Part 33 of a series that will run every Friday throughout 2012 as I discuss records that have affected me throughout the years – Flashback Fridays
I first heard the band Rush early in my teenage years. There is something about the joint progressive / metal music that inspires young men (and older men, as it turns out) to instantly play air guitar and sing along with vocalist Geddy Lee. Have you see the 2009 movie “I Love You, Man“? In the movie two grown men played by Jason Segel and Paul Rudd bond over a shared love of the band Rush. The affection between the two characters really comes into the focus as they discover this shared love. It was a brief scene, but played to perfection. It also reminded me of my own experiences hanging out with friends, blasting the “The Temples of Syrinx” section of the title track. Weekends that felt like they would never end, shared with friends playing music from every genre. This is how I came to love 2112 – a love that has only grown over the years.
2112 is the fourth album by Rush and was released in 1976. It takes the hard rock / progressive aspects of previous records and combines them in stunning fashion. On previous records, Geddy Lee (bass, vocals), Alex Lifeson (guitar), and Neil Peart (drums) had shown excellent musicianship, but hadn’t yet completely combined that with the strong song writing that comes together here. The title track is a concept song, somewhat based on the writings of Ayn Rand. The rest of the album has no connection to the title track’s concept, but fits within the progressive / metal blend. I’ve known people who claim to be quite spiritual who have thrown this record out because of the cover art. Sorry my friends – that is not a pentagram (though Pentagram are a GREAT metal band). It ties into the 2112 concept and is basically the symbol for the bad guys in the song’s plot (yes, this is geek rock in all of its glory). Do people despise books or movies that tell stories featuring evil antagonists? Why music has always had to deal with such self-righteous aggression is something I will never understand.
And the meek shall inherit the earth…(album breakdown)
2112 – A 20 minute opus that is one of the greatest songs in history, broken down in 7 parts:
[I. Overture] – starts off slowly, echo and sound f/x dominating the speakers for the first minute. An amazing guitar refrain – simultaneously metal AND progressive – comes into the mix at the 1:30 mark. It’ll have you playing air guitar, ready to take on the world (or the evil Red Star of the Solar Federation depicted in the song). The instrumentation breaks down into a repetitive riff, drifting into a bluesy solo. It comes back to the amazing guitar refrain (with slight variation). Everything fades out and we hear Geddy Lee say “And the meek shall inherit the earth”. This signals the start of…
[II. Temples of Syrinx]. This is pure metal aggression, featuring one of the greatest rock and roll vocal performances in history. That is not overstating the case at all. You will never forget the 1st time you heard the immortal words “We are the Priests of the Temples of Syrinx / Our great computers fill the hallowed halls / We are the Priests, of the Temples of Syrinx / All the gifts of life are held within our walls”.
[III. Discovery] – acoustic guitar strumming, a waterfall in the background. Hushed vocals, in direct contrast to the previous section. A warm melody, emotion creeping in as it progresses.
[IV. Presentation] – Hard rock guitars mark the start of this section, but it quickly fades to acoustics. Vocals are inviting and it switches back and forth from hard rock / acoustics. It is a nice contrast to hear Geddy Lee sweetly sing some verses and scream others. Guitar solo echos earlier movements. Key words: “I can’t believe you’re saying / These things just can’t be true / Our world could use this beauty / Just think what we might do”
[V. Oracle: The Dream] – A dream like section of the track (it’s not just a clever name). The music recalls 1st and 2nd movements, but with slight differences. “I see the works of gifted hands / That grace this strange and wondrous land / I see the hand of man arise / With hungry mind and open eyes”
[VI. Soliloquy] – Waterfalls, acoustics. The song moves on to a sound of desperation with intricate guitar work by Alex Lifeson. “My spirits are low in the depths of despair / My lifeblood…/…Spills over…”
[VII. The Grand Finale] – Dark metal vibe in the concluding section as the music repeatedly returns to a repetitive guitar refrain. Epic sounding. Buried beneath the washes of noise is the announcement “We have assumed control”
A Passage to Bangkok – Dark guitar refrain, instantly lodges itself in the listeners brain. Geddy Lee’s voice echoes the darkness during the verses before things lighten up during the chorus. The instrumental breakdown at around the 2:00 mark is stunning – guitar hero worthy soloing by Lifeson with Lee and Peart holding the rhythm. Key lyrics:
Our first stop is in Bogota
To check Colombian fields
The natives smile and pass along
A sample of their yield
Sweet Jamaican pipe dreams
Golden Acapulco nights
Then Morocco, and the East
Fly by morning light
The Twilight Zone – A rush (sorry) of guitars before the band settles into a blues like metal jam. Geddy Lee wails his way through the verses – emotional at times, controlled screaming at key junctures. It doesn’t quite prepare you for the eerie spoken chorus. Bluesy guitar solo really adds a nice touch towards the end of the song. Lyrics deal with freaks & geeks and allow the listener to draw up the appropriate mental images. Key lyrics:
You have entered the Twilight Zone
Beyond this world strange things are known
Use the key, unlock the door
See what your fate might have in store
Come explore your dreams’ creation
Enter this world of imagination
Lessons – Acoustic guitar strumming fades in to the mix as the band joins in. Impassioned vocals with lyrics that really cut to the heart. It takes about a minute for the song to progress to it’s harder edge, with Lee screaming in a very melodic way. Just as quickly it reverts back the acoustic based sound. It repeats this acoustic / hard rock segue throughout. Key lyrics:
Flashing very quickly by
And giving me a reason why
I know that
My goal is more than a thought
I’ll be there
When I teach what I’ve been taught
And I’ve been taught
Tears – An acoustic lament for the ages. It strangely sounds like the early 00’s band JJ72 (should be reversed, true). Everything about this track is simply stunning. Shades of early Genesis in the instrumentation and emotional vocals. In my quest for absolute truth in this life, the lyrics hit me particularly hard. Stunning. Key lyrics:
A lifetime of questions, tears on your cheek
I tasted the answers and my body was weak
What would touch me deeper
Tears that fall from eyes that only cry?
Would it touch you deeper
Than tears that fall from eyes that know why?
Something for Nothing – Acoustic based intro with bass high in the mix. Restrained vocals at first before it all explodes into a prog / metal anthem about a minute into the track. Geddy Lee’s scream is simply divine on this track. Every instrument, every vocal nuance, everything is simply in sync here. A perfect concluding track to a perfect album. Key lyrics:
You don’t get something for nothing
You can’t have freedom for free
You won’t get wise
With the sleep still in your eyes
No matter what your dreams might be
If you hear the name Rush and you instantly think of teenage boys playing air guitar (or grown men pretending to be teenagers) – you are probably right. I implore you to check this album out regardless of what you may think. It is not just a progressive / metal classic – it is one of the greatest records ever made. Join me next week as I take a detour into the early 90’s G-Funk era with Snoop Doggy Dogg’s debut album, Doggystyle.