It’s been one year to the day that one of the greatest drummers to beat the toms passed away from cancer. The wizard, the professor, and the all around thoughtful thinker Neil Peart moved on to the next phase of existence. For a guy that had gone through so much heartache and sickness of his own over the past 25 years it seemed as if he’d earned the right to continue on and evolve and enlighten us all with his intelligent lyrics, engaging books, and of course his massive drumming.
Unfortunately, life don’t pay up on IOUs.
So we’re left with the only logical portal back to our mighty Neil Peart, the albums. I pulled the mighty Hemispheres out of the vinyl library this morning to dig into some classic prog rock strutting. When I was first getting into Rush this one took awhile to sink in. I loved “La Villa Strangiato” and “Circumstances”, but it took some time for the whole thing to really make sense to me. Once it did, though, ooh boy what a damn ride.
Hemispheres feels like an album that was the evolution from huge concept records like 2112 and A Farewell To Kings to their more lean and pop-centric sounds that would come with Permanent Waves(still my favorite) and on thru the 80s. The influence of reggae and the playing of Stewart Copeland on Peart was evident with Waves, but with Hemispheres it was still big concepts and tightly arranged opuses like the entire album side opener “Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres”.
That opening salvo leads us into an odyssey that continues the journey Peart, Lee, and Lifeson began at the end of A Farewell To Kings with closing track “Cygnus X-1 Book I : The Voyage”. Peart is still heavy into the Apollo and Dionysus conflict in this album side epic. With Hemispheres Peart finds that a balance between the left and right hemispheres of the brain can bring a balance of heart and mind. Even in the densest, literary work of Peart he still finds a beating heart amongst the Greek mythology, space sagas, and Orwellian tales.
The album as a whole works so well together. There’s a flow here, with the guys and Terry Brown finding their footing in the studio. Apparently the recording process at Rockfield Studios in Wales wasn’t as breezy as it had been on A Farewell To Kings, with the studio being described as “funky” by Lifeson. Still, what came out of that funky studio was one of the all time great hard rock prog records ever.
At just four tracks total you kind of have to knock it out of the ballpark with each song, otherwise you might have a problem keeping people’s attention. It’s like taking a test with four questions. Three out of four right is still only going to be a low C. Fortunately these songs are all classic Rush. Even the somewhat pretentious “The Trees” works for me. I can remember one of my best friends in high school and I got into Rush at the same time. I can recall him being particularly blown away by “The Trees”, even writing the lyrics out in a notebook as proof of their genius. For me, I always cringed a bit at the lyrics. “So the Maples formed a Union/And demanded equal rights/‘The Oaks are just too greedy/We will make them give us light’. Yeah, they’re smart and metaphorical. But it just seemed a little too smart. I’ve grown to appreciate it over time, but if I had to rank these four tracks, “The Trees” would be number four for sure. But hey, just my opinion.
As much as I love Rush’ first six albums, for me the humanity in the music and the lyrics really began to shine when Peart started writing from his heart as opposed to from his book collection. He was a humanist at heart, at least I think so. He wrote so eloquently and intelligently. Starting with Permanent Waves Peart really started to evolve lyrically and philosophically. Even in the prime of their 80s synth shine and mullet hairdos he was writing about the holocaust, nuclear disarmament, and the greed of capitalism. That was the genius of Neil Peart. That was the genius of Rush.
I hope you all have a fantastic day. I think I’ll spin Hemispheres one more time. Then maybe once more after that.