Has a band of nerds ever been more successful than Rush? Rock ‘n roll heroes to some, a four letter word to others, Rush remain a remarkably contentious point of discussion for a band that has sold over 40 million albums. As a pillar of Rush’s patented prog rock sound, 1978’s Hemispheres is a key piece of their legacy and has been reissued in a deluxe edition CD (including live cuts from the era) to commemorate the album’s 40th anniversary.
Though the band’s true mainstream breakout would happen a few years later with Permanent Waves (which ingeniously melded new wave to their power-trio’d prog), Rush built up a rabid following in the mid to late ‘70s due to albums such as Hemispheres , despite being largely panned by critics and ignored by radio. By this point the band had perfected their concept-heavy formula: a handful of short, well-crafted rock tunes to complement one big epic to either open or close the record. Just like 2112 , arguably the band’s most well-known release, Hemispheres puts the big ‘ol prog epic right in front. However, unlike the aforementioned 2112 , there isn’t a moment of filler to be had here. Though it’s all of FOUR songs long, Hemispheres features two classic hard rockers from the band, “Circumstances” and “The Trees,” which might be the most enjoyable Neil Peart preach-along of their entire catalog. There’s also one of Rush’s best instrumentals, the Raymond Scott-quoting “La Villa Strangiato.” And then, of course, is the requisite 18 minute “Cygnus," the centerpiece of the album. Though it may not have quite the catchy peaks of other Rush sagas like “2112” or “Xanadu,” it is undoubtedly their least meandering, most musically taut prog creation up until this point, truly sounding like one complete song rather than a bunch of disparate parts glued together. All of Rush’s calling cards are present in its extended running time: dexterous lead bass, guitar playing that deftly switches from finesse to bombast, stop-on-a-dime tempo changes, and plenty of big ass drum fills.
It’s hard to describe any album with 4 songs that equal nearly 40 minutes as lean or stripped down, but Hemispheres is absolutely the best elements of '70s Rush condensed into one. Only the most self-consciously cool will deny the electricity in these grooves. Everyone else, feel free to geek out all over again.