Mercury Records, 1978


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


It seems like the Canadian rock trio Rush works in periods, defined as four studio albums followed by a live set. (I'm intentionally not discussing the numerous best-of collections out there.) For each of these periods, there is at least one album which is astounding; 2112 was that disc for Rush's first five-album period, and A Farewell To Kings seemed to be the front-runner for the time spanning 1977 through 1982. (I'm not declaring it the ultimate winner, though, until I've formally reviewed Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures... I can't believe we haven't gotten to those albums in over five years online.)

But for each period, there is also at least one album which makes the listener wonder just what Rush is doing. Hemispheres, Rush's 1978 release (and sixth studio album), is the questionable release in Rush's second stage. Admittedly not a terrible album like I would have declared (and did) when I first bought this tape well over a decade ago, it's hardly Geddy Lee and company's best work. Then again, they had some tough shoes to fill, coming off of a one-two punch of 2112 and A Farewell To Kings.

After dropping the "concept" album idea (but not totally abandoning the mini-epic songs) on A Farewell To Kings, Lee and crew once again created a side-long concept which was meant to be a continuation of "Cygnus X-1" from their last album. How "Hemispheres" is supposed to tie into this track I have no idea. But right from the outset, this attempt at a concept piece is doomed to be, at best, mediocre. Take a half-hearted concept (which I won't even pretend to know enough about to discuss), mix in some uninspired songwriting and performing, over-do it on the repetitive chord structures trying to tie things together, and you've got the recipe for failure.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Well, not exactly "failure" in the complete sense. The one thing which saves "Hemispheres" from total annihilation is the musicianship of Mrssrs. Lee, Lifeson and Peart. Sure, the time signature on this one might throw some unexpecting listeners for a loop, but Rush is able to take the material as it is and at least show some technical precision, even if they can't make it any more interesting. (Lee does succeed around the 11-minute mark of creating some interest as the song ebbs into a more gentle phase.) Don't be totally surprised when you discover the song has ended; falling asleep does play tricks on one's mind.

The three other pieces which make up Hemispheres are just as hit-or-miss. As I've gotten older, I've come to appreciate "La Villa Strangiato" for what it is - namely, a tour de force showcase for the guitar work of Alex Lifeson. There's not been much of a question as to how talented he is as a guitarist, though more often than not he's seemed to be in the generic spotlight known as the guitar solo. "La Villa Strangiato" changes all this, and gives his playing a distinct voice; his guitar licks sound less like solos than they do key structures to this song. I can imagine this piece to be more fragile than rice paper - while the music is playing, Lifeson is the glue which holds it together, but as the whole band stacattos out on the last chord (led in by a brief bass line from Lee), the structure comes down like a balsa wood bridge hit with a sledgehammer.

The remaining two tracks, "Circumstances" and "The Trees," have never really been favorites of mine. "Circumstances" tries to latch onto the popularity of the previous single, "Closer To The Heart", but it never catches fire the way Rush had hoped. As for "The Trees," I've seen it written that this was a modern-day parable talking about racism. This song could give out the secret formula to Coca-Cola, and I would still think this was one of the most insipid songs I've ever heard. One has to think that Lee was thinking in his head as he recorded his vocal line, "What the hell am I singing this for?"

Hemispheres is the kind of album one picks up merely to say they have the entire Rush discography - and while I admit I hadn't listened to this album in some time, my opinion of it hasn't changed too much from the day I first bought it. Stick to the best-of sets for "La Villa Strangiato," and leave the rest of this pedestrian set out for the vultures.

Rating: C-

User Rating: B-


Hey, Chris? I don't think you're being totally fair to "The Trees". That said, this is one of the weakest of the late '70s-early '80s Rush albums.
Different strokes. I agree with Chris about "The Trees." On the other hand, "La Villa Strangiato" is one of my favoite Rush instrumentals and I thought "Hemispheres" wasn't half bad (pun intentional).

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