Saturday, August 6, 2011
Saturday Album Review: 2112
This week's review is Rush's 1976 progressive epic 2112. The album is best known for its 20-minute, seven-part title track. From this, "2112 Overture/The Temples of Syrinx" was released as a single, and other popular tracks from the album include "A Passage to Bangkok" and "Something for Nothing".
At 20 minutes and 33 seconds, "2112" is Rush's longest song ever, and it is divided into seven parts. One of the coolest things about the track is that certain chord progressions are guitar licks are repeated across the different parts. As the song is divided, so will my review of it be. As a whole, though it is a great track to listen to, and it has a very interesting storyline (that I will talk about through the review).
2112's "Overture" starts with an ominous, ambient keyboard before the rest of the band joins in. Many guitar lines and chords from here are repeated throughout the song, which adds to the overall effect of the track being one connected piece. "Overture" is pretty much an intro to the real storyline and is an instrumental except for one lyric at the very end: "And the meek shall inherit the earth".
b. The Temples of Syrinx
"The Temples of Syrinx" introduces the first of two main characters in "2112": the priests. I realize that 'priests' is plural, and I said two characters, but I'm grouping them together because 'they' are sung by one voice and never say anything differing from the group. Anyways, this part is also kind of a prologue to the storyline, giving the setting: it is the year 2112 (as if you couldn't figure that one out already), and society is ruled by the priests who reside in the temples of Syrinx: "All the gifts of life are held within our walls". This part is very good musically (as is the whole track, really), but is a little slow, if anything.
As the title implies, "Discovery" involves the discovery of an object. This object is a guitar, and it plays a very important role in the storyline. "Discovery" also introduces the second character, who is unnamed but we'll just call 'the main character'. This character is not dumb or young or anything, but when he discovers the guitar, he is amazed at its ability to make music: "What can this strange device be?/When I touch it, it gives forth a sound". The musical style of the song is very unique as well; it is only guitar and singing and starts with open notes that don't really make a melody, as if the character is touching the strings in wonderment. He soon discovers that holding the frets makes a different sound, and in no time starts a basic chord progression (he's a dang fast learner, in my opinion). The progression gets more and more complex as this part goes on, making it a very cool part of the song.
"Presentation" is when the main character presents (hence the name) the guitar to the priests. He expects them to embrace the guitar with joy and praise his name but is shocked when they denounce his foolishness and destroy the guitar. The priests condemn the guitar, saying, "Yes we know, it's nothing new/It's just a waste of time" and "Another toy that helped destroy/The elder race of man". This part brings to light the differences in singing styles between the characters; Geddy Lee sings both of them, but the main character's voice is low, soft, and mellow, whereas the priests sing high and loud, almost shrieking. The musical quality of the first half is similar to "The Temples of Syrinx" but switches into high gear for the second half: the tempo picks up, and a guitar solo dominates the rest of the song.
e. Oracle: The Dream
In "Oracle: The Dream", the main character goes home, totally worn out from his experience with the priests, and goes to bed. He has a dream (these titles are great at giving hints to the song's subject matter), and in it, he sees an oracle who shows him the world of the 'elder race' and reveals their intent to take back their planet. Musically, it starts out slow, but picks up in not too long. Personally, this, along with the next part, are the weaker parts of the song; however, like I said before, they're still good, as they really add to the storyline well.
"Soliloquy" is the shortest part of 2112. It involves the main character waking from his dream and hoping that the memory of it will not fade away. He eventually decides that, "I don't think I can carry on/Carry on this cold and empty life" and commits suicide. "Soliloquy" is a slow song, but it has a guitar solo in the middle of it. The slowness of it, along with the sort of depressing nature of it, make it the weakest part of the song in my opinion.
g. Grand Finale
"Grand Finale" is just that: the grand finale of 2112. It draws comparisons to "Overture" in that it is an instrumental and changes styles very quickly. The one lyric of the song is from the point of view of the elder race: "Attention all planets of the Solar Federation: We have assumed control", indicating that they came back to reconquer their planet, just as indicated by the main character's dream. It is very strong musically, driven by distorted guitars and complex drum beats, and it is overall a very good ending to such an epic song.
2. A Passage to Bangkok
So now that "2112" is over, it's time to flip the record to Side B, where the first song to encounter is "A Passage to Bangkok". (By the way, the last 5 songs here are not inter-connected like "2112" or the last album I did, A Thousand Suns.) This song is literally about a journey to the city of Bangkok: "We're on the train to Bangkok/Aboard the Thailand Express". Since I'm not sure what the significance of the lyrics are other than that, I won't talk about them and instead will talk about the music. The guitar riff that drives the majority of the song is very cool, and probably isn't terribly hard on guitar. The song shows less of the progressive side of Rush and more of the rock side, as I don't think the time signature or tempo ever changes. The middle is dominated by a driving guitar solo, making this a cool song overall.
3. The Twilight Zone
Following in the pattern, "The Twilight Zone" is literally about The Twilight Zone. The verses are quiet, with a swing rhythm, and the lyrics describe strange happenings, similar to those that would happen on the TV show. The choruses are also quiet, but the tempo and rhythm changes. The lyrics in the chorus are similar to those stated at the beginning of every TV episode. It's a pretty mellow and short song, and I would say it's the (I had a better word for here as I was writing "short song" but I just forgot) worst song on the album. (Not that it's necessarily bad, I just forgot the word. Just all the other songs are better.)
"Lessons" starts out with an acoustic/clean guitar riff that drives the verses. The feeling is almost pop/rock in the verses, but changes to Rush's rock sound in the choruses. The post-chorus sections have mini-guitar solos in them before breaking into a full-on guitar solo after the second chorus. It's overall probably the lightest song on the album. Its length is also deceptive: it feels short because it's just two verses and choruses and then a solo fade out, but it's the second longest song on the album (not counting "2112"). Overall, it's a pretty good track, but not as good as others on the album.
"Tears" is the album's ballad. It starts with a slow, sad-sounding acoustic guitar riff which Geddy Lee starts singing along to. Being a ballad, it is kind of sad-feeling. Strings enter in the chorus, along with a slow drum beat. I like ballads, because I thing of playing them on piano or acoustic guitar, and "Tears" would be a good song for me to learn. This is a very good ballad in that its feeling of sadness is amplified by the mellow guitar and strings.
6. Something for Nothing
The album's final track is "Something for Nothing". This is probably my favorite song off of 2112. The acoustic guitar at the beginning is similar to "Soliloquy", but it really picks up before too long. The message in the lyrics is very cool: "You don't get something for nothing/You can't have freedom for free" and "What you own is your own kingdom.../What you live is your own story". This, compounded by the driving guitar and Neil Peart's epic drumming makes for a great rock track which I will likely never grow tired of listening to.
2112 is a very good progressive album from arguably one of the best progressive bands of all time. "2112" is just epic by itself, and "Something for Nothing" is a great rock track. That said, however, the relative weakness of the album's middle tracks kind of drags down the feeling of being a "great" album, making this just a "good" album. Nonetheless, I would highly encourage any progressive or classic rock fans to give this album a listen.
Overall Rating: 7/10