So why does Rush’s “2112” deserve to be the subject of a blog post? Considering the fact that listeners think Geddy Lee’s voice sounds either like an angel or a snow blower’s loose belt, I figured why start with something controversial? All kidding aside, the relative merits of “Rush’s” music have been discussed for nearly 40 years now with the critics nearly as rabid as the fan base. I’ll come right out and say that I’m definitely in the fan base but only potentially rabid.
Required blog basic facts about “2112”: It’s “Rush’s” 4th album, was released in 1976, their label told them don’t record a concept album, they did anyway, it sold a lot and solidified them as a recognized progressive rock group with hard rock tendencies.
The album contains 6 selections, with the title track taking up the entire first side. Although thought of as a concept album by lots of people, only the first side is conceptual. The second side is only exceptional.
Although most musicians now know who “Rush” is, there was a time when hardly anyone did. I first heard “Rush” on the anti-establishment radio station KILO in Colorado Springs. Back then KILO played new bands before other stations did. So, I’m listening to “Rush” and my friends are listening to “Captain & Tennille,” Elton John, the “Bee Gees,” and Carl Douglas. Kind of a social disconnect when I’m trying to explain the odd meters in “Bangkok” to a friend who thinks “Kung Fu Fighting” is the best song ever written. (It’s in the top 100 for me but man; Carl Douglas’ voice sounds like a snow blower’s loose belt.)
Also unlike today, when you opened the record, you could easily read the lyrics while listening to the music. With the title song “2112,” that is something you have to do if you are going to get the whole story. The song is described in the liner notes by the lead character, “Anonymous” written diary narrative and the sung lyrics. Reading “Anonymous” diary, which is interwoven with the sung lyrics, gives a lot more meaning to “2112.” Also, although many say that the resolution of the story is ambiguous, the “2112” tour book has the story’s ending written out! As a high school student at the time, I thought it was really innovative to require 3 sources to figure out a rock song’s meaning. What exactly did “We have assumed control” mean? And what was its relationship to Mr. P, my high school’s disciplinarian, if any?
In contrast, it wasn’t hard to figure out what Van McCoy’s “The Hustle” was about. Although I enjoyed that song (except for the loose snow blower belt background vocals), I liked having to actually think about the music and lyrics of “2112.”
Part of the problem between critics and fans of “Rush” is exactly that; thinking versus pure enjoyment. When they sounded like a “Led Zep” cover band, played everything in 4/4 feel and sang deeply emotional lyrics like “hey now baby, well, I like your smile,” everyone was cool with “Rush.” As soon as they started developing a more distinctive band sound based on high level musicianship, odd meters and more substantive lyrics, people who couldn’t stomach those characteristics began agreeing with the 1977 Detroit News that “Lead singer Geddy Lee continues to sound as though he played one football game too many without ample equipment, guitarist Alex Lifeson studies the stage charisma of the great guitarists without ever noticing their craft, and drummer Neil Peart should take a long, hard look at learning computer programming.” However, I doubt that the News reviewer actually got the fact that “Rush” was developing into a musician’s band.
While lots of bands can be appreciated for their dancing, odd outfits, social stands, personal triumphs and numerous other nonmusical aspects, so can football players or famous members of any other profession. With “Rush” you generally get high quality music and that is what musicians want. Whether you recognize it or not, there is a difference, however subtle, between a musician listening to a band and a non-musician encountering the same music. Although I enjoy football, I surely don’t know the feeling of being tackled by a 300 pound lineman or the exhilaration of catching a 50 yard touchdown pass. As a result, I can’t ever relate to that the way a person who has played football can. However, I do get the difficulty of playing 16th note Swiss triplets split between your hands and your feet in an experiential way a listener just can’t. That being said, just because “Rush” plays high quality music doesn’t mean that everyone has to like them. Appreciate, yes, but not like. I certainly appreciate the abilities of the master chef at the “2112 Restaurant” in Sweden when he creates crayfish salted ling but I don’t like it. Appreciating another’s abilities does not necessarily imply that one likes what they create with that ability.
So, enough talk. How about some musical reasons why 2112 is, as my 1970’s self, would say “Cool.” These are my top reasons why this album is musically great by track number and the time they occur in each track. Appreciate all you want, even if you don’t like.
Discovery section- 6:45- Who hasn’t picked up a guitar and just strummed the strings with no idea what they are doing? Even at 14 I got the humorous moment there and appreciated how after he tunes it at 7:40 he starts to play like a real guitarist would, moving from open strings to chord progressions. That moment still makes me laugh today.
“A Passage to Bangkok”
I spent weeks trying to figure out the instrumental section at 1:52 back in 1976 with no success until I figured out that music doesn’t have to have an even amount of beats in every phrase. Yeah, I was 14. This part starts at 1:52 with the drums staying in 4/4 through the whole instrumental section while the guitar and bass play 3 measures of 4/4 and then one of 7/8! For all musician-types that pushes the snare beats on 2 and 4 back a half beat 4 times until it matches up again on 2 and 4. For all non-musicians try to dance to the beat and you’ll get the idea without needing all the counting junk. Just as inspiring to me today as it was when I was 14. And the guitar solo isn’t bad either!
“The Twilight Zone”-
Still like the drum part at around 0:39 and how Neil doubles up the tempo at about 0:57. And I still wonder what that sound like a metal bottle falling over at 1:07 is. Anyone else ever pick that out? I guess saying I listened to this album a lot is an understatement. Kind of like saying King Kong was a small monkey.
To use my ‘70s words again, this just “grooves.” I like how from 1:27 to around 1:35 Alex’s guitar plays what Geddy sings. This repeats at 2:44 and is followed by a nice, melodic guitar solo as the tune slowly fades out while the solo gains intensity.
The electric bass part astounded me at the time because he played high notes. Around 0:50 until the delicate bass drum (yeah, I said bass drum) entrance at 0:59 is well worth multiple listens. And yes, I know there are some horribly out of tune notes both in the singing and instrumental parts
“Something for Nothing”
Although I like the music, the lyrics “What you own is your own kingdom, What you do is your own glory, What you love is your own power, What you live is your own story” had a huge impact on me as a 14 year old especially because I had just moved from a bigger suburban area in Ohio to the middle of rural Colorado. And the tom run down fill at 3:27, although not difficult, was and is still “cool.” As with the intonation problems in “Tears,” I admit that these are not the greatest of lyrics but do foreshadow the greater lyrics to follow in subsequent recordings.
So why again does “2112” deserve a blog post? Because I was asked to write about an album that I liked as a teen that I still like today; it’s a great example of how groups are adored and disliked passionately; because “Rush” has been an influential band for over 3 decades, and because if you haven’t heard it or dismissed it you should experience it again. As “Anonymous” sings with his discovered guitar: “Listen to my music, and hear what it can do, there’s something here as strong as life, I know that it will reach you.”
Buy all the drum parts for the 20 minute “2112” tune here.
And don’t forget the iconic 2112 Starman shirt.