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Rush - Hemispheres CD (album) cover




Heavy Prog

4.38 | 2721 ratings

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5 stars This is nothing less than the first essential album by Rush. In fact, all their prog rock searchings, all their difficulties in becoming and staying prog rock, and the album that came before is basically a build up to this album. They finally master prog rock. They finally understand what makes good progressive music. They've finally tamed weird time signatures, untrivial song structures, and atmospheric keyboard work. It's all gelled and makes sense. It took the exploration of A Farewell to Kings to get here. It took the major failure and embarasments of most of that album to get to the general triumph and success of this album. Rush is, finally, a major prog band. It took them four albums of straight up hard rock and one album of hard prog to get there, but they finally did. Naturally, being the kind of band they are (always searching and changing) they immediately dropped the hard core prog act just as soon as they'd perfected it. Which in a way is sad, as I'd love to have heard some more albums like this from the band, but it's probably good because I can't imagine them really topping this album in that regard.

The first song on the album is Hemisphere and it sets the tone for the rest of the album quickly. It is a side long epic, and a sequel, of sorts, to Cygnus X-1 on the previous album. However, it couldn't be any different. This is a side long to be proud of. The various riffs and melodies of the song are quite disparate and all over the map. But Rush comes up with a good idea here; to help keep everything together, they reprise melodies and riffs all over the place. This helps the piece be much more cohesive than earlier attempts at length and epicness. And the riffs are good, and the melodies nice. The keyboards have been integrated into their sound fully and seamlessly. The band's arrangements are creative. Their playing has never been any better. If the song doesn't have many standout moments, it's because the band is playing so well together as a band that nothing stands out as bad or good. The moment when the keyboards come in, and Geddy softly sings from the prospective of the man who was sucked into the black hole, reappearing (Peart's lyrics here are...well, I'll talk about it later) are actually somewhat moving and touching. Not a moment of the song is too long or out of place (besides maybe the acoustic ending) and everything feels inevitable. The strongest song, musically, of their prog period.

Unfortunately, the song is graced with Neil's last fantasy nonsense and it's no better than before. The heart and mind are fighting, literally, as the Gods of Heart and Mind battle for supremacy over the human race. They both present their side in as literal and as blunt a case as Neil can do, and then the Cygnus X-1 guy shows up and says "Hey, why not balance things out between both?" so control of the human race is passed to HIM, Cygnus, the God of Balance. Oh brother. But the lyrics can easily be ignored because of the music.

The rest of the album is taken up by three songs. Circumstance is a weird riff rocker. Not one of their best, but it's kind of a nice change of pace after the epicness of Hemisphere. The melodies and riffs are there, sure. The lyrics aren't Neil's worse, but they aren't great. It's a good song.

The Trees is one of their best songs musically. The way it builds up from acoustic to electric is very well done, and the melodies and riffs are quite well. Lyrically, it's awful. It's an analogy using trees to explain why those who are not as good as others, are rightfully denied better circumstances because if they are given access to better circumstances, it can upset the natural balance, and ruin everything for everybody. The ending line of "equal by hatchet and saw" or whatever, has to be one of the most closed minded and ridiculous arguments against enforced equal rights that I've ever heard from somebody who has to be at least somewhat intelligent. I understand why he might have issues with legalizing and forcing equality, but Christ, he does it in that usual blunt Peart way and the song almost becomes terrifying. Why do I find it easy to believe that Neil Peart would probably have supported slavery, apartheid, and segragation? Good song if one can ignore the implication of the lyrics, though.

The last song is a nine minute instrumental and it's a lot of fun. Allegedly based on a series of nightmares that Eric Lifeson had, it rocks, jams, rolls, and switches to different moments at the drop of a hat. The integration of Powerhouse by Raymond Scott was great, and the band is playing in an almost fusion manner at times, with the keyboards again adding a lot of support but never taking the center role.

So there you have it. An album that is just as complex and bizarre as A Farewell to Kings, but which adds an element of cohesion and listenability that was entirely missing on that earlier album. It is their first truly great album. However, the waters of the music world were no longer friendly to prog rock. Punk and New Wave were the new things. Prog was old hat. Many bands had to change or die in this climate. ELP died. Gentle Giant died. Yes changed somewhat succesful, but barely survived. Genesis changed and flourished in the new environment commercially and (in my opinion) artistically, keeping their rate of success strong. Rush had to change. And even though I consider them to be a lesser band than the ones I just mentioned (except for maybe ELP), they not only weathered the change more succesfully, but actually still kept true to themselves artistically. And the fact that they did makes them such a fascinating band.

SonicDeath10 | 5/5 |


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