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Rush - 2112 CD (album) cover




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4.11 | 2013 ratings

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4 stars I'm as guilty as the crooks in Congress for thinking that, because high-quality prog rock being made by any artist or group in the western hemisphere was as rare as getting struck by space junk, I had every right to nourish my biased skepticism of the Canadian band Rush. That's just one of many stupid reasons I had for ignoring them over a span of decades (for a more detailed but no less excusable explanation for my ridiculous attitude see my review of "Fly By Night") but I've finally come around in my old age to deciding to honestly give their albums a fair listen. My becoming aware of how determined this trio was to be true to themselves and to follow their progressive-minded muse even if she led them perilously close to entering the bleak lands of obscurity where groups who got dropped from their labels went to die had a lot to do with my decision to assess them anew. If there's one thing I respect above almost anything else in music it's rugged individualism and having the courage to go against the grain. Like them or not, Rush has those characteristics aplenty and deserves your admiration.

In the mid 70s prog rock was still enjoying widespread popularity but it was also veering into a period of transition where many of its most famous purveyors drifted into other styles that sometimes did and often did not make for better prog. Yes was undergoing yet more personnel changes while putting together "Going for the One," Genesis was attempting to replace Peter Gabriel and prove they were still viable with "Trick of the Tail," ELP was crippled by egos run amok during the sessions for "Works, vol. 1" and Pink Floyd was trying to follow up the biggest LP of that era with "Wish You Were Here." In the fledgling stateside prog scene Kansas was still straining to get their foot in the door with "Masque," Styx was timidly straddling the fence between prog and pop with "Equinox" and we all wondered what the hell Santana was trying to do via the weak "Amigos" disc. In other words, in the eyes of the American record executives, progressive rock was something you imported but you didn't cultivate locally. They'd determined that the populace just wouldn't support or buy it. That's the sermon the head honchos and their legion of yes men were preaching to the spunky little trio from up north after their third album, "Caress of Steel," had failed to set the world afire. The members of Rush had a decision to make. Bend to the winds of commercialism or stand firm and damn the torpedoes. They chose the latter option and their landmark "2112" is the result.

They boldly spat in the face of their masters by starting the record with a side-long epic, the career equivalent of going all in with their remaining chips. It was a case of their way or the highway and this time the good guys won. "2112" opens with a spacey drift that's neither overdone nor tacky. The group's extremely tight punches lead into an energetic hard rock motif and some very well-thought-out, intricate passages that wend through tricky prog terrain. Bassist Geddy Lee's shrill voice adds a sense of urgency and alarm to the storyline's warning tone. The "discovery of the lost guitar" moment is presented with flair and just the right amount of drama before they deftly elevate the song's intensity level back up from that subtlety. Lee shows he's much more than a frantic screamer in the process. The following up-tempo section is a spirited jam and the finale is suitably ominous. I'm compelled to hand it to these boys for having the billiards to buck the trends and do exactly what they were born to create come what may. No one else on this side of the planet was attempting to rival the UK-based progressive rock juggernauts on their lofty plateau quite like Rush was and this extended, highly-involved piece of music takes a back seat to none of them.

They made their defiant, game-changing statement on side one and the rest is gravy (and excellent gravy, at that). "A Passage to Bangkok" is arena rock & roll presented with an original, independent streak running through it that prevents it from becoming mundane. On "The Twilight Zone" the steady progress they were making in their technical abilities and their studio savvy really shines through as they fearlessly abut different tempos and rhythmic feels to create a sound that's distinctively their own. "Lessons" is next and the track's acoustic guitar approach is not laid-back or syrupy but goes a long way in keeping things unpredictable. What strikes me most on this cut is how drummer Neil Peart can be overtly busy on his kit without being indicted for the crime of overplaying. Guitarist Alex Lifeson's solo is red hot, especially during the long fade out. My favorite song is "Tears." Like both Genesis and Yes, they weren't afraid of alienating their rocker fans by displaying a softer, more delicate side of their art. This number has a beautiful melody and a lush depth of field helped in no small part by their employing Hugh Syme to add his expressive Mellotron work. As he did on "Fly By Night," Geddy's ability to adjust his vocal approach in order to give the song precisely what it needed to be most effective is a big surprise for me. The subdued beginning of "Something for Nothing" contrasts strikingly with the powerful momentum they generate during the more driving sequences of the tune. Neil's poignant lyrics sum up the band's mindset as the music showcases their unified purpose and their aspirations for future endeavors. "What you own is your own kingdom/What you do is your own glory/What you love is your own power/What you live is your own story/In your head is the answer/Let it guide you along/Let your heart be the anchor/And the beat of your own song," Lee warbles with confidence and resolve.

Curious how it's the rebels and the nonconformists that make the most lasting marks on civilization. No label wanted The Beatles but they changed the course of history. No publisher thought kids would care to read thick books about a young wizard but they couldn't get enough of Harry Potter. I could go on and on with more examples of those "in the know" not knowing diddly squat about what the public desires but you get the gist of my argument. The suits at Mercury records told Alex, Geddy and Neil that nobody would sit through 20-minute long songs and that the only way they'd survive in the cutthroat world of the music biz was to write catchy tunes that had the potential to scale the Top 40 charts. According to the "experts" prog rock was on its way out and they'd better get wise before it was too late. Thank heaven they didn't listen to those short-sighted dolts. The truth was that rockers of all ages were still eager to indulge in challenging music that offered an alternative to "Frampton Comes Alive" and Kiss' "Destroyer." "2112" not only outsold every album Rush had made up to that point, it became a testament to the persevering spirit of progressive rock that, against all odds, consistently refuses to lie down and die. Personally I think this band had yet to make their masterpiece but there's no denying that this album deserves every accolade it receives. 4.3 stars.

Chicapah | 4/5 |


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