Sunday, July 10, 2016

Rush- Hemispheres

Rush- Hemispheres: Released in 1978 for Mercury Records.
Favorite Song- Hemispheres.
A Farewell To Kings was a sizable hit for Rush, charting number 33 in the US and number 22 in the UK, definitely thanks to the success of the hit single "Closer to The Heart", which has become one of their signature songs. Riding the wave, Rush re-released their first three albums in the box set Archives, and toured relentlessly from September 1977 all the way through May of 1978. After the extensive tour came to an end, Rush went back into Rockfield Studios, under the wing of Terry Brown, to record their sixth album, Hemispheres. It continued the Farewell to Kings format of two epics book-ending shorter songs, and continues it's "Progressive hard rock" sound. However, while A Farewell to Kings featured 4 shorter songs, Hemispheres features just 2. The instrumentation, by this point, has become incredibly diverse, with Geddy playing bass, vocals, synth, (a Minimoog and Oberheim Polyphonic) and bass pedals, Alex playing electric, acoustic, and classical guitar, and synth, and Neil playing drums, glockenspiel, bell tree (!), bells, tympani, gong, cowbell, temple blocks (!), wind chimes, and crotales (!).

As for the album itself, it's just as good as the masterpieces that came before it, as Rush continues to stay at their peak. Geddy's voice is just as powerful and screamy as ever, and the instrumental machine is still crankin'. Synths continue to slowly creep into the bands sound, but they work, providing a solid backing for the main guitar parts. And the songs themselves are all astounding, ranging from great to masterpiece. 

The masterpiece comes from the title track, Rush's last side-long epic, and definitely the second best Rush song of all time, only behind "2112".  The story of the song is garbage,  and makes "2112" look like a masterpiece of fine literature. Here is is, as paraphrased from Wikipedia.

"Apollo represents the left hemisphere of the brain, Dionysus the right. They pull man in opposite directions, towards Order and Chaos, respectively. The debate between classical and romantic cultures is ongoing. The explorer from "Cygnus X-1" enters Olympus, frightened by the fighting, and is declared Cygnus, the God Of Balance. Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility is quoted in the last few lines of the song"

Though the story might be just Greek God fanfiction, the song itself is a masterpiece. The song bursts out at you immediately, with the opening guitar cords of "Prelude" sure to blow out your speakers if you're not prepared. The melodies in this section are great. I really love the WICKED, super-menacing section near the start, as well as the relaxing, ambient guitar lines that are later featured in Parts II and III. All of the melodies eventually get reprised later in the song, a tradition of Rush's big epics. After 2 minutes, this section fades out, but a soft, synth driven part continues in the background, which sounds really nice, with some pretty good bass-lines. The guitar then enters, and goes into a section that reminds me of "Xanadu"  The vocals enter around the 3 minute mark, and they're incredible, with Geddy screeching out the lyrics like only he can.  The guitar lines in the background are also really good, with a nice chorus effect on them, a first for Rush. The section continues, with more great guitar and synth lines. This section then fades out, and you might think the song is over right there.

However, it's not the end, merely the beginning, as we go into the second part of the song, "Apollo: Bringer of Wisdom". This section is great, alternating between a hard-driving section and a slower, relaxing, pleasant section, with a nice guitar melody with a neat chorus effect. Both sections are great, and the transition is seamless. We then go into the next part of the song, which reprises the basic melody of the lyrical part of Prelude, and it's just as great here as there. The vocals are also really good here. The guitar solo in this part is great too, bordering on shredding, but it doesn't sound excessive, more fitting in with the song, and not "Look at me, I can play guitar really fast". 

We then go into the third part of the song, "Dionysus: Bringer Of Love". This section has the same basic melody as Part II, and it's just as great here as there. Afterwards, things get much more menacing, as we head into the fourth part, "Armageddon: The Battle of Heart and Mind". The guitar riffing in this section is KILLER, especially the arpeggio lines early on, the pleasant synth lines provide some nice accompaniment and contrast, and Geddy's forceful singing complements it perfectly. We then go into a more upbeat section, which is also really good, with more great melodies (with a reprisal of the Cygnus X-1 theme at one point) and singing (I love the way he sings "Spiraled through that timeless SPACE, into THIS! IMMORTAL!  PLAAAACE!"). 

However, as great as these parts are, they simply can't compare to the centerpiece of the song, the beyond amazing "Cygnus: Bringer of Balance". All of the instruments cut out, leaving just some STUNNING, eerie beyond belief, and WONDERFULLY ATMOSPHERIC synth lines. The vocals then enter, with an INCREDIBLE sounding, otherworldy effect put on them, and the soft vocal lines add to that effect perfectly. We then go back into a reprise of the Prelude, with Geddy singing tons of REALLY POWERFUL vocal lines. Then comes a cool guitar solo, and then, a reprise of another part of "Apollo/Dionysis", another great instrumental section, and a "big rock ending". Wow!

We finally close out with an acoustic outro, "The Sphere: A Kind Of Dream". And it's beautiful,  driven by some wonderful soft vocals and pleasant guitar lines, even if it feels a bit tacked-on. Also, I know I don't care much about lyrics, but I have to say that the lyrics in this section are GREAT. A nice end to a masterwork of music. 

The other songs are no slouch, however. The riff-rock of "Circumstances" is up next, and it's another strong track, driven by 2 great guitar riffs (Yay!) over which Geddy sings some of the most feminine-sounding vocals he would ever do, as well as more powerful, strong screeches in the chorus, with great vibrato. The instrumental section is great too, driven by some pleasant bell and synth parts, before going into a heavier section, which also sounds great, with great guitar lines. 

The mega-hit of the album, of course, is "The Trees". Part of the song's fame, of course, comes from the ambiguity of the lyrics. Is it an unironic tale of trees arguing, stupid as it sounds, or an allegory for Communism? The choice is yours. Personally, I lead towards the former, as Neil said it himself, and I believe his word. Sure, it's kinda strange, but if Bowie could write a song about his girlfriend crawling into a TV, and if Led Zeppelin could write songs about Lord of the Rings, then why can't Rush write a song about trees arguing? Lyrics aside, the song is a wonderful one. The song starts off with a pretty acoustic intro, with Geddy doing some very low vocals. The song then BLASTS out into a heavier section, with great guitars and vocals. The instrumental section is nice too, starting with some neat quiet guitar, synth, and bells, with some cool synth-bass bursts as well, then shifts into a more uptempo section driven by a great riff, powerful drums, and nice bass. It goes back into a heavier section, with nice bell breaks, and more excellent guitar, before going back to the main song. The ending is awesome as well. ("BY HATCHET. AX. AND SAW!").

We close things out with Rush's first instrumental, and one of their most well-known, "La Villa Strangiato", based on a dream of Alex. It's definitely Rush's most complex, going through 12 different sections in 9 minutes (Some only 10 seconds long!). We start with "Buenas Noches, Mein Froinds", which is a neat, Spanishy acoustic intro. "To Sleep, Perchance To Dream", starts with a neat repeated guitar sequence, with fat synths and bells, and it's good, even if it sounds a bit cartoonish. Neil also plays some cool drums in the background. The song builds in intensity, building more and more tension as all the instruments get louder and louder, before going into the main section of the part, "Strangiato Theme". Driven by a wonderful guitar riff, great synth lines, and powerful drums, with two cool guitar solos as well. "A Lerxst In Wonderland" follows, driven by a drum beat over which Lifeson plays some REALLY cool spacey guitar, which leads into a cool, shredding solo, before going into another laid back section, with some very fat, bassy synths leading the way. 

Lifeson's guitar then BURSTS out, as we then head into "Monsters!". This section has a fast, powerful riff, which was actually ripped off of Raymond Scott's "Powerhouse" (Which you may know from Looney Tunes). "The Ghost Of Aragon" comes next, which begins the jam section of the song, with great guitar, drums, and bass, all playing off of each-other to create tons of cool sounds. "Danforth And Pape" continues the jam, with more guitar, bass, and drum interplay, with all doing tons of WILD soloing. "The Waltz of The Shreves" (What a delightful name) is a waltz, and features one killer riff after another, "Never Turn Your Back On A Monster!" is a slow reprise of the "Powerhouse" riff, which is then reprised in the fittingly titled "Monsters Reprise". We finally close out with a reprise of the main Strangiato theme, fittingly titled "Strangiato Theme Reprise" (How creative), before "A Farewell To Things" sends us out with a reprise of the Monsters riff. Overall, a great, VERY complex instrumental, though "YYZ" is better.

Overall, another fantastic album from everyone's favorite Canadian rock band (Sorry, Nickelback). Great songs, great instrumentals, great singing, what more do you want? Despite the success of "The Trees", the album only charted number 47 in the US, though it made 14 in the UK and has since been regarded as one of their best. It definitely deserves it. 5/5. 

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