Review Summary: Definitely a classic Rush’s album. This is Rush at their best and most prog.
“Hemispheres” is the sixth studio album of Rush and was released in 1978. The line up on the album is Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Pearl.
1978 marked the beginning of a very dark period for progressive rock music. The punk scene had arrived, bent on destroying everything and everyone that crossed its path. In addition, the press started to turn against progressive rock bands almost unanimously. For instance, a band like Yes, who had been hailed just a few years earlier, was now dubbed rock dinosaurs. All these changes in the musical environment, didn’t fail to have a deep impact on prog rock leading bands, causing many to disappear. So, new bands found it extremely difficult to secure recording deals, indeed.
But amidst this general malaise, one band’s star was rapidly rising. Of Canada had appeared a storm called Rush. Playing a kind of music that can be described as a combination of British art-rock and heavy metal they had conquered the live scene by gigging endlessly across America and Canada. Rush’s first three albums were no big commercial successes. The real breakthrough came in 1976, with the release of “2112”, an album that established Rush’s style for years to come. “A Farewell To Kings”, released in 1977, was a natural continuation after its predecessor. The album was more consistent than “2112”. However, “Hemispheres” marks the peak of what I consider to be Rush’s golden age.
“Hemispheres” continues the band’s explorations of their musical style and marks the peak of what I consider Rush’s golden era, the years between 1976 and 1981. “Hemispheres” is the second studio album of them that belongs to their second musical phase. It comprises also their fifth studio album “A Farewell To Kings” released in 1977, their seventh studio album “Permanent Waves” released in 1980 and their eighth studio album “Moving Pictures” released in 1981.
The album contains examples of Rush’s adherence to progressive rock standards including the use of epic, multi movement song structures, complex rhythms and time signatures and flexible guitar solos. The group had begun to use mini Moogs, and Pearl was also using a lot of bells and other stuff which added new colour to the band’s sound. In my humble opinion, this album has Rush’s most fully realised progressive rock sound. This is easily Rush’s finest music work. Four songs, each of them rock in their own special little way, and where each individual member is at their instrumental peak. “Hemispheres” is one of those albums that embody everything great about its constituent genre.
The entire first side of “Hemispheres” is taken up by “Cygnus X-1 Book II”, subtitled “Hemispheres”. It’s the second part of the “Cygnus”, the first part of which can be found on “A Farewell To Kings”, and is simply called “Cygnus X-1”. It combines the structure and themes of a Grecian tragedy with elements of science fiction. “Hemispheres” continues the journey of the hero from the last album, describing his ships journey to, and subsequent destruction by a black hole in the Cygnus constellation. It’s a wonderful epic track. It has multiple time signature changes, beautiful guitar solos and Geddy Lee gives one of his greatest vocal performances in his entire career. “Circumstances” is less complex than the previous track, but it’s an excellent straightforward rock track with some of Lifeson’s unusual rhythm guitar plating and some superb bass playing by Lee giving to it something extra and really good. “The Trees” in contrary to the heavy opening of “Circumstances”, starts off very gently with acoustic guitar and Lee singing over a nice bass line. The music starts building up in volume and the final result is a great Rush’s track. “La Villa Strangiato” is an instrumental track, the first by Rush, and is probably their most complex composition. Like “Hemispheres”, “La Villa Strangiato” achieves a brilliant balance of complexity and accessibility. The melodies are highly emotive while the endless array of changes in tempo, timbre and rhythm are totally dizzying. The final four minutes are especially staggering for my taste, really.
Conclusion: Unfortunately, “Hemispheres” became the last Rush’s studio album with lengthy pieces of music. In the 2010 documentary film “Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage”, the band members commented that the stress of recording “Hemispheres” was a major factor in their decision to start moving away from musical suites with long format in their song writing. The change in philosophy would manifest itself in the band’s next studio album, the considerably more accessible “Permanent Waves”. Honestly, I deeply regret that decision. “Hemispheres” is an album that combines perfectly well the best elements of Rush in a perfect blend. I’m talking about the power rock that featured a lot on their previous studio albums and the use of synthesizers that would increase more and more in their later studio albums. On “Hemispheres”, the power rock still adventurous and strong and the synthesizers add to the album a little extra, while still used sparingly. All these things make of “Hemispheres” as one of the best studio progressive rock albums ever.
Music was my first love.
John Miles (Rebel)