Sunday, 9 April 2017

2112 - Rush

Provenance: I'm not sure why or where I bought this album. Fairly certain that it wasn't a gift. Who buys people Rush albums as presents? I knew I had it before university, as the following text will bear out.

Anyway, I was today reminded about Rush as my very good friend Birke matched with a guy on Tinder who said he was a fan. Big respect to anyone who goes public on a hookup site with that. Apparently he works at CERN, which makes sense.

This one's dedicated to you, Birke.

Review: I own not one, not two but five Rush studio albums. They're in a special CD rack that also has multiple albums by artists like Alice Cooper, Cheap Trick, Steely Dan and Tom Waits (though not Blue Oyster Cult - they have their own special rack). That I've bought many albums by these musicians suggests that I like their output, and indeed, many of the albums experience heavy rotation. But I literally had to dust off this motherfucker before putting it in my stereo. Five Rush albums, unplayed, unloved. What's the issue?

I guess it's this - in my head, Rush are a good band without ever being great, plus they wed too much of their material to the risible Objectivism of Ayn Rand. It's like biting into a nice juicy apple to find half a not-so-nice (but equally juicy) worm poking out. I've talked previously about how Ted Nugent's dumbass beliefs spoilt Craveman for me and I'm anticipating something similar here. The other misgiving I have with Rush is that they never overawed me with any one element of their music. Instead, I was often left with an impression of a group of songwriters hobbled by formality, creating a kind of prog that sounds like it was done with compasses and calculators. It never seemed to bounce along as well as a Yes song, was never as earthy as the best Jethro Tull, nor could it compete with the avant-garde leanings of King Crimson. Still, the whole point of this exercise is that I reappraise albums in my collection, so let's give 2112 a fair go.

I know I owned this album prior to university as I made one of my first friends on my course, Mike, discussing it. Specifically, side one - '2112', rather grandly split into seven parts. I credit Mike with opening my ears to the dazzling world of jazz music, but I recall vividly his summation of the intro to '2112' - "it's cool because in 'Overture' they play all the riffs in the coming sections, like it's a blueprint for what you're about to hear." Ha ha! It's not strictly true, but more or less right, and it's a beautiful way to think about it. And truly, I had forgotten how thrillingly virtuosic this section is.

Equally, I had forgotten just how mind-numbingly idiotic '2112' is as a story, and how irritating Geddy Lee's voice was back then. If I do listen to Rush these days it tends to be something more modern, because Lee's dog-bothering upper register is largely absent. No matter though - neither helium lungs nor stupid lyrics can spoil part two, 'The Temples of Syrinx'. Big, bombastic, exhilarating, fun even. The next section, 'Discovery', where a man finds an ancient relic we know to be a guitar (music is tightly controlled by the aforementioned clergy in this dystopian future) is cleverly done; the dissonance of an untuned guitar gently give way to pleasant arpeggios; and as this schmuck becomes more entranced with his discovery, the excitement is mirrored by changes in tempo and picking techniques. Alright, 2112 is pretty good so far.

Unfortunately, nothing in the coming sections of the '2112' suite quite matches either the power or cleverness of the opening two parts, in execution at least. If you don't give a fuck about the storyline - which I don't - then you've got a clutch of movements that start to sound fairly similar to each other, dynamically and tonally. Probably my favourite bit here is 'Grand Finale', where everything is sucked into a whirling sonic vortex and a sinister voice says some crap like "WE HAVE ASSUMED CONTROL", and authoritarianism, as we all know, is a totally metal thing (either its assertion, or busting free from its bonds).

Now it's side two - starting with the risible 'Passage To Bangkok', an absolute turd of a track. In its allusions to drug use this song gives the listener such a prod with the elbow that it would crack a rib or two. Everything fucking sucks, plus they use the 'Oriental riff' twice and I can't tell if they're being ironic or not (probably not), so it's a relief that the succeeding song 'The Twilight Zone' is rather good. Better than that - it's superb, combining punchy verses with a woozy, delicate chorus.

The quality is maintained with both 'Lessons', which marries a jangly Doobie Brothers feel in the verses to a hard rock chorus. It should be said that Lee's voice sounds great here, especially when doubling Alex Lifeson's guitar riff. Next up - 'Tears'. What a belter. Not only is it a welcome change of pace, it also possesses a hitherto unrevealed depth of emotion - a yearningly, achingly crystalline confection, and so simple too. I can play this on a single acoustic guitar and it sounds good (NB: everything sounds good in my capable hands).

Having exposed my prejudices prior to listening it feels as if I've unjustifiably maligned 2112. It's not perfect; that designation is reserved solely for Boston's debut and Steely goddamn Dan. The lyrics are still shite (Neil Peart, a supreme drummer, should have the pen wrestled out of his hands every time he goes near a piece of paper) but it's very listenable and, when one is in the right mood for Objectivist hokum, rather enjoyable.

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