Rush – Hemispheres (40th Anniversary Edition)


Continuing what now seems like an annual instalment of Anniversary releases from Rush, 2018 brings the 40th Anniversary version of Hemispheres, commemorated in multiple formats, and augmented by a recording of the band’s appearance at the Pinkpop festival in 1979, plus, in the deluxe editions, a Blu ray with promotional videos and a 5.1 Surround mix of the album. At the time of writing, review copies of the various packages hadn’t been made available, so I can’t pass judgement on the remixes, but revisiting the album and looking at its place in the history of the band has highlighted what an interesting part it played in their career, not mention being a fascinating record as well.

Hemispheres followed on from the huge success of A Farewell To Kings, and so, not unreasonably, the band tried to recreate some of the magic by returning to Rockfield Studios in Monmouth, but the process was a lot more fraught than before, with it taking over twice as long to record and mix as its predecessor. One of the problems was that the band entered the studio with very little in the way of pre-production, other than a difficult two weeks of rehearsal. In the end they emerged with an album in the same format as the mighty 2112, with the first side of the vinyl comprised of a single, side-long piece, and three shorter numbers on the other. The grandiosely titled ‘Cygnus X-1 – Book II – Hemispheres’ continued the narrative of ‘Cygnus X-1’, the song that closed A Farewell to Kings, following the story of a lone astronaut who falls into a black hole and emerges in the middle of a war between the Gods of Olympus. It’s the band’s third and last attempt at an epic that would fill one side of a vinyl album, after ‘The Fountain of Lamneth’ on Caress of Steel and the title track of 2112, and while it doesn’t quite achieve the heights of the latter, it does stand up in its own right, the narrative of the story is clear and delivers it’s message without any sermonising, and the music is typical Rush, confident, inventive yet perfectly structured, with the various themes expertly woven in and out of the story.

However it stands up against 2112, it’s definitely arguable that the shorter numbers, which formed Side Two of the original album are stronger than on the earlier album. ‘Circumstances’, an insistent rocker, ‘The Trees, while one of the band’s most controversial songs lyrically, is an absolute treat musically, especially the instrumental break, as it moves from Geddy’s synthesiser solo into one of Alex Lifeson’s finest solos. Then there’s the nine minute instrumental, La Villa Strangiatto, where the band just squared their shoulders, gave full rein to their creativity and as good as invented Progressive Metal while they were about it. By all accounts, it was a nightmare to record, but the end result is an astonishing piece of work.

For the bonus material, I’m pleased to say that the cover versions that were included on previous Anniversary releases have been ditched and replaced with a live album, the first official recording of the band’s appearance at the Pinkpop Festival in Holland in 1979, part of the legendary ‘Tour of the Hemispheres’. Most hardcore Rush fans will be familiar with this, it’s been widely bootlegged, especially after an edited version was broadcast on the Friday Rock Show not long afterwards, and also released as an ‘unofficial bootleg’ on the ‘Smokin’ label a couple of years ago. The original recording was incomplete as part of ‘2112’ was missing, so to make up we have a complete unreleased version from the previous year. If you don’t have one of the other releases of this gig, and even if you do, it’s well worth acquiring this, the band are on fire, the live versions of songs like ‘A Passage to Bangkok’, ‘Xanadu’ and ‘La Villa Strangiatto’ are very close to definitive, and there’s also a track that isn’t included elsewhere, ‘Something For Nothing’.

The album as a whole might not be Rush’s greatest, and chronologically it’s perhaps unfortunate to have come in the middle of four of their greatest works, 2112 and A Farewell To Kings previously, and Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures afterwards, although it would take a pretty awesome album not to be overshadowed by that lot. It’s interesting that in some interviews Geddy has said that the process of recording the album was so stressful that the band took a break afterwards and later made a conscious decision to concentrate on shorter, more concise material in the future, a decision that led directly to the triumphs to come. However, what is probably Rush’s proggiest album, and, interestingly, Steven Wilson’s favourite Rush album, definitely stands up in its own right, and with the added bonus of the live tracks, this edition should make revisiting it a new pleasure.

Review by Paul Quinton

Track List:

CD1 – Original Album

  1. Cygnus X-1 – Book II – Hemispheres
  2. Circumstances
  3. The Terees
  4. La Villa Strangiatto

CD2 – Live at Pinkpop, 4 June 1979

  1. A Passage to Bangkok
  2. Xanadu
  3. The Trees
  4. Hemispheres – The Sphere
  5. Closer to the Heart
  6. La Villa Strangiatto
  7. In The Mood
  8. Drum Solo
  9. Something For Nothing
  10. 2112 (Live in Tucson, Arizona, 1978)

Disc 3 – Blu-Ray

  1. Hemispheres – Full album in 5.1 Sound
  2. Hemispheres – Original 2015 stereo remaster
  3. Promo Videos for Circumstances/The Trees/La Villa Strangiatto
  4. La Villa Strangiatto – Live at Pinkpop