RUSH 'Hemispheres' (Mercury prerelease) (three stars)
THIS REALLY is a most confounding album. Even though I've had a copy of 'Hemispheres' in my possession for a goodly while now, more or less since Rush completed its recording in late summer, I still find myself torn between two vastly different points of view. To wit:
(A): This LP is the definitive, culminative Rush statement. After a largely inauspicious debut as a three man Canadian Zeppelin imitation outfit, the band have developed through four years and seven albums and have now blossomed to become the most technically accomplished and musically ambitious 'heavy rock' band extant on the planet today. A lovingly crafted, highly complex album, 'Hemispheres' is brimful with profound lyrical statements. . . music with a message (trite but true).
Or (B): 'Hemispheres' finds Rush wallowing way, way out of their depth. Listening to the album, it seems impossible to think that this band were once honest, unpretentious purveyors of straight-forward, hard-hitting heavy metal music. Now, having forsaken basic beginnings. Rush sound ambitious beyond their musical means. They seem to have tried too hard, to have stretched instrumental aspirations too far. Now, like an elastic band, they've snapped to hang flaccid and useless. And drummer Neil Peart's lyrics, which were once sword and sorcery/sci-fi slanted, now convey 'social messages' and altogether fail to convince.
'Hemispheres' comprises just four tracks, three on side one. one (the epic title track) on the flip. The LP kicks off with 'Circumstances', a concise, self-contained track, with an instantly memorably chorus. Musically the song is very much in 'Closer To The Heart' spirit, though not lyrically: people take their chances in life, says Peart, but it's a sad fact that many are often 'tricked by circumstances'.
The pastoral/medieval flavoured number 'Trees' follows. Over a largely straight ahead (although at times oddly funky) rock rhythm, we're told of the plight of the maples who feel that the taller oaks are having an unfair share of the sunlight in the forest. The maples form a union, win their cause and eventually all the trees are kept equal by 'hatchet. axe and saw'. (What is this? - Ed.).
The lengthy instrumental 'La Villa Strangiato' closes the side. Fast paced, multi-faceted, it contains many different musical interludes, ranging from Spanish guitar passages to jazz rock sections and taking in snatches of synthesizer, straight ahead heavy metal, the 'Sabre Dance' (!) and much more along the way. [transcribers note: the 'Sabre Dance' is not a part of 'La Villa Strangiato'?I assume Barton is referring to Raymond Scott's "Powerhouse".]
Side two is taken up with a single track, the long-winded conclusion to the tale of 'Cygnus X-l` begun on the previous Rush album 'A Farewell To Kings'. God of the mind Apollo ('I bring truth and understanding') battles God of the heart Dionysus (he brings 'laughter, music, joy and tears') and our hero, the shapeless ` spirit of Cygnus, arrives in Olympus to act as mediator between the two. This tale unfolds over a highly involved musical score, not as immediately accessible as say '2112', but nonetheless effective, especially when Cygnus materialises in the City of Immortals and hears the sound of battle: distant dronings and great understated thunderings.
Those are the basic essentials, anyway. But like I say, I'm really unable to decide whether 'Hemispheres' is a masterwork or a mistake. Sometimes the album sounds totally convincing; on other occasions it appears messy and disjointed, and yet I suppose the very fact that I'm uncertain about the merits of this LP makes it a failure. After all, in the past just about every Rush review I've written has brimmed over with superlatives . . . and this time around you'd be hard pressed to find even one. When it comes down to it, I'd much rather hear about a battle between By-Tor and the Snow Dog than gods by the names of Apollo and Dionysus. Which would suggest that I reckon Rush should return to 'basics` . . . that they have become too ambitious for their own good.
What the hell. The album's released on November 8 - see what you think.