The Story of Rush’s Brazen, Long-Form Breakthrough on ‘2112’
The epic title track of Rush's 2112 was 20:33 in length and occupied the entire first side of the album. Because of that, the triple-platinum project – released on April 1, 1976 – is often mistakenly identified as a concept album. While there was indeed a long-form subject attached to the title track, the entire second side of songs are unrelated to the storyline laid out by 2112, technically striking it from true “concept album” status – though spirited music fans will continue to argue otherwise.
At the time 2112 was released, the members of Rush were at a crossroads. Their previous album, 1975's Caress of Steel, had contained two lengthy concept-based pieces ("The Fountain of Lamneth" and "The Necromancer") which gave a hint that the band might be planning to stretch out on their next release. But the record tanked and left the future Canadian musical superheroes feeling like they were under a lot of pressure to deliver with the follow-up. Specifically, the record company was urging Rush that another conceptual release wouldn’t be in their best interests.
With a concept already in mind for 2112, however, the band decided to play the odds and move ahead with their plans anyway. Guitarist Alex Lifeson told Classic Rock Magazine that their attitude was unflappable. “We said: 'We're going to make 2112 and if we go down in flames then at least they're our flames!'”
2112 was a seven-part creation devised by Geddy Lee and Lifeson, with Neil Peart writing the words that would provide the story. In Peart’s tale, a man faces off against the "Priests of the Temples of Syrinx" who are in charge of content regulation for all beings. He discovers a guitar but upon sharing his findings with the Priests, it is destroyed.
Going into hiding, he imagines a life minus the controlling aspects of the Priests. Eventually, our hero can’t escape the darkness and commits suicide. Simultaneously, a new battle begins to erupt, culminating in the spoken voiceover “Attention all planets of the Solar Federation: We have assumed control.” (It’s not exactly a storybook happy ending for our man.)
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The main character is depicted on the back of the album cover. It's the first appearance of the famous Starman logo that became a much-loved symbol who would go on to appear on six additional Rush album covers.
Peart acknowledges the “genius” of author Ayn Rand on the sleeve notes for 2112, having borrowed a large part of the structural idea for the plotline from Rand’s Anthem. As Classic Rock notes, her “free-market mania, fanatical opposition to 'collectivism' and literal celebration of selfishness” made Rand someone who was “definitely not a cool name to drop.” But when have you ever known Rush to be concerned with something like that?
It’s interesting to listen to 2112 now and ponder how it would be received as an album in today’s musical climate. While there are certainly groups that are issuing concept albums/tracks and similarly lengthy pieces of music in the present, would Rush’s music enjoy the same rabid following they built in their heyday, or would they have a smaller fringe audience similar to the ones currently following other modern progressive-rock groups?
Though Rush has since pledged to curtail their touring schedule, they performed the title track in its entirety to delighted concert audiences worldwide during their 1996 tour for Test For Echo, a moment that is preserved on the band’s Different Stages live release. In 2012, the group released both deluxe and super-deluxe re-issues of 2112, giving fans the chance to hear the album mixed in surround sound, among other things.
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