Two re-releases from one of the most interesting and significant periods of the band’s history…
Review by Paul Quinton
Release dates: Hemispheres: 18 May 2015; Permanent Waves 16 June 2015
The latest in the 40th Anniversary series of vinyl re-releases of Rush’s back catalogue date from what this Rush fan regards as one of the most interesting and significant periods of the band’s history, covering the time when the band made a deliberate move away from the suites and long pieces like Hemispheres and 2112 and which ultimately led to them moving several rungs up the ladder in terms of mainstream commercial success.
Like its superb predecessor, A Farewell To Kings, Hemispheres was recorded at Rockfield Studios in South Wales, and in format almost mirrors 2112, with a single piece occupying one side of the vinyl album, and a number of shorter songs on the reverse. Side One, ‘Hemispheres’, the song, is a sequel to the final track on A Farewell To Kings, ‘Cygnus X-1’ which tells the story of a lone astronaut who pilots his spaceship into a black hole. ‘Cygnus X-1, Part Two: Hemispheres’ (now that’s a Prog title if ever there was one) moves us to a world of Greek myth and philosophy where the warring factions of Art and Intellect are fighting for supremacy. Eventually the astronaut emerges into this world and shows the two factions how in reality they are two halves of the same whole and by coming together they can create a perfect balance. It’s a sign of his prowess as a writer that Neil Peart’s lyrics are nowhere near as pretentious as they might be with such a subject, and the music behind them shows the band flexing both its Prog and its hard rock muscles. There are plenty of complex passages with difficult time signatures, but this is still a Rush album, and there are as many great riffs and musical highlights in the 18 minutes of ‘Hemispheres’ as some bands manage in their entire careers. Veteran Rush fans will have been considerably stirred by the news that excerpts from Hemispheres have been included in the set list for the band’s 40th anniversary tour, currently crossing North America.
Turn the vinyl over, and the quality doesn’t ease up. Only three tracks, but what jewels they are. ‘Circumstances’, with its taut riffs and typically thoughtful and inquiring lyrics, followed by ‘The Trees’, one of their most controversial songs, a song that’s been interpreted in a number of ways over the years. Despite the controversy, just enjoy the instrumental passage and Alex Lifeson’s guitar solo. Then there’s ‘La Villa Strangiatto’, the band’s first instrumental, a 9-minute collage of invention and exuberance, supposedly based on Alex Lifeson’s dreams. A regular feature in the band’s set-list to this day, it shows just how good a guitarist Lifeson is, and that it’s possible to put together such a track without ever getting boring. Hemispheres is often an album that gets overlooked when Rush’s career highlights are discussed, overshadowed by the likes of 2112 and Moving Pictures. But each time I come back to it, I enjoy its depth, its invention and its complexity. Maybe not the brightest star in the Rush heavens, but not the dullest either.
In the phenomenal DVD documentary, Beyond The Lighted Stage, the band confessed that the stress of writing and recording Hemispheres was a major factor in them moving away from the lengthy suites of music and making a conscious effort to write more accessible and direct songs, and heavens above, did they ever hit the bullseye with Permanent Waves. Granted there are only six tracks on the album, including seven minutes of ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ and nine of ‘Natural Science’, but there’s no doubt that the revised direction resulted in considerably more radio airplay, increased sales and even significant chart success on both sides of the Atlantic.
Of course it helps when the album opens up with a genuine, stone wall, nailed on classic song. ‘The Spirit of Radio’ is one of those songs that every rock fan knows, Rush fan or not, and for this particular Rush fan, epitomises everything that’s great about the band, the music, the lyrics, the wit, (and by that I mean the reggae section), it’s a track you never get tired of, whether on record or live. But backing ‘Spirit….’ are so many other great moments on this album. Second track ‘Free Will’ harks back lyrically to the themes of ‘2112’, personal choice and thinking for yourself, although taking them out of the sci-fi context, and featuring some great work from each member of the band. Closing the first side is ‘Jacob’s Ladder’, another song back in the set for the R40 tour and a track that has a clear influence on a number of bands that came later, meshing hard rock and prog in a way that was innovative then, and still sounds fresh today.
Inevitably after the riches of Side One, the second trio of tracks can often be overlooked, especially as ‘Entre Nous’ and ‘Different Strings’ aren’t the band’s best work, the former being a fairly straight forward Rush track, and ‘Different Strings’ being an acoustic, more reflective song, but when the band can close an album with an epic like ‘Natural Science’ – An acoustic beginning, a nicely intricate riff from Alex Lifeson and the band gradually building up the sound and fury until they’re firing on all cylinders – you can overlook such lapses.
There are no hard copies for review of these re-releases, so I’m not able to comment on the quality of the remastering or the vinyl pressing. Each will be available in high-quality vinyl with a download code for a 320kbps MP4 vinyl ripped Digital Audio album download and for the technical among you there are also high resolution Digital Audio editions in DSD and an additional Blu-Ray Pure Audio version with 5.1 surround sound and stereo. The only thing I do miss is the absence of any bonus tracks on these editions. At the time of writing Permanent Waves, Neil Peart was working on a piece based on the epic poem ‘Gawain and The Green Knight’; I don’t know if any excerpts from that still exist, but it’s that kind of thing serious fans would love to hear.
These two albums show the band closing off one chapter of their career and beginning another, and, unlike some bands, managing to take the majority of their existing fans with them on the journey. This support, and the success of Permanent Waves, gave them the impetus and confidence to continue in this direction and really hit the jackpot on their next album, the mighty Moving Pictures. The fact that so much of this music remains in the band’s live set is testament to its quality and enduring popularity.
Hemispheres track listing:
- Cygnus X-1, Part Two: Hemispheres
- The Trees
- La Villa Strangiatto
7.5 out of 10
Permanent Waves track listing:
- The Spirit Of Radio
- Free Will
- Jacob’s Ladder
- Entre Nous
- Different Strings
- Natural Science
8.5 out of 10