DAR: Rush to the year ‘2112’

Guilty Pleasure | Seng Lim | April 3, 2016

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And the meek shall inherit the Earth…”

– Geddy Lee

In this series of DAR, Rush will take us 40 years back to their year of 2112, an amazing artifact that defines progressive rock.

The most obvious, extraordinary progressive rock band to still exist over four decades, the Canadian trio Rush showed their passion of technical melodies and mild-mannered virtuoso feel in every song they’ve made, or even encountered upon live shows. If they did science fiction rock, they did it in a way that no other prog bands came close to (Pink Floyd necessarily does not count — for what matters is the amazing technicality). With their profound lyrics crossing over from astronomy gimmicks to philosophical horizons, these guys crush it all together with amazing bass rhythms, deep end guitar chops, and GOD, THE DRUMS!

Rush started out as nothing to be remembered in the first decade of their career.

Maybe it’s because their original drummer John Rutesy just didn’t fit in the atmosphere, even though the band solely wouldn’t know about it while still experimenting with blues rock at the time (in actuality, it was the decline health of Rutesy that forced him to leave). Even the inclusion of Neil Peart didn’t bring about much success with his first album with the band, Fly By Night; even now it’s considered a memorable album by them.

photo by Seng Lim

Progressive music was not ready to make it in the rock books because everybody knew what progressive rock sounded from the likes of Yes, King Crimson, and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. Prog roots can also be heard in fusion rock bands like Neu! or Edgar Winters Group (FRANKENSTEIN!!!). But then again, everyone paid more attention to arena rock and disco, which seems familiar to the structure of progressive rock in a peculiar way.

Rush’s 2112 blew the minds of every music listener, from radio stations to music critics. The album was not pretentious enough for the band, nor were their ridiculous haircuts, but it was Rush at the very beginning. Others believe Hemispheres and Moving Pictures define Rush as the pinnacle reason of what made Rush who they are, but 2112 was a different exploration to witness. 2112 was so incredible that it led many to believe there was an incredible morality behind it. Or perhaps it was a further distance to their previous epic concept song from Caress of Steel, even though their recording company Mercury label urged them not to do any more. Or maybe it was just how awesome the song was.

back cover (note the ring wear due to prolong shelf storage)

It is still a mystery on why Rush intended to do another epic concept song.

The failure of “The Necromancer” and “The Fountain of Lamneth” from Caress of Steel put up against all odds of winning new music listeners or even Rush fans, as they deemed it inconclusive and dubious to understand. The songs are catchy, but even “By- Tor & the Snow Dog” from Fly by Night sounded incredible enough to pursue another concept song for the album succeeding after that, not to mention the creative vinyl input of locked grooves that made to song’s continuous matter into infinite mode. Mercury Records kindly urged them to put less effort on concept songs after their Caress of Steel album and focus more on hit songs, which meant that 2112 could have been more or less a hit from the encouragement of record companies.

But the trio had their own little plans for 2112.

Ignoring advice from Mercury didn’t give them any encouragement at all. Rush knew what their next album wanted to sound like. Exquisite drummer and librettist Neil Peart grew into admirable liking of Russian icon Ayn Rand, who he credits in the album, and her dystopian novella Anthem, a story about a near future era entering into the hazardous, empirical Dark Age. This was the futuristic concept that Rush had in mind. The notes inside the gatefold album also have Rand’s written abstract from the novella, insisting that listeners can reflect on the song with Rand’s post-mythical story in Anthem.

Opening of the gatefold cover

Opening the gatefold cover of 2112 also introduces the artwork of the star man emblem.

Not having anything to do with David Bowie himself, the star man emblem was implemented by fans of the band in which Neil Peart describes the intricacy of the philosophical description: “All (the naked man) means is the abstract man against the masses. The red star symbolizes any collectivist mentality.” The red star most likely connects to the song because of the scenic embodiment of the song’s visionary decoration for the story behind it. Aside from that, the star man emblem became a staple logo for Rush because the image is seen in future albums, concerts, shirts, or other novelized, personal displays or items (I’d think twice about tattoos).

Alex, Geddy, and Neil during their 1976 tour (photo by c-x1)

The lyrics were eventually filled in with the help of Lee and Lifeson, which then became a seven-part concept song. Every track in the concept consists of Roman numeral labels as a stylistic progressive element (but then again Roman numerals were used in heavy metal concept songs, too). There are classical elements to portray the concept as an epic prog opera that looks accentually beautiful.

The parts are chronologically ordered on the album:

I: “Overture”
II: “The Temples of Syrinx”
III: “Discovery”
IV: “Presentation”
V: “Oracle: The Dream”
VI: “Soliloquy”
VII “Big Finale”

Totaling at a length of twenty minutes, “2112” became one of the longest concept songs that Rush ever orchestrated. The structure is dynamically progressive and the transition is amazingly uplifting to hear for your very own rocking soul. Who knew it only took these three musical Canadians to create this wonderful composition?

The “Overture” is surely a signature of Rush’s progressive rock development, easing through your ears with the ARP Odyssey synthesizer and an Echoplex tape delay box (that thing is a classic favorite; I have one and they are uniquely antique!), followed by a thumping smack down of Geddy, Alex, and Neil.

“The Temples of Syrinx” commences four minutes later, and Geddy’s vocal comes in to aid their tacky, metal-like beat that plugs a rocking rhythm in your belly for over two minutes.

“Discovery,” which was mostly written by Alex, initiates at six minutes in, lasting at nearly three and a half minutes of his acoustic-electric take on post-mythological reflection that resembles Jimmy Page’s “Black Mountain Side.” Alex is clearly a fan of Page (a Les Paul freak, that is).

Running roughly three and a half minutes in, “Presentation” arrives like a crying thunder striking at a blink of an eye, serving as a prelude from “Discovery” which match together greatly as Geddy sings his soft and hard sides. This certainly serves as a build up for the unexpected, ferocious one-minute solo take over from each musician. Alex solos as if his wah-pedal insertion was his holy savior, Geddy’s bass lines keeps up the pace effortlessly in a matchup haste, and Neil’s fill in on the drum appears exactly how it is; no metronome, no do over, no mixing, simply just Neil and his drumset.

The album calms down with “Oracle: The Dream” for a minute or so, but the other half of the song becomes a hype-up moment as an oscillation occurs in crescendo mode, which then repeats parts from “Overture” to reminisce on the story of the song.

“Soliloquy” runs another two minutes and demonstrates the cry of agony in Geddy’s voice, in spite of the song’s impending end soon to come. Alex’s guitar traces his guitar chops in ballad-like respect of the song’s penultimate point, while Neil drums to back up Geddy’s sorrowful bass lines.

The final two minutes finish with “Grand Finale” with its overacting tempo change and rhythmic transformation that alters the beat measurements into triplets in a sudden manner. This part of the song becomes complete mayhem that iterates in a computerized voice, “ATTENTION ALL PLANETS OF THE SOLAR FOUNDATION / WE HAVE ASSUMED CONTROL,” to which Geddy yells with Alex goofing around with the sound effects. This concludes the epic story that the concept song “2112” reveals, in which the listener realizes a catastrophic yet happy ending.

Neil’s signature ‘star man’ drum set

Lyrically, the story of “2112” goes like this: a bunch of planets are controlled by the so-called ‘Solar Foundation,’ and then they are controlled by the ‘Priests of the Temple of Syrinx,’ according to Geddy. Then a wandering man from the same planet of the Priests finds a guitar and makes beautiful songs that could break through the peace of humanity. The Priests get pissed at him and condones such holy guitar creations to ever exist by destroying his guitar, deeming it would start another annihilation of their planetary civilization. The man becomes depressed and hysterically commits suicide. Finally, a sudden planetary battle begins, just like the priests said would happen because of a single human (stupid guitar playing guy).

And that is just side A of the album, folks!

Side B consists of irregular songs that don’t have anything to do with the previous concept song, and that is just what listeners expected in a serious Rush album. “Passage to Bangkok” enchants the Chinese Oriental riff which seems eccentric for a song that’s about Thailand and not Chinese. But the lyrics nearly resemble some sort of Hunter S. Thompson voyage story as Neil metaphorically writes about a drug affair from Colombia, Mexico, and Jamaica than just only Thailand (pretty neat for a prog band).

The following track sets off a boogie vibe with “The Twilight Zone.” It’s soft, it’s heavy metal worthy, and it is pretty catchy at some points, especially for those who recognize the lyrics from Peart; they can instantly think of the two daunting episodes from the actual TV series The Twilight Zone, “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” and “Top Over in a Quiet Town.”

neil peart 2112 rush
Neil Peart in his recent Rush tour

Fans will always get joy out of the Rush albums they listened to over and over — fans who took their enjoyment further by seeing the band live. Unfortunately, the touring opportunity may have come to an abrupt end due to Neil’s health issues, losing or perhaps destroying the dreams of those in hope of seeing them live. Rush can always cherish their fans with numerous album recordings from studio to live concerts that date from their first self-titled album to their live album, R40 Live.

Sure, there is the album Moving Pictures with its famous hit tracks like “Tom Sawyer” and “YYZ,” but there is something so special and so auspicious in 2112 that every fan or music geek can understand. Just look at Jack Black from School of Rock who plays as a presumptuous rock-and-roll teacher corrupting private high-grade kids with his love for music. As he gives one rebellious kid who plays the drums a Rush album, Black simply says, “Rush, 2112, Neil Peart, one of the greatest drummers of all time.” Would the drummer be the highlight of the band, knowing that Neil Peart embodied what Rush is and was all about? Who knows. Cultural references may be one thing, but Rush overall, in my opinion, is still a great band to geek out and listen to.


Additional photos by c-x1.