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Rush - 2112 CD (album) cover

2112

Rush

 

Heavy Prog

4.11 | 1983 ratings

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Frankingsteins
3 stars Canadian three-piece Rush relent and enter the realm of progressive rock with their weirdly titled semi-concept album '2112.' Still firmly entrenched in the band's hard rock roots, the grand scope of the side-long title track and occasional, fleeting moments of contemporary influence make this Rush's first truly impressive and successful release, and the start of their most creative period.

The first half (that's side one for vinyl owners) comprises the epic '2112' suite, Rush's sci-fi rock opera spectacular. Set in a bleak 22nd century dystopia where priests control the masses from their 'temples,' Neil Peart's lyrics tell the brief but entertaining story of a man who finds a relic from a past age: an electric guitar! Learning to play the instrument, he feels all the sensations denied to his people by their oppressive overseers, and his rebellious actions are marked out as a threat by the priests, who fear a return to the chaos of the ancient times. It's far-fetched, strange and cheesy as hell, but serves as a nice precursor to the band's later experiments with similar science fiction themes in 'Cygnus X-1.'

What's interesting about this concept is its execution, as the story has a real effect on the music, rather than simply acting as cool lyrics. Geddy Lee puts himself in the role of both the protagonist and the voice of the priests, adopting a soft singing style for the former and a more aggressive screech for the latter. It isn't always clear what's going on unless you're wise to this, but it's a nice touch, and it doesn't really matter that it's all the same distinctive, much-imitated voice. The second half of the album is free of any kind of concept, and whether this makes the first or second half more appealing to listeners depends on their tolerance for that kind of thing.

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The epic title suite is divided into seven noticeably different movements, some of the breaks being more obvious than others. The opening 'Overture' and closing 'Grand Finale' are fast, galloping instrumentals that predate and anticipate 1980s heavy metal. The instruments are all their finest here, the guitar, bass and drums giving it everything they can and creating a distinctive and recognisable melody, similar to what The Who did with 'Tommy,' Jeff Wayne with 'The War of the Worlds' and every 70s prog band did with their ambitious concept albums. Some nice, understated keyboards run underneath the other instruments for the most part, climaxing in explosive sound effects.

'Temples of the Syrinx' is where the story really begins, the band making the odd decision to represent the soulless, music-loathing priests with the catchiest riff and chorus on the album. The band settles into its style here, still remaining fast but taking a more funky edge, aided by Lee's bass. His vocals are raspy and screechy here, going overboard to create the villains of the piece by practically spitting forth their self- aggrandising vocals. As mentioned, the rip-roaring chorus seems a little odd considering the subject matter, but it's got to be one of Rush's finest.

'Discovery' is a far more subdued affair. The setting changes to the protagonist, his entrance marked by several seconds of silence between sections. A soft acoustic guitar fades in, although it's unclear whether this is intended to represent actual music being played by the character upon discovering the instrument. The song speeds up and increases in complexity as it reaches the end, perhaps signifying the character getting to grips with his discovery and becoming his peoples' axeman saviour legend. 'Presentation' is a more interesting piece, arrived at seamlessly from the previous part and retaining the same medium tempo. Lee's bass gets a chance to shine, and he performs an interesting, if confusing duet with himself, using both his soft/good and loud/evil vocal styles as the protagonist confronts the priests with his controversial discovery.

A break into an instrumental jam signals the shift to 'Oracle: The Dream,' a great varied piece in which fast guitars solos give way to spacey synthesisers, before a hard, staccato riff leads out this anthem of rebellion. The final piece of the story before the closing instrumental's ambiguous declaration that 'we have taken control,' 'Soliloquy' is, as expected, a sort of acoustic ballad. The acoustic guitar remains in the background, as always on the album, but is interrupted almost at random by a clanking bass riff overlaid with sporadic guitar solos. There's some interesting use of feedback effects and guitar distortion as the scene becomes frantic, chaotic and unintelligible.

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The second half of the album, which I'll remind you is totally unconnected to the first by concept, is totally unconnected to the first by sound. These five songs are all radio- friendly rock songs of three-and-a-half minutes apiece, and range in quality. 'A Passage to Bangkok' spouts a lazy and vulgar Oriental ditty unashamedly, without any time granted to dwell on the previous epic. This medium-speed song has some good guitars and a relaxing, laid-back solo, but although it's effective at providing light relief after an epic burden, it doesn't work to grab me in the same way. 'The Twilight Zone' is more interesting and diverse, despite being the shortest song at 3:14. Alex Lifeson's dual guitars are high and melodic at the start, but vanish without trace for the track's majority, leaving the bass, drums and vocals to compete for the listener's attention. Another chilled-out solo closes.

'Lessons' is reminiscent of the earlier 'Discovery,' fading in with clean electric guitar that occasionally becomes distorted, the audible changeover giving this a nice live feel. Lee's screams return, and the necessary guitar solo is fast and complex for a change, making for a nice variation in what is becoming an increasingly formulaic album. Thankfully, this concern is eradicated with 'Tears,' the album's only true ballad. Soft and quiet, the pleasant vocals sound like they're floating in a vacuum after the previous half-hour of constant instrumentation, but the void is occasionally infiltrated by what sounds like orchestration, and huge, sweeping coats of King Crimson-esque mellotron. This is a nice song.

The album closes with 'Something for Nothing,' the most upbeat and exciting piece since 'Temples of the Synrinx' so long ago. Lee's bass is in the limelight on several occasions, while Lifeson and Peart seem to be competing for speed in brief jam sections between the catchy, memorable choruses. This is a cool song that really sounds like it's going somewhere, when unfortunately the speedy instruments begin to fade out and end up going nowhere.

Always a little chameleonic, Rush fit will into the progressive rock genre without leaving their more commercial hard rock sound behind, and as always the excellent and creative musicianship makes this an individual, if much imitated production. Released in 1976, it comes a little late onto the prog scene, as genre staples Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Genesis and Yes were all past it by then. While this detracts a little on the creative front, and makes the mellotron on 'Tears' less excusably dated, the '2112' song is a rock classic that should be loved by anyone who enjoys a good rock opera or epic song, despite its structure being more piecemeal than the later 'Cygnus X-1,' which is more consistent and dull.

Rush finally played '2112' (the song, not the album) live in its entirety on their 1996 tour for the album's twentieth anniversary, but its more interesting moments have been used independently as part of the live set since the original recording. The remainder of the album isn't as good in my opinion, the guitars sounding a little too David Gilmour- esque and Neil Peart's drums failing to be impressive as all the hype, but multi-talented frontman Geddy Lee really hits his stride with this release.

The concept is overblown and silly enough for me to love it. T -106 and counting.

Frankingsteins | 3/5 |

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