For those who didn’t know, Rush is comprised of official Canadians, Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart. Neil Pert recently, and very publicly, passed away. This lodged a little seedling into my mind that I absolutely had to dedicate one of the AOTMs to Rush. Doing my preliminary reading around the issue has revealed that my knowledge of Rush is dwarfed by almost everyone I have read. To save myself the tedium of bringing myself up to speed and you, dear readers, the impression that I don’t know what I am talking about, I shall remain where I am comfortable for the duration of this review. I encourage you to read the reviews hidden behind hyperlinks spread around this review.
The music is complex and flowing with a lush production. Like the previous four studio album, Hemispheres was produced by Terry Brown. Influenced by progressive rock bands like Yes and King Crimson, the group set out to make more complex music, stretching the maximum potential of three rock musicians to be replicated in live situations. Lead vocalist and bassist Geddy Lee added Minimoog synthesizer and bass pedals to his arsenal while guitarist Alex Lifeson experimented with classical and twelve-string guitars, often using a holder stand to easily switch between guitars live. Peart continued to add diverse percussion to his ever-growing drum set, including timpani, blocks, orchestral bells, chimes, and melodic cowbells. Classic Rock Review
Hemispheres opens with a follow up from the last track on Farewell to Kings; Cygnus X1 Book II: Hemispheres. This 18 minute long track which takes us on a whirlwind tour of the Greek mythology of Apollo, the god of reason, and Dionysus, the god of love. This pseudo-classical offering is exemplary of Rush’s progressive rock leanings at the time of Hemispheres. This was to change for their next album, Permanent Waves, which I have on vinyl somewhere. In all, Hemispheres is a singular track which blew me away with its technical brilliance.
As Bowman writes: “Rush deployed what had now become the standard conventions of their composition strategy; multiple key signatures, ambiguous tonal centers, tritone relationships, shifting meters (at various points in the piece they play in 12/8, 9/8. 7/8, 5/4 and 4/4), multiple themes that reoccur at significant distances often in different guises, substantial changes in dynamics, atypical melodic patterns, and the juxtaposition of Lee’s rich baritone and strained counter tenor voices, all executed with virtuosic, extraordinarily precise musicianship.” Consequence of Sound
Circumstances might be my favourite track on the album. This is largely due to the fact they sing ‘Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose’, one of my favourite French idioms. Neil Pert supposedly wrote this song about the monotony of not succeeding as a rock drummer. Indeed many of us will feel ‘trapped by circumstances’ at the moment and this song is wonderfully liberating. This is Rush at their best. Pert’s drumming is extraordinary, Lee’s Rickenbacker Bass is stunning and Lifeson’s vocals are just high pitch enough for you to enjoy trying to sing along.
The philosophy continues with “The Trees”, a parable on socialism and collectivism. Here, Lifeson takes center stage from his classical acoustic intro through the incredible movement through differing guitar textures. Like “Circumstances”, there is another mid-section which starts with some synth and percussion motifs before breaking into a full band jam, which brings the tune to a fevered conclusion with an ironic lyrical ending. Classic Rock Review
I love Trees. I love the inventiveness of writing a song about Maples wanting more light from Oaks. This can be seen as a grand metaphor for justice and liberty or fighting for the rights of the oppressed but in truth it has no meaning at all. Pert noted the following in the April/May 1980 edition of Modern Drummer: “No. It was just a flash. I was working on an entirely different thing when I saw a cartoon picture of these trees carrying on like fools. I thought, ‘What if trees acted like people?’ So I saw it as a cartoon really, and wrote it that way. I think that’s the image that it conjures up to a listener or a reader. A very simple statement.” Watch out for the percussion intermission in the middle of this track.
La Villa Strangiato is titled after a melding of the Italian and Spanish words for strange (Strana and extraño – strangely, the adjective has a masculine ending though it follows a feminine noun). The song is split into 12 movements as follows:
I– Buenos Nochas, Mein Froinds!,
II– To Sleep, Perchance To Dream,
III– Strangiato Theme,
IV– A Lerxst in Wonderland,
VI– The Ghost of the Aragon,
VII– Danforth and Pape,
VIII– The Waltz of the Shreves,
IX– Never Turn Your Back on a Monster!,
X– Monsters! (Reprise),
XI- Strangiato Theme (Reprise),
XII– A Farewell To Things.
This instrumental masterpiece is the perfect way of closing Hemispheres. Pert once joked that he spent more time on this one track than on the entirety of Fly By Night, one of the band’s earlier albums. It is easy to see why. Following on from the pseudo-classical theme of the first track on this album, we finish in splendid fashion with this divine composition.
Overall, Hemispheres is a much treasured album which will be listened to time after time, never losing its lustre. I highly encourage you all to hear it.