Concept albums aren’t for everyone. Even the most dedicated of fans for certain recording artists and bands aren’t always sold on what the storyteller is attempting to get at through their carefully thought out music driven narratives. But for those ambitious listeners out there who have the patience to take in albums like The Who’s Tommy or My Chemical Romance’s The Black Parade, the experience of tuning into a plot-driven record can be just as invigorating and rewarding as making it through one of Kubrick's films.
Rush’s studio masterpiece that is their 1976 2112 LP always seems to find its way into the discussion when fans are debating the hierarchy of classic rock concept albums. The futuristic storyline brings the fictional city of Megadon to the ears of listeners, mostly thanks to the seven-part, 20-minute opening track which was primarily penned by the band’s drummer, Neil Peart. Both fans and non-fans of the prog-rock band will list out reasons why the album is their favorite, or not quite their cup of tea. Either way, 2112 is wildly adventurous enough to keep the listener entertained throughout the more complex beginning and into its more traditionally structured second half.
Without going too deep down the 2112 wormhole, here are five reasons why the classic album can, and should, be considered one of the greatest concept albums of all time.
1. From start to finish, it checks off all the emotional boxes
One thing listeners will pick up on while hearing the lengthy opening track is the album’s constantly changing dynamics and levels of power being pumped out by the trio. The robust, distortion-heavy chords of “Overture” and "The Temples of Syrinx" launch the listener into an outer-worldly space and time, only to be brought back to earth in “Discovery/Presentation.” The calmness of Alex Lifeson’s guitar mixed with sounds of flowing water starting around the 6:45 minute-mark offers a calmness to help reintroduce the listener back to reality in quite a lovely way. The contrasts and drastic changes in styles continue throughout the album, thoroughly bouncing off all types of emotional triggers along the way.
2. 2112 is subtly creepy, in a harmless and melodically fun kind of way
Futuristic storylines based in an alternative reality can be weird, which is more often than not, the entire point. In addition to taking listeners on a quest through Megadon during an intergalactic war, the band use their carefully crafted production tactics and subtle notation in hopes of translating the weirdness of their storyline. One great example is singer Geddy Lee’s very faint backing vocal track which kicks in right at the 2:00 minute mark of “The Twilight Zone.” The whispered lyrics are almost lost in the background unless you really pay attention. If you can hear them though, the panned-left vocals offer a creepy but harmless little ingredient to a compliment the album's bigger picture.
3. The album has had a huge influence on some of today’s most popular rock artists
Rush may not be the most mainstream-friendly band (which is a good thing), but 2112 has been an evident influence and inspiration for their fellow rock contemporaries. Most rock fans will be quick to remember when Foo Fighters members Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins paid tribute to their heroes with their own spin on the album’s “Overture” at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony a few years ago - in full costume! The imaginary landscape of 2112 certainly opened up doors for future artists in terms of expanding the boundaries of thematic possibilities in commercial rock music, which up until that point, had been more of a bluesy-rock genre still left over from the British invasion the decade prior.
4. 2112 is not entirely based around one concept
The front half of 2112 tells Peart’s fictional story, while the second, more structured side of the LP does not, which makes for an album that touches on the best of both worlds. As mentioned above, concept albums aren’t for everyone, but thankfully the five shorter songs on the back half of 2112 provide the other fans with more of a traditional lineup of hard rock tracks. According to guitarist Alex Lifeson’s liner notes found in 2112’s 40th Anniversary release, tracks two through six are “a little lighter and a little more fun," which no one is going to complain about after taking quite a trip during the first 20 minutes of the album.
5. Lifeson’s guitar playing throughout the album is nothing short of masterful
Alex Lifeson is sometimes given a little less credit than deserved for his contributions in pushing the boundaries of hard rock guitar. Neil Peart’s drumming and Geddy Lee’s frontman status can sometimes bring them to the front of conversations amongst fans, but Lifeson’s guitar playing on this album can stand just as strongly on its own in an era where guitar heroes were the biggest names in commercial music. From softer Spanish-style acoustic playing, to the mind-blowing eruption of solos heard throughout the album, Lifeson once again pulls out his wonderful bag of tricks and mastered virtuosity that has helped make Rush one of the more powerful and dynamic acts in rock history.