Rush were in a turbulent place before the Canadian classic rock icons released their masterpiece 2112 in 1976. They were on the heels of their third LP Caress of Steel, which included conceptually-dense 12- and 20-minute multipart songs and was a commercial and critical disappointment. The trio knew that another flop would result in being dropped by their international label Mercury. But instead of giving the label what they wanted, which was a return to the accessible blues rock of their first two LPs 1973’s Rush and 1974’s Fly By Night, the band famously doubled down on heady and ambitious songs.
The result was one of most iconic statements in rock history. 2112 the album kicked off with the title track, a seven part, narrative-packed sci-fi suite. The over 20-minute song took up the album’s entire A-side, detailed a compelling yet Ayn Rand-inspired dystopian story penned by drummer Neil Peart, and boasted some of the band’s most impressive musical chops from Peart, guitarist Alex Lifeson and bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee. That epic song and the album’s ferocious and eclectic B-side tracks would serve as a major influence on hard rock and prog acts to come. To this date, 2112 is Rush’s second best selling LP (behind only 1980’s Moving Pictures) and is a testament to the power of a band sticking to its vision.
While Cloud Nothings don’t sound anything like Rush, frontman Dylan Baldi grew up devouring classic rock. And honestly, he just seems like a guy who would love Rush. But he’s actually never heard any of their albums all the way through. He says, “I know plenty of stuff about Rush, actually. I’ve seen a movie of theirs. They’re one of my parents’ favorite bands. They even went to see them when Rush were filming their live DVD in Cleveland. My parents might even be in the movie.” He adds, “I know the hits but I don’t think I’ve heard any of their records.”
To fix this, Noisey hung out with Baldi before Cloud Nothings played Chicago’s Thalia Hall supporting the band’s excellent and pummeling fifth studio album Last Building Burning. We brought our vinyl copy of 2112 for him to hear for the first time and we wrote down his song-by-song reaction. Read on for that.
Dylan Baldi: By the way, when I listen to things for the first time, I’m going to need 20 minutes of silence so I don’t miss anything.
Noisey: I love it. This will be easy to transcribe.
I’m kidding. Wow, looking at the record, I didn’t realize Neil Peart wrote most of the lyrics.
He did. Geddy Lee has a song called “Tears” and Alex Lifeson wrote the lyrics for “Lessons.” Another fun fact: Peart actually wasn’t the original drummer for the band.
Really? I had no idea.
He wasn’t on Rush’s debut record but he joined on for Fly By Night and started contributing most of the lyrics from then on.
What’s the old guy up to?
John Rutsey. I think he left music and went into bodybuilding.
I also really appreciate that this first song is the entire first side of the record.
That’s amazing. It’s seven parts? Looking at the tracklist I’m realizing there are no hits on here. No “Tom Sawyer” or “Limelight.” I actually don’t think I know any of these songs.
Those are both on Moving Pictures , which was their eighth studio album that came out in 1980. 2112 is their fourth LP. If you look at a lot of lists of fans ranking Rush records, these two are almost always going to take the top spots.
When did this come out?
1976. Their last record was called Caress of Steel .
Oh my god.
Yeah, I know. It’s the kind of record that had a four-part 12 minute song called “The Necromancer” along with a track called “I Think I’m Going Bald.” It wasn’t their most critically well-received LP.
Were they about to get dropped?
They were, by their international label Mercury. So for 2112 , the band decided to double down on heady concepts instead of just giving the label hits.
So this is a concept album? I want to see if I can pick up on the story.
Well, the song tells a story but the second side has nothing to do with the narrative on “2112.” First impressions?
I like this. It’s cool. I like this part a lot.
This solo rips. Did you grow up on pretty similar stuff?
I definitely listened to stuff where I really should’ve heard this growing up. It was just a lot of classic rock. My parents were really into Rush and Led Zeppelin. Led Zeppelin were probably my favorite. I watched their live DVDs. My dad now tries to keep up with newer indie rock stuff and because I do it, he’s really trying to find new things.
II. "The Temples of Syrinx"
Where are we in the song?
We just finished the “Overture.” This next part is called “The Temples of Syrinx.”
Whoa. This is good. He has a good voice. He sounds like Pat Benatar.
That’s not who I thought you were going to say but I can kind of hear it.
Did you listen to this record a lot before this interview?
A few times. I never had an intense Rush phase but I already knew the title track. My friends in high school really liked this band. I remember one of their dads would always play this song, Allman Brothers’ “Mountain Jam” or another 20 minute classic rock track in the car so they wouldn’t have to give up the aux cord on drives. Pretty good dad joke, in retrospect.
That’s amazing. Are we at part three yet?
No, almost though.
OK, I give up. Tell me the story.
Alright, here goes nothing. The year is 2112. It’s a dystopian nightmare thanks to the "Priests of the Temples of Syrinx," collectivist bad guys who control all art and freedoms. So the hero of the story discovers a guitar in a cave, which you can actually hear right now.
Oh, wow. That guy tuning the guitar right now?
Yeah, so in the next part he’s going to present his discovery to the leaders and they’re going to tell him to fuck off because they’re the bad guys.
I noticed earlier that in the LP it says, “with acknowledgment to the genius of Ayn Rand," I’m wondering what’s the guitar’s political alignment? Where does the instrument line up politically?
Wow, I’ve never thought about it. I’m now imagining one of those political compass charts and plotting where each instrument goes.
Is it conservative at this point? I feel like anything acoustic is leaning right.
In this context it definitely feels pretty libertarian. We might be getting into “ Inzane Johnny meme” territory.
Possibly. What do you think is the most free-thinking, leftist instrument?
Oh man, I have no idea. Maybe drums? If we get really into the weeds, maybe a B.C. Rich guitar is somewhere in the right spectrum.
That’s a working man’s guitar. I feel like the fretless bass might be the leftist one. I’m sorry. I’m derailing this. I feel like I’m not listening at all.
It’s cool. It’s a 20 minute song and we still got a ways to go.
What’s going on now?
We’re at part four. It’s a call and response between the hero who’s presenting the guitar he found and the Priests of the Temples of Syrinx, who are about to destroy the guitar. Geddy Lee’s voice gets a bit shrill when he’s singing as the bad guys.
So this stuff in quotes written in the vinyl is not actually said?
No, it’s just Neil Peart adding some background and color. It’s kind of nerdy but I can totally see how people got obsessed over it. It’s badass escapism and they really created their own world in a 20-minute song.
V. "Oracle: The Dream"
That’s cool. Concept albums or songs like this are always a good idea. I feel like there’s not too many. I feel like it’s a lost art.
In terms of bigger stuff I’m drawing a blank, but I’ve been listening to groups like Standing On A Corner who make really heady and conceptual projects.
Oh yeah. Those records are cool. I mean, out of big pop stars, I saw Taylor Swift pretty recently and her latest album is essentially a concept record.
I can see that. What did you think of the show?
I liked it! I thought it was cool. I was there for Charli XCX. I got really into the whole thing though.
So now we’re at "Soliloquy.” The hero feels defeated and mourns the loss of his guitar-driven dream for society. At the end of this part, he commits suicide.
Oh, we can talk about Rush if you want. I really dig this solo.
The arrangements on this album are incredible.
VII. "Grand Finale”
I’m sorry I’ve been talking about Charli XCX so much in an interview about Rush.
What’s that chant I’m hearing? What did I miss?
The robot voice is saying, “Attention all Planets of the Solar Federation/We have assumed control.” It’s ambiguous but Neil Peart said in a VH1 Classic Albums special that the ending was a hopeful one with the people overthrowing the government.
Ah, great for them.
2. "A Passage to Bangkok”
That was “2112.” We’re onto a song called “A Passage To Bangkok.”
Oh god, that intro. Alright.
I know. This a song about smoking weed around the world.
Really? Wow. “Sweet Jamaican pipe dreams/Golden Acapulco nights” Oh yeah, it definitely is. Do you think it’s a true story?
Do you think they went to Afghanistan?
Probably not but that would’ve been pretty cool.
It would’ve been so tight. I can get behind the subject matter.
One of the things I found interesting researching this record is that the band mostly wrote it on the road. A lot of bands I interview rarely find the time or the creative energy to write on tour. Do you write on the road?
Not at all. I can’t think of any song I’ve written on the road. There’s just no time or space for it, in my experience. It’s hard. As soon as a tour is finished, I feel like I could write a million songs when I’m home for a minute. But when I’m on tour, I don’t even think about it. I have to do shit in real life to be able to write a song. It’s never like if I do nothing all day, I’ll feel compelled to write a song. I have to have something weird happen to me on a two month tour and then I can write a song. Sitting in a van or in a green room is really boring and not creative.
What’s your take on this song?
I don’t know if I liked that part in the intro but the song is good. I like the subject matter. I feel like Neil Peart is probably a pretty cool guy at least a this point in his career. He looks cool here too. Is that a mullet or is that just long hair?
I think it’s just long hair.
3. "The Twilight Zone"
Alex Lifeson looks good here too. So does Geddy Lee.
Recent photos of Lee have him looking a little like Bono. Also, whenever I watch the Blue Jays, I always see him behind home plate.
Do you ever watch Raptors games that Drake goes to? It’s all just reaction shots of whatever Drake does the whole time. It’s great.
Remember how him bringing a lint-roller was a year-long meme?
That’s great. I’m fine with that. Is this a new song?
Yeah, it’s called “The Twilight Zone.”
It’s a good show. Let’s see how the song holds up. “You have entered the Twilight Zone/Beyond this world strange things are known.” These are good lyrics. Do you like the show?
I love it. My parents had the VHS collection when I was a kid. It’s now on Netflix but I haven’t done a rewatch.
Is it really? It just showed up on TV. It holds up almost like it’s a new show. It’s crazy how modern it feels.
That’s a reason I never got too into Black Mirror because it’s just The Twilight Zone with cell phones.
I want to read Rod Serling’s books. OK, this stuff isn’t as good as the first half. It’s a little slow. This solo right here is a little Pink Floyd-y
Oh definitely. Floyd were a big influence. When Rush were starting out they were much more of a blues-rock band.
I’ve heard the whole record that “Working Man” is on. That’s their first record. That one’s good. They were a rock band and then they started thinking, which is...also good.
This is the one Alex Lifeson wrote lyrics for.
Yeah, this is really good. Did he write other Rush songs?
He did but he was mostly focused on the arrangements. After Peart joined the band after Rush , it’s been primarily his lyrics.
I always thought it was pronounced “purt,” now that I’m hearing you say his name.
It was the first thing I fact-checked when I knew you hadn’t heard this album. I also heard someone rhyme it with pear the other day. It’s confusing. I watched a video of Neil Peart and Geddy Lee, clearly annoyed with an interviewer, saying, “it’s P + Ear + T. Peart.”
Weird. I really thought it was “purt.” This song is really tight. I gotta see what else Alex Lifeson wrote. I might like him more as a songwriter just from this.
He co-wrote “Working Man” with Geddy Lee, for one.
Oh yeah, he’s got some melody. He’s been married since 1975 to the same person. A family guitarist. Right on. I’m looking him up right now. He’s a licensed pilot and owns a bar in Toronto called the Orbit Room.
This is the Geddy Lee-penned track.
It’s called “Tears”? That’s sad. I don’t know about this one.
Has there been anything that you’ve recognized from this one?
No, actually. Nothing. I don’t think I’ve heard anything. Was “2112” a radio song?
Parts one and two were.
Damn. This song really sounds like Phantom of the Opera. It’s making me sad. What do you think of the lyrics?
This isn’t my favorite one but what sticks out to you about them?
Well, I’m very moved by them. No, I don’t know. I guess it’s just that I don’t understand them. “All of the seasons / And all of the days / All of the reasons / Why I've felt this way.” Yeah, no. This song sucks. Everything else is fine.
6. "Something for Nothing"
Do you like Dire Straits?
Yeah. I do.
Have you listened to Making Movies? It’s got “Romeo and Juliet.” It’s all really good songs. I bring it up because the title “Something for Nothing” reminded me of “Money For Nothing.” I just saw the single at a record store in Durham and that album art is crazy. You remember that show Reboot? It was like a Reboot version of Mark Knopfler.
No way. Dire Straits rule. Is this song getting you back into the record?
After going on a tangent about Mark Knopfler? Yeah, this song’s good. I wonder what my bandmates would think of this album. They haven’t heard 2112 either. Oh, wow this scream.
I actually thought this would be proggier. It didn’t feel that proggy. Even with that first suite. It’s fairly straightforward. I think I was something like math-rock. This was apparently one of their hugest records so I’m also shocked I didn’t know any of the songs, especially with my parents loving them so much. Also, Neil Peart’s mustache surprised me too. I’m happy I listened because I realize I love Alex Lifeson: he’s shreddy but not annoying. I loved either the title track or “Lessons” but not “Tears,” the one song Geddy Lee wrote. It was too musical-y for me.