From The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies (PDF): “Put more bluntly, if the early progressive rockers’ conceptions of utopia reflected Marxian and neo-Marxian totalistic visions of the 60s, the utopianism of Rush’s work (both lyrically and musically) reflects the more decentralized, individualist and less totalizing visions of Ayn Rand, Robert Nozick, and F.A. Hayek that gained intellectual currency in the 70s.”
The writer briefly tackles the idea of whether Rush drifted away from Rand over the decades, but he omits Geddy Lee’s appearance on a charity work (Tears Are Not Enough, Canada’s answer to We Are the World, which was the U.S. answer to Band Aid) and the bleeding-heart compassion that infused their more recent albums. He also forgets to mention that Ayn Rand sucks. (Trust me — I was a philosophy major. And music.)
And yet Rand inspired their breakthrough. And it’s not bad.
“Hey, kids! Check this out! It’s a 20-minute sci-fi epic inspired by a philosopher you’ll pretend to understand and then pretend to like until you finally wake up your senior year and realize most of her followers are frat boys just name-dropping to excuse their habit of pissing out the dorm window! The big red star on the cover will be just enough to make your parents worry that you’re dabbling in satanism! It covers a lot of the same territory as Styx’s Kilroy Was Here, though Tommy Shaw probably likes this one better.”
I’m underselling it. This is a classic album — the second-biggest seller of Rush’s career — with good reason.
The titletrack is an inherently silly story, the now-cliche tale of someone in a repressive society discovering rock as a liberating force. The saving grace is that it’s told well. The overture effectively builds the drama with a series of stirring riffs. Then come the bad guys — “the priests at the Temple of Syrinx” — with an appropriately menacing power-chord riff. The good guy then finds a guitar — still plugged in, apparently — and quickly teaches himself everything from harmonics to bar chords before rushing off to show the priests. They don’t like it, he somehow dies, and then we have a revolution.
It’s mind-blowing stuff with a lot of terrific guitar lines and some of Neil Peart’s best drum fills. That’s saying a lot.
Side 2 offers five unrelated songs of varying quality. Something for Nothing has more solid classic-rock fundamentals from Alex Lifeson but is ultimately forgettable. Lessons is kind of amusing. The much quieter Tears — a ballad more traditional than just about anything Rush would do in the next three decades — features a mellotron NOT played by Geddy Lee, though Geddy tiptoes into keyboards on the titletrack. I see a listed song called The Twilight Zone, but I honestly can’t remember it.
That leaves A Passage to Bangkok, which is curious in that it’s a drug song by a band known for spending most of its offstage hours reading and working out. But it’s a killer guitar riff. I’ve always had a vague sense that Rush fans consider this an overlooked gem, which would explain the opening bit in the R30 DVD in which Jerry Stiller (yes, THAT Jerry Stiller) laments that “they never do Bangkok.”
Rush had hit the big time, which made this an opportune time to start a tradition of releasing a live album after every four studio albums …
All the World’s a Stage (1976)
Which is interesting only for collectors or anyone trying to trace the evolution of Peart’s drum solos. Rush wound up releasing several more live performances from this era, undercutting the value of this one.
At the time, though, it was useful, giving Rush its highest-charting album to date at a lofty #40. Yes, 2112 actually never got that high on the charts, which were skewed in those pre-Soundscan days, even though it’s gone platinum several times over.
If Rush had never scaled such heights again, 2112 may have been forgotten. Instead, this was the beginning of what you’d have to consider Rush’s Golden Age. (OK, Platinum, to be picky — 2112 started a run of 10 straight platinums.) For the next four albums, Rush would rarely hit a bad note.