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Hemispheres (40th Anniversary Edition)

Review by Greg Olma

In 1978, Rush was riding high after two consecutive albums that pushed their presence into the prog spotlight.  After a short break that followed a tour of the UK, the band went back to Wales to record this prog masterpiece.  I liken this album as Rush’s Close To The Edge (by Yes) due to the 18 minute song that fills side one and a few shorter pieces that make up side two.  And just like Yes, this is their apex in prog-ness where they pushed the boundaries of the prog metal genre to the point that they felt the need to shift gears for their next release.  A Farewell to Kings promised to continue the story of Cygnus X-1 but to be quite honest, it doesn’t really follow as the first “book” takes on a sci-fi theme whereas the latter has more of a Greek theme about the gods Apollo and Dionysus.  I'm not sure how that fits together lyrically but musically, it follows along with brief snippets that harkens back to the first book.  Side two is certainly not an afterthought either with the last two tracks featured in their set lists to the very end.  If I was presented someone who has never heard Rush before, I’m not sure I would recommend this as their first introduction, as I feel Moving Pictures would be better suited to convert a virgin Rush listener.  That being said, anyone who is a Dream Theater die-hard fan, this would definitely be my first choice as it would show all of the prog metal fans out there where it all started. 

This 40th anniversary edition is augmented by a live disc that captures the band on the Tour of the Hemispheres.  Most of the tracks were culled from a show in the Netherlands at the Pinkpop Festival and the “2112” track was sourced from a show in Germany (although the liner notes incorrectly state it is from Arizona).  It is a great addition to this set, but I was a bit disappointed that a full show was not added to this package.  Maybe they were trying to fit everything they could on one disc, but the powers that be should know that Rush fans are more than willing to spend the extra dollars to get the complete show, even if it does span over two discs.  That is my only complaint to an otherwise great product.

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Track by Track Review
CD 1:
Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres

The record opens with a six part continuation of the Cygnus X-1 saga.  As mentioned earlier, lyrically, the story doesn’t really follow the previous sci-fi themed track on their last record.  Musically, it does continue with many similar elements while containing a brighter production.  As you would imagine, this track takes many twists and turns throughout its eighteen minutes with Section “IV. Armageddon The Battle of Heart and Mind” and Section “V. Cygnus Bringer of Balance” being the standout parts.  This is pure prog metal nirvana that ends with a short acoustic piece that has a very uplifting and positive vibe.

Rush must have wanted to prove that they were still a rock band as this tune is the most straight-forward part of this record.  It is structured like most songs with a recognizable chorus bracketed by similar verses.  Although there are other heavy parts within the grooves of this record, this somehow feels like the heaviest track.

The Trees
Acoustic guitar ushers in this prog piece about trees battling out for more space and “sunlight”.  There is a great mid-section that has a woodsy fee, l but overall this song is a rocker that lasted in their set list since the tour in support of this record.
La Villa Strangiato
Quite frankly, this is the piece de resistance off of Hemispheres.  It is a twelve part instrumental that flows unlike side one which contains defined sections.  This one lists the pieces but I would be hard pressed to tell you when one part ends and another begins.  That being said, this is a fantastic piece of music and one that shows the musical prowess of all three members.
CD 2:
A Passage to Bangkok

You can tell right off the bat that this is not the opening number for the show.  Either way, it is a classic from the 2112 record, and I was surprised it was left off All The World’s A Stage.  It starts off with a riff that definitely has some Asian influence and proceeded to be slightly more straight ahead rock but with prog flourishes thrown in for good measure.  The fact that the lyrical content dealt with drugs made it a fan favorite for years to come.

If there is one song that I feel captures Rush, it is definitely “Xanadu”.  This is where Rush augmented their sound with a lot of keyboards and it worked extremely well.  The track starts off with almost nature sounds but slowly builds into a prog metal masterpiece.  Neil Peart’s drumming is inventive throughout, and the whole band gels and soars higher than Geddy Lee’s vocals.  I also prefer this live version over the studio version as there is some rawness to the performance and sound.
The Trees
This track is a straight-up performance and does not deviate from the studio version.   There is no extended acoustic piece beforehand like they did in later years, and they follow the studio version perfectly.
Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres - The Sphere A Kind of Dream
Oddly, the band only give us the very last bit of the Cygnus X-1 saga here even though records show they did perform a little bit more of it at the Pinkpop show.  There is a slight hesitation in Lee’s vocals at the beginning that make it seem like the material is still new to the guys, and he is not quite sure where to come in.
Closer to the Heart
It's hit single time, as this was Rush’s first real hit in the Europe.  It starts off as an acoustic song but like “The Trees,” it quickly becomes a nice rocker.
La Villa Strangiato
Rush was able to recreate their intricate music live quite well, and nowhere is that more apparent than on this tune.  Sure, they add little flourishes here and there just to make sure you know it is live, but they stick closely to the original song structure.
In the Mood
This is Rush at their most basic yet still great.  It is a straight ahead rocker that is most noticeable here due to the lack of Peart’s extraordinary lyrical input.  This song was a throwback to the first album before he was a member and before the band went in a more prog direction.  I would put this in the heavy rock category that certainly showed their Led Zeppelin influence.
Drum Solo
Peart is one of the only drummers that I thoroughly enjoy listening to a drum solo.  The composition of this piece is like a song with only drums, and that is the genius of his playing.  While most people skip drum solos, I recommend not passing over this rhythmic display.
Something for Nothing
Here is another classic form the 2112 record. Quite honestly, I feel that this is the definitive version.  It starts off a little slow with only Alex Lifeson’s guitar and Lee’s vocal before the rest of the instruments join in to create a hard rock (with prog elements) tune that speaks of the individual and working for your goals.  After a quick “Thank you very much” from Lee, the crowd fades.
You can tell this is from a different show as the sound is slightly different.  This sounds like a great bootleg, and the opening intro to "Overture" had some glitches.  Other than that little hiccup, the band rock though this milestone of a song while still omitting the section "Oracle: The Dream" which to my recollection was not performed until the Test for Echo Tour.  There is a rawness to this performance of all the other Roman numeral-ed parts with Lifeson being especially energetic throughout the performance of this tune.
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