Over the last four decades Rush’s fusion of heavy metal and prog has seen them solidify their position as one of the most consistently popular rock bands on the planet. Their self-titled album had been a collection of straight ahead Led Zeppelin influenced rockers, however the departure of drummer John Rutsey and the recruitment of his replacement Neil Peart found follow up albums, Fly by Night and Caress of Steel, and the sound of the band moving in a considerably more complex musical direction. Their rapid evolution didn’t equate to big sales though, and despite touring in support of the likes of Kiss, underwhelming sales found their record label begging them to abandon their increasingly complex progressive rock in favour of something considerably more streamlined.
With their backs against the wall, Rush opted to stick to their guns, continue their evolution and release a sci-fi infused rock album that connected with a receptive audience. That album was 2112, and it was the moment that the band themselves confess that they actually sounded like they wanted to sound.
Where previously Rush had been prone to moments of where they lacked direction during their regular extended musical workouts, with the emphasis on how many notes they could play in any given amount of time, rather than the actual song, 2112 saw them become a significantly more focused musical proposition. That’s not to say that they were abandoning the progressive rock epic though. Far from it, as opener “2112” is a seven part, twenty minute suite that takes up an entire side of vinyl and has subsequently become an undisputed fan favourite. In short, Peart’s sci-fi narrative tells the story of an anonymous protagonist who discovers a long forgotten guitar, and through it discovers the power of music, then presents it to his fascist overlords, who then go all out to suppress the protagonist and destroy the guitar. Okay, so it’s slightly more complex than that, but that’s the general gist of it, and the heavy concept gives guitar player Alex Lifeson the perfect excuse to show off his guitar-hero range in the most favourable light, while Peart wallops more drums than the mind can comfortably cope with and Geddy Lee’s voice hits notes that threatens to shatter crystal. In less talented hands it could have been a stodgy mess, but in Rush’s it’s a triumph of not inconsiderable proportions, regardless of what Lee once described as their “Absurdly prophetic robes”.
The second half of 2112 consists of five songs not linked to the first half’s narrative, but they act as a handy reminder that even outside of extended song structures, Rush were a great little rock band.
Although Peart was the band’s primary lyricist, one of the best songs on the album, “Tears” showed off Lee’s songwriting skills. Musically the song is a mellower counterpoint to the more bombastic hard rock of the rest of the album, and is one of those tunes that’s easy to under estimate the first few times you hear it, before you realise it’s actually one of the high points of the album.
2112 closes with “Something for Nothing”, the album’s most commercial song, which is ironic given that it wasn’t released as a single, while both “The Twilight Zone” and “Passage to Bangkok” were. It’s 2112’s most straight forward rocker and proof that Rush were just as good at writing a concise hit single as they were a side-long concept suites.
2112 is one of those albums that made the most of the vinyl format, with its two halves being distinct entities. That’s lost when you listen to it in other formats, but something that you can now enjoy once again on this stunning sounding reissue, which even has hologram that spins on the runout grooves of the second side if you shine a light across it as it spins on your record deck.
Rush are one of those bands whose fans are famous for their unswerving loyalty and being completionists. It’s those fans that this series of reissues celebrating the band’s 40th anniversary is aimed at. If you happen to be a newcomer to Rush and want to know where to start, 2112 is one of their key studio albums and fully deserves its reputation as one of the definitive progressive rock classics.