Review Summary: The first in a streak of huge successes, 2112 may not be Rush's best record but it's certainly one of their most important.
Chapter IV: Back on Their Feet
Caress of Steel was considered a huge disappointment for Rush, who almost instantly abandoned traditional hard rock (except for a few songs like "Bastille Day") for the more complex progressive rock route. Many fans weren't able to deal with such a swift change in the band's sound at the time, and the album's tour was eventually known as the "Down the Tubes" Tour because of extremely poor concert revenue. Not only that, but the album itself was very disjointed and overlong, a harsh departure from the consistency the band's previous two records. But Rush, sticking to their guns, refused to listen to Mercury Records and ended up not selling out. Proof? Look at the next effort 2112, with a 20-minute epic literally opening the damn album! Naturally, the record label were praying that Rush knew what they were doing because people feared that the band would be done for good. Luckily, everyone was dead wrong.
2112 ended up selling more than people expected, and has garnered numerous accolades over the years; to this day, it's considered one of Rush's best albums and a classic work of progressive rock. If anything, the title track certainly suggests this as it's one of Rush's finest pieces. Clocking in at 20:34, the epic illustrates a world where priests (of the Temples of Syrinx, of course) rule every facet of everyday life and one man discovers an old guitar that is deemed obsolete by these Priests. Meanwhile, all planets are ruled by The Solar Federation as a result of a large scale war. This whole story is fascinating to listen to with the music and keeps the listener's attention throughout; the music also sees a huge upgrade from the previous album as one would expect. Spacey synthesizers kick off a thundering hard rock overture, with every tempo/time signature change performed more fluidly than with the previous album's epics. There are seven sections of the song in all, none going past the 4:33 mark; this is refreshing in its own right, as no segment overstays its welcome. One particular section to note is the Discovery portion, in which the volume dies down and the listener is given some nice atmosphere. Once the man in the story fully tunes the guitar he found, the melodies played by Alex Lifeson are beautiful and give off a feeling of renewal. The last thing to mention is the ending of the song, which is pretty unusual; the heaviness of the piece reaches its climax as the drum fills are going crazy and the guitar distortion is more intense. An announcement comes on: "Attention all planets of the Solar Federation; we have assumed control." It's interesting how the song has a bit of an ambiguous approach to the story as it concludes, but it's cool seeing different theories float around about it. Either way, the song is amazing. It's Rush's first successful epic, maintaining its freshness even today.
The other songs, however, are a mixed bag. They range from great ("Passage to Bangkok," "Something for Nothing") to alright ("The Twilight Zone") to downright awful ("Lessons," and ESPECIALLY "Tears"). To start on a positive note, "Passage to Bangkok" is an extremely fun, drug-influenced hard rock song that benefits from a strong Lifeson riff and solid Geddy Lee vocals. "Something for Nothing" is especially great, mixing a heavy guitar sound in the chorus with cleanly played verses. The dynamics are well-done and the tempo changes keep your interest until the end. But let's talk about "Tears" for a second... it's AWFUL! It features some of the worst attempts at melancholy, the overall product sounding more sappy than endearing. Then again, with a song title like "Tears" coming from Rush, I guess it's probably a bit expected. Anyway, the instrumentation is sparse on this one, especially in terms of alarmingly simple drumming from Neil Peart. But as I said before, what makes it fail is the poor attempt at a sad atmosphere; future songs such as "Roll the Bones" and "Red Sector A" would prove to be better examples of a dark vibe by Rush.
So how does it all add up? Even though there are some very weak tracks on this, the record as a whole is still quite well done. The title track alone is a 5/5, but there are good songs during the album's second half as well, particularly "Passage to Bangkok" and "Something for Nothing." If you can get past some mediocrity, the overall reward is still more than worth the price of admission.