Review Summary: The most ubiquitous number in progressive music.
I’m going to say it as delicately as I can: Caress of Steel
blew. Rush’s infamous third album was poorly received by music listeners and critics for its overblown ambition and poor, corny execution. Was it deplorable beyond all reason? Not entirely, no. It was, however, a misjudgment of the band’s capability to write good progressive music and a misjudgment of their fanbase’s desire to listen
to progressive music - a classic case of a young band getting swept off their feet by their own ambition and releasing something that shouldn’t have left the blueprints without some heavy proofreading. The commercial failure of Caress of Steel
inevitably led to the band’s label prompting them not to write any “prog-epics” for their new album. This
, however, naturally led to Rush writing a 20-minute, 7-part-suite concept song set hundreds of years in the future and putting said song on an album that would ironically go platinum in only a matter of years. Awesome.
Yet I have to deliver some unfortunate news on the subject of the album in question, 2112
: although it is by every mean a “classic” in terms of its influence on basically all progressive music, it is not a classic in the sense of flawlessness. Although there is no inherently bad
track on 2112
(although ‘The Twilight Zone’ and ‘Tears’ come dangerously close), the album suffers from extreme disjointedness between the 20 minute title track and the other 5 songs. 2112
has terrible continuity - something that, especially as a progressive band, you’d normally want to include in your albums. The track itself though - ‘2112’ - is basically the best song ever. Fishtailing its way through absolutely maniacal instrumental interludes (‘Overture’, ‘Grand Finale’), tranquil, moody pit stops (‘Discovery’, ‘Soliloquy’) and bat*** banshee screeching (‘The Temples of Syrinx’, ‘Presentation’), ‘2112’ is the audible embodiment of Rush’s finest hour (in the realm of progressive music, that is). The story is unfortunately typical Peart-blimey: in the year 2112, instruments have been banned - but a young boy discovers a guitar and shows it to the high council only to taste rejection and subsequently commit suicide. Yet in the context of the story, the band puts together music to match the concept quite beautifully. In ‘Presentation’, you can hear the conversation play out musically between the priests (shrieking banshee vocals) and the protagonist (soothing vocals). In ‘Discovery’, as the protagonist of the story literally discovers
a guitar, you can hear Alex Lifeson’s guitar playing progress from one string noodling to complex chord patterns as the protagonist in the story teaches himself how to play. On top of that, in the final seconds of the protagonist’s life, Geddy’s concluding wretch “my life blood... Spills over...
” in ‘Soliloquy’ is probably the best thing to ever come out of Mr. Lee’s mouth.
Unfortunately, the second half of 2112
(the album) does not live up to the first half. ‘Passage to Bangkok’ is an amusing and rather fun song that’s only slightly tainted by the band’s usage of “the asian riff” and ‘Lessons’ showcases some of Geddy Lee’s best bass playing ever. The sour patches that are the incredibly boring ‘The Twilight Zone’ and the stupendously cheesy ‘Tears’, however, bring the second half of the album down enough to forget whatever potential ‘Something for Nothing’ would end up having. ‘Tears’ starts out promisingly - subtle acoustic guitar and a relaxed, melancholic Geddy - but as the song devolves into unbearably bad string sections accompanied by AM jazz radio everyman-drumming (for shame, Neil Peart), ‘Tears’ turns into a lulling sapfest. ‘The Twilight Zone’ is much less offensive, as it sports a more than enjoyable, minimalist chorus and main riff/solo. Unfortunately, the disjointedness between the verses and chorus make the song a quizzically mismatched potpourri of different ideas.
As for 2112
’s status as a revered classic prog album - it’s undeniable that Rush deserve every bit of praise they get for the monumental title track, but it’s equally obvious that 2112
as an album is missing the pieces needed to make it perfect. Despite being arguably one of the most influential albums of all time, it’s not an entirely complete work. But hey. Best to give praise where praise is due, and as I said (albeit colloquially, for me) - ‘2112’ is basically the best song ever.