This album is the one that brought me to the Rush party. It’s still one of the finest rock albums there is.
Before 1976, Rush had released a competent but undistinguished Self-Titled Debut, with bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee (Gary Lee Weinrib), guitarist Alex Lifeson (Alex Zivojinovich, of which ‘life-son’ is a literal translation), and drummer John Rutsey doing a passable imitation of Led Zeppelin. Following Rutsey’s amicable departure, Lee and Lifeson were joined by mad percussionist and thoughtful lyricist Neil Peart, whose influence was evident over the next two LPs (_Fly By Night_ and _Caress of Steel_). But although there was lots of good music on them, the band hadn’t quite found its voice yet.
Then came _2112_ — without which quite a few of us would never have _heard_ of their first three albums. This one got lots of people’s attention, including mine; I was introduced to it by a junior-high buddy who was as blown away by it as I was. As of this release, Rush had _arrived_.
The title piece, as you surely know, is a twenty-minute science fiction ‘rock opera’ inspired largely by Ayn Rand’s _Anthem_. Don’t let that put you off; you don’t have to have a high opinion of Rand’s work in order to appreciate _2112_. (I don’t think much of her as a philosopher myself, although I’ve enjoyed some of her non-ATLAS SHRUGGED fiction.) Peart is nobody’s follower, and when it comes to Rand he knew which bits to keep and which to reject.
Here (as in his other Rand-inspired material) he seizes on the right stuff: individualism, iconoclasm, reason, intellectual self-reliance, respect for human competence and achievement, and a deep commitment to political and social liberty. He and the band also have some things Rand didn’t: the desire to rock out, and the ability to do it extremely well. (All these of guys were, and are, consummate craftsman who have consistently earned the respect of other musicians of all types. Unfortunately they didn’t know, in 1976, what Rand actually thought of rock music.)
The result is an absolutely blistering first track (originally an ‘album side’) and as clear-sighted a hymn to individual freedom and nonconformity as rock has ever seen. Pretty good work for three guys in their early twenties — particularly in heavy metal, a genre not ordinarily noted for elevated philosophical discourse.
The rest of it (’side two’) is decent enough too. The best of it, arguably, is the TANSTAAFL sermon ‘Something for Nothing’, but I also enjoy ‘A Passage to Bangkok’ (devoted, incidentally, to another subject Rand wouldn’t have approved) and the lugubrious ‘Tears’ (lyrics by Geddy Lee). The other two tracks — ‘The Twilight Zone’ and ‘Lessons’ (lyrics on the latter by Lifeson) — are okay but they aren’t Rush’s best work.
Now, as much as I love _2112_, I can’t say I think it’s Rush’s best release ever; they followed it up with a string of magnificent albums, pushing further and further into what turned out retroactively to have been ‘prog rock’, opening our ears and our minds as they went. (And they’re not done yet.) I have my opinions about which albums are their best, and other Rush listeners have theirs.
But this one has a special place in history — both Rush’s history and mine. I still play it, and I still enjoy it as much as I did twenty-eight years ago. Thanks, guys — from me and all the other geeks.