Mercury Records, 1976
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/15/2002
That Rush created a so-called "concept" album in 1976 with their fourth release 2112 is not a surprise, especially for those who had followed the work of Geddy Lee and crew to this point. After all, their last two albums had featured pieces which could be considered mini-concepts, each one growing progressively longer.
Yes, the idea of Rush dedicating one side of a record to one musical work is not surprising. What is surprising, though, is how well the band - bassist/vocalist Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer Neal Peart - pulled it off. Not a true concept album since the whole disc isn't dedicated to one track, 2112 showed how far Rush had come in such a short time, as well as the growing pains the band was going through.
"2112" - all 22 minutes of it - is an absolute masterpiece. Telling the story of a future where we're told what to think and do, as well as how to spend our time (hell- oooo, Tipper Gore), our hero discovers an ancient instrument from a long-ago time and tries to share its beauty with mankind, only to have its voice silenced by the high priests. Despondent over losing the all-too-brief taste of freedom he enjoyed with his now-Townshendized guitar, our hero takes his life, rather than return to the pre-planned distractions that is the slavery of future life. As the epic comes to an end, it seems like the oppressors have won - but have they really? Something tells me that this line of thinking is going to be open to debate for as long as this album remains popular- and I don't pretend to have the definitive answer. All I can offer here is: let each individual listener decide.
Musically, "2112" is a marvelous work. Where other mini-epics like "By-Tor And The Snow Dog" (from Fly By Night) and "The Fountain Of Lamneth" (from Caress Of Steel) had their moments to shine, nearly the entire work of "2112" fires on all cylinders. We understand why the music surges forth with power and ebbs back into gentle moments, all the while showing the mastery of the three musicians. It was a daring move for Rush, and one that paid off in spades.
Of course, this is merely half the disc. When it comes to the remaining five songs, one can only imagine the band asking themselves, "Well, how do we top ourselves?" The simple answer is, they can't - not on this disc, anyway. Continuing in a songwriting path they forged on Caress Of Steel, Lee and crew try valiantly to mix more thoughtful concepts with occasionally harder-edged music. Sometimes, as on "A Passage To Bangkok" and "Something For Nothing," it works (though these two tracks aren't quite as high in the musical echelon that Rush has carved out for themselves). Other times, as on "Lessons" and "Tears," they're moderate failures - pretty enough to keep one's interest, but not solid enough to write home about. As for "The Twilight Zone," the attempt to merge everything into one track has its moments, but even this one falls a bit flat in the end (most notably in the chorus).
This isn't to say that I think Lee and crew should have turned "2112" into a two-sided work. The chances are good that trying to stretch the story would have weakened it substantially; as it sits now, it's a somewhat easy concept to follow (at least in regards to Rush's other mini-epics), and it seems to know when the time is right to gracefully bow out. Looking back at this disc over 25 years since it was first released (and nearly 15 years since I first bought it), it was - and remains - the right thing for Rush to have done.
Yet the five "regular" songs on 2112 suggested that Rush had not yet figured out where to go with their musical growth; their next two studio albums would reflect the highs and lows of this period before everything clicked for them. Yet this disc shows that Rush had rightfully taken their place among rock's elite in 1976, and is still a must-own for the true rock fan, even if you're only buying it for the title track.