush fanfarey opening we see all too often, the piece takes off potently, with a cheerfully sung set of fairly weak lyrics. Geddy Lee spins around terrifically on bass, taking a triumphant performance, complimented nicely by Peart's fairly edgy and precise percussion. An instrumental break features a silly synth solo with a small workout for the orphan-shelter drumkit's more unusual components, as well as more of the odd guitar tone from Apollo... . All in all, a fairly good song, but I don't feel the guitar really added anything to my experience, and a stronger vocal couldn't hurt it.

I consider The Trees sarcastic, and thus like the lyrical material and delivery. If it were serious, I really wouldn't. Fairly neat, quick characterisations/representations of general kinds of people. It is certainly more quirky than Circumstances. It opens with a set of acoustics backed by uncharacteristically hollow and vibrating bass. Guitar rocks in traditionally as well as sliding around with curiosity. Neil Peart again provides a fairly interesting performance, with classical rolls, shimmery things and hollow-log-tapping aplenty. The break, featuring gradually a constant guitar riff of the style so characteristic of the album and gradually building rhythm sections, works quite nicely, also allowing another Lifeson solo to break out. A final verse rocks slightly more, and, while virtually the same principle as the end of Red Barchetta, it doesn't matter because the content lends itself to it. A good, short, prog song.

La Ville Strangiato is where the album reaches a really special height on a couple of occasions and remains consistently good throughout the entire 'exercise in self-indulgence'. The acoustic opening with a great classical solo gives us a hint of what we're in for, before the whole band enter. After a gradual build, the kicking La Ville Strangiato riff bursts in, with chordal guitar juxtaposed by quick bursts of note guitar. Neil Peart provides a sort of forest of percussive noises as a cheery background throughout. The piece's biggest highlight is a guitar solo, feeling very Spanish on electric, presumably 'Lerxt In Wonderland'. An emotive, calculated and lively performance. Nabbing highlights, since a running description will become tedious very quickly, a Geddy Lee bass solo especially stands out for energy and verve, and Peart's later move to more 'standard' drums devices doesn't fail to pay off with a rock feel as well as a good set of performances. The piece rollicks off fluidly to an abrupt stop. A thoroughly indescribable three-man piece, with recurring themes aplenty and enough motifs and links to give it a cohesive feel despite its very abstract nature and range. Great stuff, though it feels a bit wallowing when you're not in the right sort of mood for it, and the real reason I'd recommend the album.

So, overall, not consistent in quality, and quite weak on the first side, but nonetheless it has a fair few highlights and is usually pretty decent. There is definitely prog material of interest here, and no ardent Rush fan should be without this album. Lerxt In Wonderland alone justifies the album's price. It gets better when you stop listening to the lyrics, mind vs. heart = balance theme and all. I'd recommend this to most progressive fans, except those who really live for the psychedelic and atmospheric stuff, very little of which you'll find here, and those who really find some weaker performances on vocals or guitar insufficient compensation for great bass-work and bursts of stellar guitar. Geddy Lee's bass is another serious redeeming factor (one I've failed to emphasise above, but c'est la vie) for Hemispheres, and fans of that instrument should thus seriously consider it. I'm not the greatest Rush fan (Caress Of Steel excepted), so I'd suggest reading a few more generous reviews to balance my opinion out.

Rating: Three Stars Favourite Track: La Ville Strangiato

Edit: Since I'm going rather harsher on the ratings, and I've provided that a two is something you should get if you'd consider yourself a fan, it's dropping to a two. Even Strangiato has a couple of moments I'd consider awkward or unneccessary, and I simply don't think the title track is up to the standards Rush hit in their previous excellent record or following decent one. Given it's half the album, I think a two is in order.

TGM: Orb | 2/5 |


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