Updated: Jan 20, 2020
Following Neil Peart's tragic and untimely death (f*** cancer), it only felt right to review a Rush album for this week's retrospective review. Not only was he an absolute magician with a drum kit, he was also a brilliant lyricist (regardless of his influences, which will be touched upon later).
Rush were struggling in the lead up to 2112. During the tour to promote their previous album, audience numbers had been dwindling and their latest songs were receiving a rather lukewarm reception by those who did show up. That was their third album, and that can often be the album that makes or breaks a band. Bassist and frontman Geddy Lee said that the reaction to the band on this tour left them "confused and dishearted", and guitarist Alex Lifeson later said he felt close to giving the band up at this stage.
Their label also nearly dropped them, but eventually decided to give them a chance at redemption. The label called for them to head into slightly more mainstream territory which would give them more radio airplay, but the band disregarded these requests in order to "continue forward", with an attitude of "whatever happens, happens".
What did happen was an album of huge scale, excellent storytelling and one which brought the band back in a big way.
It's only six tracks long - but then, the title track is a 20 minute colossus which takes up the entirety of side one. A gargantuan masterpiece, it saw Rush enter more serious territory than they ever had before, with Peart being heavily inspired by the works of Ayn Rand, whom they call a "genius" in the liner notes.
Now, before any readers twist themselves up about this, Peart, who was nicknamed 'The Professor' due to his talents, was asked in 2012 if he still follows Rand's work. "Oh, no. That was forty years ago. But it was important to me at the time in a transition of finding myself and having faith that what I believed was worthwhile." Towards the end of his life, he was a "bleeding-heart Libertarian". Now, whether you're a Libertarian or not, it's better than Ayn Rand.
Frankly, its inspiration is something that shouldn't bother you - it's still brilliant. Telling the story of a man who lives on a planet ruled by an authoritarian regime that suppresses creativity and individuality, it's a fascinating listen and one that stays with you. If anyone struggles to truly understand what's going on just through the lyrics alone, there is a music video to it on YouTube which visualises the song in a comic book style. It's very well done and thoroughly recommended.
Of course, it goes beyond the lyrics. Peart's drumming, Lee's delivery and Lifeson's excellent guitars, along with the song's composition and structure (basically everythat about it, then), ensure that it is one of the greatest pieces that prog-rock has ever come out with, if not THE greatest.
There is a side two to the album, of course, and it's good. Though they aren't part of the story of side one, some of the songs still follow a similar theme, with 'Something for Nothing' discussing free will. Conversely, the opening two tracks are about marijuana and the TV show The Twilight Zone, which are more indicative of what side two is - lighter and more fun. It has a very different tone to side one, which gives side two an incentive; as brilliant as side one is, having another dose of it on side two may have been too much. As it is, side two can be used to relax, a fact which fans were likely grateful for.
Despite this being their fourth record, Lifeson would later describe 2112 as the first album that "really sounded like Rush". A few years later they'd be releasing classics such as 'Tom Sawyer' and 'The Spirit of Radio', but perhaps they wouldn't have even been around then had it not been for 2112. It's an excellent record, a prog classic, and we owe it to Peart to blast it out once again. RIP.