Ever since Neil Peart replaced John Rutsey behind the kit and Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson at the lyric-writing desk, Rush started embracing bigger musical and lyrical ideas then “Hey, baby, it’s a quarter to eight, I feel I’m in the mood.” That kind of approach needs time to develop, and attempts to get ambitious on Fly by Night and Caress of Steel were seriously lacking in melodiousness and clarity of ideas, leaving brief songs such as “Fly by Night”, “Beneath, Between, Behind”, and “Lakeside Park” to represent the band much more favorably.
I personally think that when Peart’s ambitions coalesced on 2112 the short songs were still the album’s highlights: “Lessons” is Rush at their most tuneful and “A Passage to Bangkok” and “Twilight Zone” are Rush at their most tuneful and their funniest. Still there’s no denying that Peart, Lee, and Lifeson had developed considerably since shapeless, shaggy-dog filler like “The Necromancer” and “The Fountain of Lamneth”. The title piece of Rush’s fourth album isn’t their most melodic, but there is an actual story this time to justify the extended run-time: in a totalitarian future-society that has banned music, a guy finds a guitar, tunes it in record time, and leads a rebellion against the music-hating regime. It’s a simplistic concept that would have displayed serious stretch-marks had it been pulled to Tommy length, but it gets the job done on a single side of vinyl and gave the band a centerpiece for their stage act in the same way The Who’s rock opera gave them one. Plus there are some very pretty bits amidst the bombast.
So 2112 is a good fit for the bombastic Super Deluxe treatment, though much of what is on UMe’s new triple-disc package is more Lamnethian filler than Syrinxian essentials. I’d imagine most Rush fans would expect actual Rush recordings when plopping down the big bucks for 2112: 40th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition, but much of the bonus material is cover versions by the likes of Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins of Foo Fighters, Alice in Chains, and frankly, a bunch of guys I had to look up on Wikipedia to find out who they are. The covers are perfectly fine—the singer from Billy Talent does a nice restrained Geddy Lee impression, and yes, the band is considerate enough to include the bong hit in their cover of “A Passage to Bangkok”—but the bottom line is that half of one disc of this Rush box set is not by Rush. And that disc is only 45-minutes long to begin with.
The other half of disc two contains gnarly live versions of the title suite and “Something for Nothing” from 1976 and a live version of “The Twilight Zone” from 1977 that would have been bootleg quality in 1977. The audio deficiencies are especially pronounced when played alongside the rest of this set, which sounds very present and powerful.
Live Rush is much better represented on the bonus DVD that captures them at Westchester’s Capitol Theatre in 1976. Neither the audio nor the blobby, B&W video are ideal, but it is considerably better quality than the live stuff on disc two and it’s very cool to see these young geeks rock out under their hair curtains. Rush’s raw interpretations of much of the best material on their first few albums and Geddy’s rather enthusiastic growling and whoa-yeah-ing constitute as convincing a counterargument to the “prog is soulless” line as you’ll find. A bonus interview with Lifeson and producer Terry Brown is also a good argument against prog’s humorlessness.