- by Steve Ricciutti Rating:8 Release Date:1976-04-01 Label: Mercury
During my first year of college in the autumn of 1981, like so many other freshmen, I was assigned mandatory dormitory living arrangements. That first week, after I had moved in, I ventured out of my tiny room and began to explore. All the rooms on the floor were open and music was heard throughout; sounds of the times, AOR radio mixed with pop of the era. One particular room, a few doors down from mine, had a hard-rocking anthemic sound emanating from within, led by a shrill singer piercing through the Springsteen/Journey muck that echoed through the hall. It was new to my ears.
I had spent my formative years on a steady dose of bluesy rock like The Rolling Stones and their American bastard child Aerosmith. The music I was hearing was compellingly different. Drawn in by the heavy sound; the liquid bass runs, the pentatonic riffing and barre chord thunder, and the percussive onslaught, I peered in with great interest and noticed a massive encircled red star adorning one wall. I invited myself in to find who was behind this musical audacity and introduced myself to the two fellows inside, unpacking their boxes while occasionally air-guitaring along to the music. The album spinning on the turntable that September day was Rush 2112.
Turns out I was late to the Rush party. The band had only that year released what would become the biggest selling album of their career Moving Pictures, an offering that was three studio albums removed from 2112, but from a stylistic point of view might well have been a lifetime. The Canadian trio of Alex Leifson, Geddy Lee, and Neil Peart had taken the thematic concept playbook beginning with Peart’s first album appearance with the band and expanded upon it with mixed results. The label Mercury records gave them one last album to right the ship that their uneven exploration of musical identity had taken on the previous three albums. Deciding to do it their way and go out in a blaze of glory, the band wrote the opus “2112,” complete with various movements, instrumentals, and songs. The story of a dystopian world without music (rather overstating the obvious) and the young lad who discovers a guitar and rocks out in epic, if tragic fashion, was greatly influenced by Peart’s obsession with Ayn Rand and her objectivist philosophy. The title track is only half of the album, but it was, as the band states, the most representative album of what they envisioned as their defining sound.
The second half is tantalizing for its own more straightforward merits if a bit of a letdown after the monstrous opening. Highlights are the bookends “A Passage to Bangkok,” a cheeky homage to the global hot spots of pot lore, and “Something for Nothing,” another paean to Rand’s teachings. The remaining three songs sandwiched in-between are rather pedestrian in comparison. “The Twilight Zone,” as the title suggests, is about the sci-fi tv show. “Lessons” could be a leftover from their debut album, and “Tears” is the rare straight-up Rush ballad that may well explain their rarity. It’s not a bad effort, it’s simply not what makes Rush great.
What makes Rush so appealing to their core audience of proud geeks, nerds, and social misfits is not just the thoughtful lyrics, but also the jaw-dropping impressive musicianship. Peart, utilizing with flair his arsenal of percussive weaponry, Lee thumping along with bass runs that would make six-string guitarists consider laying down their plectrums forever, and Leifson’s effects-laden fretwork, all come together brilliantly to make this three-piece sound like so much more.
While I prefer the aforementioned Moving Pictures to anything else in their catalog, and despite the fact that 2112 isn’t nearly a perfect album by any means, it was such a dramatic turning point for the band that it is impossible for you to discuss them without referencing this effort. Thanks to the success of 2112, Rush has enjoyed a long career fueled by their loyal fans, folks who probably run your IT department or designed the computer I’m using, and who used their collective power to lobby non-stop for the band to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In their unique way, the roots that spread out from Rush continue to emerge as fresh and creative flora in their own right, flourishing strongly some forty-plus years after the release of this landmark album. 2112 was the album that made Rush a household name, saved them from the dung heap of Led Zeppelin-cum-prog rock flame outs, and forever enshrined this cult classic of hard rock in the annals of rock history.