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Rush - Hemispheres CD (album) cover




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4.37 | 2483 ratings

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4 stars A GOOD album, and none too soon. A Farewell to Kings could have easily indicated that Rush had run out of gas and were about to fade into oblivion, but fortunately that wasn't the case. Starting with this album (and fan favorite, in my observation), the band was able to launch itself into a period of, if not necessarily greatness, then solid competency.

The fact that I enjoy this album so much is made all the more remarkable by the fact that, lyrically, I consider this album bad even by Rush standards. Of the three songs with lyrics (the fourth, the closing "La Villa Strangiato," is instrumental), one ("Circumstances") is unremarkable for good or bad, but the tracks which bookend it strike me as totally ridiculous. The opening side-long "Hemispheres (Cygnus X-1: Book II)" tackles the age-old concept of the heart-mind dichotomy, but the problem is not the subject matter; rather it's that Peart decides to frame the argument around what I can only describe as a Greek mythology fan fiction. The lyrics make me cringe every time I hear them, and given that the track lasts over 18 minutes, there's a lot of them to make me grit my teeth. The other offending track is "The Trees," where Peart writes a straight-forward parable deriding the concept of labor unions. The lyrics are off the charts on the unintentional comedy scale, to say the least.

When I ignore (and I don't mean tolerate or just allow to blend into the background, I mean IGNORE) the lyrics, though, this album turns out to be really great. Musically, the title track is EASILY my favorite of the band's three side-long epics, and strikes me as one of the neatest things the band ever did. The first ten minutes are built around a growling bass- driven riff, which regularly alternates with a beautiful, ambient-esque guitar line from Lifeson, and they interact amazingly. One thing that really impresses me is that those ten minutes do a good job of slowly, continually building up tension, while also continually releasing that tension, but at a slower rate than the build up; the result is that, by the end of those ten minutes, there's an overwhelming amount of net tension, and I have to respect any piece that can pull that off.

The best part of the track, though, and the chunk that drives me crazy with glee every time I hear it, is around the 12-minute mark or so. It's that quiet, robotic-sounding (drenched in atmospheric synths) part with the "I see the gods in battle rage on high" lyrics. The idea at this point in the song is to portray Cygnus' entry into the palace on Olympus, and they did it they did it they did it so well!!! That part is so majestically eerie that I can't help but tip my hat to the talent the guys so obviously posessed. Too bad they couldn't show it all of the time ...

The track ends with a rather throwaway acoustic snippet, which was obviously intended to be a "heart-warming" coda, but which seems a bit tacked on to me. Still, it hardly mars the effect of the whole track, which is quite magnificent. The second side, then, can't possibly hope to live up to the first, but it does a decent job anyway. "Circumstances" is a decent riff- rocker; it never quite moves beyond the main riff, and seems to me to somewhat overstay its welcome, but I'm fine it. As for "The Trees," well, my opinion of it is pretty much the exact opposite of what it used to be: I used to think the lyrics were ok, while the music was lacking. Now, though, I basically hate the lyrics, but I think the melody (which starts off acoustic-based) is quite nice, and even the mid-song instrumental break, even if it's too overlong for my tastes, is quite cool.

The most famous track from this album, then, is the closer. "La Villa Strangiato" is a 14-part instrumental (supposedly) based around a strange dream that Lifeson had one night (I am SO GLAD Peart didn't try to write lyrics for this). The music is good, especially for how it gives Alex a chance to display his diverse skill set. I don't find it an immortal classic, and it doesn't seem as energetic on the whole as it does when I play it in my head, but most of the individual sections are quite interesting. The "monsters" riff, and the parts where the riffs seemingly use the quiet synth parts as a launching pad, are my favorite parts, but it's all quite decent. I still prefer the Exit ... Stage Left version, though.

This is a fine, fine album. I am not a Rush fan by any means, and the lyrics cause me to be much harsher to it than I'd like to based on the music itself, but I cannot deny the high quality of the album. No Rush fan should be without it. It's kinda short, but there's a good remedy for that; play it twice.

tarkus1980 | 4/5 |


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