Review Summary: The final step in their ascent.
Back to a time when our weary world was young, there was more potency on the radio, more exploration in our rock and roll and, most importantly, the business aspect of music was not so overwhelmingly dominant as it is today. Back then, the 60's and much of the 70's and early 80's, what one heard on the radio as backed by popular demand as much as it was by the ear of discerning jockeys far and wide. It's not that the quality was much better, it's that the popularity of quality wasn't as decidedly...abstract?...as it is today. A band like Rush, at that point in time, had a much easier time than they would have today. Of course, they were establishing their name for years before Hemispheres dropped, but the intense popularity of the record amongst their fan base has as much to do with the visibility it was given at the time as it does word-of-mouth and pre-exposed word-of-mouth.
Truthfully, by the time Hemispheres was released, I think Rush had already run the well dry on the thematic extended-length suite ideas. 2112 was not polished but had an inherent rebellion that applied itself to like-minded listeners. Cygnus X-1 (A Farewell To Kings) had the polish, but lacked the ease of lyrical attachment and emotional impact the former delivered. The conclusion to Cygnus, dominating the first half of Hemispheres, is certainly a technical masterpiece, but suffers from overbearing length, a "been there done that" feel and, perhaps most disappointing, a lack of continuity from the original Cygnus. It's enjoyable in and of itself, but doesn't quite stand the test of time the way other concept pieces of theirs have. No, what truly made this album so memorable were the other three tracks; the enjoyable and underrated "Circumstances", the timeless political/social fable nestled in "The Trees" and the absolutely brilliant, technically stunning instrumental "La Villa Strangiato". These tracks, the latter two especially, would become staples of Rush's set lists from then on.
This would mark the last album in which a Rush song lasted longer than 10 minutes. And I personally think they could have made that decision sooner. It's well apparent via interviews that it was the band's consensus to do away with the extended-length epics in favor of shorter, more concise songwriting. While Hemispheres holds a special place in many a Rush fan's heart, the next time anyone would hear a new Rush song, it would begin with a riff and lyrics that, even today, are instantly recognizable. Hemispheres was, for all intent and purpose, the emptying of the band's "progressive conceptual" phase.
(And yeah, I wrote this before)