There is perhaps no band more ubiquitous for the more esoteric and literary listener than the Canadian prog-rock band Rush. Despite the group’s relative self-absorption and objectively simplistic lyrics that more often than not comprise grand fantasy and science-fiction epics to rival the works of Tolkien and Heinlein, Rush is still a go-to band for the more nerdy and obsessive audiophile. And their decided courtship of some of the more involved aspects of genre fiction has lent them a certain socio-cultural cache that places them in the realm of bands who appeal to a very specific milieu, namely the suburban white male, of an approximate age of thirteen to twenty-five. The fact of the matter is that Rush stands for an incredibly unhip brand of music, even within the realm of other progressive rock acts from the 1970s, and as such avowing one’s appreciation for the band can be greeted with nothing short of a round of raucous guffaws and derisive snorts of displeasure and distaste.
But then why is it that the fourth Rush album, originally recorded forty years ago this month, remains one of their most widely referenced and easily citable progressive rock LPs of the past half century? 2112 is just as irreverent and ridiculous as any of the group’s other records, not to mention a number of other contemporary musical acts from the golden era of rock and roll, yet it is also one of the best Rush albums over the course of the group’s forty-plus years in the business. Borrowing heavily from the dystopia-styled fiction of popular philosopher-cum-novelist Ayn Rand, the album’s eponymous first side comprises a twenty-minute long, seven-part suite that tells a fairly conventional tale of a dictatorial government, called the Red Star of the Solar Federation, ruled over by the censorious Priests of the Temples of Syrinx, who control all forms of consumer based media, written, performed, and drawn.
The second side of the album consists of five unrelated and entirely self-contained singles short and poppy enough for top forty radio, and serve no purpose beyond filling out the rest of the record, while drawing the listener’s attention back the titular suite that has since become one of the most recognizable multi-part concept recordings in rock and roll history. Granted, “2112” is nothing earth-shattering in terms of lyric scope or potency, as the story that lead songwriter and drummer Neil Peart tells is entirely recycled from science-fiction novelists such as Rand and a plethora of others. But what makes the album such a monumental achievement within the realm popular music comes in its far-reaching impact that stems largely from the album’s essential simplicity. The story that Peart’s lyrics tell, as sung by lead bassist Geddy Lee and backed up by the musical compositions supplied by lead guitarist Alex Lifeson, are immediately accessible to the average listener, even if they aren’t as well versed in Objectivist literature as some Rush listeners undoubtedly are.
Like the Starman emblem featured on the album’s cover art, 2112 is an album that stands for the individual who stands against the tide of social complacency. It doesn’t matter that the band is fairly ridiculous when compared to all of the other artists performing around them, or that the cultural cache which Lee, Lifeson, and Peart have built up around themselves in the intervening forty years since the album’s initial recording and subsequent release have made Rush into something of the butt of every joke about progressive rock bands. Rush might be unhip, but when the first chords kick in at the beginning of the “2112” overture, before the entire song begins chugging along with a ferocity and tenacious energy specifically belonging to the group in question, the band’s musical talent and technical ability becomes undeniable, and the listener is swept up in a story as old as any other, though it has never sounded quiet as good before.
There is nothing about Rush that makes them an essential band objectively speaking, but the raw power of the three Canadians put together makes up for one of the most indispensable rock and roll acts of the past fifty years, and all of their particular charm is perfectly distilled in 2112. Where the group had previously explored high-concept songs on Caress of Steel one year prior to their 1976 opus, it is on their fourth LP that Lee, Lifeson, and Peart truly begin to explore the kind of thematic territory that which their undeniably compelling musical abilities would serve to supplement in the years to come. The group’s perhaps more streamlined and punchier hits from the early 1980s would not have been possible without the monumental achievement that is 2112. Without “The Temples of Syrinx,” there would be no Permanent Waves in 1980; without “Discovery,” there would be no Moving Pictures in 1981; and without “Grand Finale,” there would be no Signals in 1982.
However idiosyncratic the group may appear at times, Rush is a band that demands to be heard within the context of seminal progressive rock bands to come out of the 1970s, and their fourth album from 1976 is perhaps their earliest and greatest accomplishment to date. 2112 is a sprawling concept record that delivers in every way imaginable, bearing equal parts hard rocking transcendence and heady, faux-cerebral pretention, which collectively establishes the record as one of the very best of its kind and era. Bands like Yes or Emerson, Lake & Palmer might be more self-assured and professional seeming, but it is Rush that delivers every time you put one of their LPs on the turn table, or blast 2112 through your Apple ear bud speakers as you proceed to jam along with Lee, Lifeson, and Peart on their epic Randian odyssey of rebellion and joyous rock and roll. Rush might be unhip, but their ability to rock selflessly and without apology, despite whatever other forms of pretention which they might court openly to the point of self-conscious narcissism, makes them a band to celebrate as their 1976 magnum opus 2112 turns forty.
Featured Image: Mercury
2/1/16: Edited for content