Today is an extension of the progressive sounds from yesterday’s album, “Presence” by Led Zeppelin, with the corresponding release of “2112” by Rush. There are definitely some similarities between “Achilles Last Stand” and the “2112 Overture”. In both cases, the instrumental performances are phenomenal, particularly the drumming, and the fantasy-based themes are also similar, with one focusing on world exploration, the other on a future world of technology vs. music.
As noted previously, Rush has the unusual circumstance of their lyrics being written by their drummer, Neil Peart. The entire first side of the album is a 20-minute medley of short songs, telling the story of a future time when an oppressive government regime has outlawed music, art and expression. The protagonist finds a lost guitar, and attempts to bring new light to this dark world. Tragically, he is ultimately crushed by the authorities and takes his own life in fury, and following more conflict, the tale ends with the ominous sounds from the oppressors, “We have assumed control… we have assumed control.” Forty-five years later, it comes across as a bit absurd at times, but a noble attempt at looking forward and expressing the concerns of compromising art for authority. Music, this is Rush at their very best. The first opening segment, “Overture” and “The Temples of Syrinx”, is possibly the best example of hard rock drumming I have ever heard by anyone not named John Bonham. Neil Peart’s work on this album is spectacular, and quickly cemented his place in the Mount Rushmore of rock drummers. The rest of the story has similar moments of greatness, although if you really want to capture the best of this piece, you can pick it up through the first six minutes or so. The story is reasonably easy to follow, and Geddy Lee alters his voice between soft and intense, depending on if he is speaking for the protagonist or the oppressors.
Side two is a lighter collection of stand-alone songs. “A Passage To Bangkok” is one of the best, other than the culturally outdated riff that is identical to the opening of “Turning Japanese” by The Vapors. My other favorite of these songs is “Lessons”. Oddly, there is Rush attempting a ballad of some sort on “Tears”, but at this point, I have already embraced their mechanical and robotic approach to story-telling, so it feels a bit out of place.
I believe many Rush fans look at this album, particularly the side one medley, as one of their greatest moments, and I can’t disagree. The progressive themes and Geddy Lee’s voice aren’t for everyone, but there is no denying how talented and synchronized this group was, delivering a sound that is tight and colossal.