Released on April 1, 1976, 2112 became the fourth album recorded by the Canadian rock band Rush. There was hope it would prove to be a commercial success after 1975’s Caress of Steel failure. At this point, Neil Peart, Geddy Lee, and Alex Lifeson faced financial issues due to disappointing sales and a dwindling audience of concertgoers. At one point, Mercury Records considered dropping Rush but agreed to let the band produce one more album with the hope the band could bounce back into top form.
When Caress of Steel failed to impress the fans, each band member of Rush admitted there was confusion and disappointment that came from a recording they admitted was fun for them to do. At one point, Alex Lifeson considered quitting but chose to hang on instead. Caress of Steel featured Rush’s dive into a progressive rock theme that had complex and lengthy story-based songs. Because of this, the radio stations had difficulty playing the music effectively. This didn’t help win over the fans nor did the unfavorable reviews that came from music critics.
When Mercury considered dropping Rush, the band’s manager, Ray Danniels, flew to the Chicago head office with the promise the band’s upcoming album had great potential. At the time, Mercury pushed for music that would be more commercially favorable but Rush opted to stick with its own creative direction.
While the label demanded more commercial material, Rush opted to develop a more progressive rock sound instead. Recorded in Toronto in February, the centerpiece of 2112 was its title track. This twenty-minute musical featured a futuristic science fiction theme that summed up one side of the album while the other featured five independent tracks.
When 2112 was released, it earned favorable reviews. This was already an up for Rush as Caress of Steel’s reviews were negative. On the Canadian Albums Chart, 2112 peaked at number five. This album also served as a commercial breakthrough among the American audience as it peaked at number sixty-one on the US Billboard 200. To support this album, it toured Canada and the United States. It also toured for the first time, Europe. At the time, it became the best-selling album. It wasn’t until the success of Moving Pictures in 1981 that it would drop into second place.
With over three million copies sold in the United States, 2112 became certified platinum three times. In Canada, it became double platinum. The British Phonographic Industry also certified 2112 with gold. It’s also in the 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die list and has been regarded as one of the favorite progressive rock albums of all time.
The musical material for 2112 already began while Rush was still in the middle of its Caress of Steel tour. Neil Peart wrote down the lyrics while Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson worked out the music that would accompany the mood Peart was writing about. The majority of this music was performed on acoustic guitars while some featured electric passages with a portable practice amplifier. The idea was to focus on music that had little need for overdubbing.
It took six months for the album to be written and four weeks to record. In the meantime, Rush made a point to keep Danniels away from the writing and recording sessions as they wanted him to wait and listen to the finished product instead. As far as Lifeson was concerned, 2112 was an album that truly defined Rush as a progressive rock band. This was the recording that officially sent Rush in a direction that would continue experimenting with new sounds. This included looking to record in a different studio setting instead of Toronto.
2112, as an album and as a song, credited Russian-born Jewish-American novelist, Ayn Rand and her novel, Anthem. “2112” took up all of the A-side while five songs were laid out individually on the B-side. It was the second side that laid out a more traditional hard rock sound. Where “2112” served as a somber story, the collection of songs featured on the other side of the album was more lighthearted. Even though the songs weren’t specifically in line with the “2112” recording, there were parallels that had the musical material relate with each other.
On the album’s cover, the Starman featured on it quickly became an important piece of pop culture among Rush’s fans. Also referenced as the “Man in the Star,” this logo represented the gatefold of 2112. The meaning behind this symbolism represented the collectivist mentality. The figure in the emblem was regarded as the hero of 2112. The Red Star logo appeared on seven Rush album covers. It was also on the backdrop behind Neil Peart’s drumkit in All the World’s a Stage.
2112’s Song Meanings
#1 – 2112
For twenty minutes, “2112” played as a futuristic science fiction track that featured seven parts. The story of the Russian-born Jewish-American novelist, Ayn Rand, was the focus behind this standout song. Rand earned her claim to fame with the 1937 dystopian novel, Anthem. The plot served as the inspiration behind 2112 as Rush’s musical take on the novelist’s philosophy of Objectivism. When a British journalist suggested the Rand influence as Nazism, an offended Geddy Lee spoke up as his parents were Holocaust survivors.
Within “2112,” “Overture” was the first of the seven sections of the song. It drew inspiration from Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. It featured an introduction from Hugh Syme who used an ARP Odyssey synthesizer with an Echoplex Delay pedal. In “Overture,” the biblical quote “and the meek shall inherit the earth” became one of this section’s musical highlights. When “2112” finished off with “Grand Finale,” it also featured Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.
The storyline of “2112” revolved around the city of Megadon as a place that outlawed creativity and individualism. Ran by malevolent priests who resided in the Temples of Syrinx, they followed the orders given by giant banks of computers that were located inside the temple. In their realm, music was an unknown entity before a nameless man in “Discovery’ found a beaten guitar inside a cave and begins to play the instrument. “Presentation” saw the man take this guitar to the priests who destroy it out of anger and banish him.
In “Oracle: The Dream,” that man dreams of a new planet that was established as the Solar Federation. It was there where creative people resided. In “Soliloquy,” when the man wakes from the dream, his depression about his own circumstances give him cause to commit suicide.
In “Grand Finale,” another planetary war has erupted that ended with a denouement, “Attention all planets of the Solar Federation. We have assumed control.”
As a song, “2112” was also designed as Rush’s response to corporate demands and expectations instead of allowing artists to explore and reveal their creativity as they saw fit. The whole point behind individualism is to express yourself freely. When a human being’s individuality is taken away, the spark that makes them so creative also suffers.
#2 – A Passage to Bangkok
Bluntly put, “A Passage to Bangkok” was a song about marijuana and opium. The city was referenced as a travelogue for all the places in the world that grow the best weed. Several other locations were also mentioned such as Acapulco, Afghanistan, and Jamaica. The title of the song was inspired by E.M. Forster’s novel, A Passage to India.
Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” was the key source of inspiration that resulted in the musical development behind “A Passage to Bangkok.” The song was simply about enjoying the experience of marijuana, especially among locations that didn’t demonize this plant-based drug as an illegal substance. This was also something Alex Lifeson used as part of his recovery process after enduring dental surgery earlier in the 1970s.
#3 – The Twilight Zone
While working on 2112, Rush realized there needed to be one more song added to the album in order to complete this recording project. “The Twilight Zone” became the result as Neil Peart, Geddy Lee, and Alex Lifeson were all big-time fans of Ron Serling’s television series, The Twilight Zone. Using that as a source of inspiration, Rush loosely based the song’s stories on what they learned from two of the show’s episodes.
In the first verse, The Twilight Zone: Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up? was covered while The Twilight Zone: Stopover in a Quiet Town was featured in the song’s second verse. As a whole, “The Twilight Zone” was dedicated to the memory of the show’s creator.
#4 – Lessons
“Lessons” was a song that had its lyrics written by Alex Lifeson. It was one of the few Rush songs that were written entirely by him. It was a spontaneous track that was a Lifeson trademark as his songwriting style was usually an in-the-moment experience.
#5 – Tears
Geddy Lee was credited as the man behind the lyrics of “Tears” while Neil Peart handled the rest. This was a romantic ballad of loss and regret that was designed for the purpose of giving 2112 more depth as an album. The Mellotron synthesizer was used to establish a unique electric sound that made this song a favorite among fans and music critics. It was this musical instrument that spawned a run of music from the late 1970s, into the 1980s, that competed heavily against steel guitars as highlights of songs that were recorded and released at the time.
#6 – Something for Nothing
While on tour, Neil Peart observed graffiti painted across the wall that stated “freedom isn’t free.” He used this in “Something for Nothing” as an integral part of the song, which also laid out the theme of 2112. “Something for Nothing” was a song about making decisions. It was also about free will, something that all too often faces opposition from corporations and governments who want to take this away from the people.
Throughout Neil Peart’s songwriting career, he often expressed his concern about the right to freedom and free will. It also wasn’t unusual for Peart to reference the Holy Bible and certain events, often pointing out that the less freedom there, the more the people suffer as a result.
Rush 2112 Album Review And Meanings Behind The Lyrics article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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