Friday, April 15, 2016

Rush 7: Hemispheres

When we last left the intrepid hero of “Cygnus X-1”, he was spinning through a black hole, both in the story as well as the center of the label of the album. Rush didn’t leave fans hanging for long, devoting the entire first side of Hemispheres to “Cygnus X-1: Book II”.
And what does somebody find on the other side of a black hole? Mount Olympus, of course, where Apollo and Dionysus rule each half of the brain. (Hence the album title, and cover.) Such extremes in loyalty threaten to incite a battle comparable to Armageddon, or so the lyrics would have us believe. The weary traveler’s “silent scream” shakes the opponents out of their stubbornness, and he is anointed “Cygnus, the God of Balance”.
All this happens within the space of 18 minutes, five banded sections of six parts, musically tighter than anything they’ve done yet. This half of the story is also not as tense as the other, even during the “battle”. Synthesizers creep further in, dominating the track from the start, expanding the palette and vista. There’s even a moment of bass harmonics that foreshadow a future favorite, making this album certainly appealing to new fans going backwards.
Few bands still active after a decade of prog suites were still writing them, so in addition to closing the book (sorry) on Cygnus, side two sets up the future pretty well. “Circumstances” is straightforward rock, laden with self-analysis. The kids really liked “The Trees”, from its nursery-rhymey lyrics, intricate guitar picking and tuned wood blocks. It also introduces a key element heretofore buried in their liner notes: humor. This truly comes forth in the album’s finale. While another lengthy instrumental, “La Villa Strangiato” is split in to twelve sections, with such subtitles as “A Lerxst In Wonderland”, “Monsters!”, “The Waltz Of The Shreves” and “A Farewell To Things”—all in-jokes destined to become more elaborate in time. But the piece truly flows, with well-paced dynamics, alternately rocking and sometimes silly. Even the casual listener will recognize the melody of the “Monster!” sections from plenty of classic cartoons.
The balance and restraint on side two help offset the indulgences of side one; for instance, the big flourish after Cygnus is anointed as a god should have ended the suite, but for a quiet postlude better suited to Shakespearean performances than an album side. Nowadays, people will likely stream Hemispheres or listen to the disc in one pass; even so, the structure the band intended has been preserved due to the first half being one long piece.
Law dictated that a 40th Anniversary Edition must appear, and it did; the audio bonuses this time were limited to their set from the 1979 Pinkpop Festival, with a slightly muddy “2112” from a show the previous fall. In keeping with tradition the Super Deluxe Edition added a Blu-ray, the audio on vinyl, a book, and more memorabilia. Oh, and new artwork.

Rush Hemispheres (1978)—
2018 40th Anniversary Edition: same as 1978, plus 10 extra tracks

1 comment:

  1. I had to go back and listen to this CD again, after reading this post. No wonder why I have only listed to this 2-3 times, I HATE it.