April 1 was the 40th anniversary of the release of Rush’s 2112, the record that forevermore endeared them to air drummers, not to mention the breakthrough they desperately needed. Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson spoke to NPR about the record.
“It could have spelled the end for us.”
Alex Lifeson is on the phone, calling from his Toronto home, thinking back to the time between Rush’s third and fourth albums in the winter of 1975 and 1976. It’s difficult to believe now, some 40-odd million albums sold later, but the Canadian rock trio was at a crossroads then. After a pair of decently received albums, 1974’s Rush and 1975’s Fly By Night, follow-up Caress of Steel floundered both commercially and critically. Morale between guitarist Lifeson, bassist/singer Geddy Lee and drummer Neil Peart was low, and the pressure was on from American label Mercury Records to put out something as “relatable” as early hits “Working Man” and “Finding My Way.” The writing was on the wall: Album number four was either going to break the band, or, well, break the band.
“I remember thinking,” Lifeson says candidly, “‘I had eight years of playing rock in a band, and it’s awesome, I love it, and I don’t want to compromise. If this will be the end, I dunno, I’ll go back to working with my dad plumbing, or go back to school, or something else.’ To me it was impossible to take a step backwards and do something we’d already done just to please a record company.”
The story is the stuff of legend. Rush stubbornly stuck to their plan, following up an album that had an ambitious 20-minute conceptual piece with an album with an even more ambitious 20-minute conceptual piece. Structurally 2112 was very much similar to Caress of Steel, only the band’s vision was clearer, their musical chops were stronger, the songwriting was more advanced. Best of all, they sounded grown up.
“‘What are we going to do next?'” Lifeson remembers thinking. “‘Are we going to do what they want us to do, which is basically the first album again? Or are we just going to say, ‘Screw you, we’re going to do what we want to do?’ This was us giving them the finger. That’s the way we looked at it right from the beginning. And then of course it turned into something else, something grander. We just wanted to let them know that they couldn’t push us around.”
For the first time Rush sounded truly assertive on record, like a band ready to conquer the rock world. Forty years after its April 1, 1976 release, 2112 is widely regarded as a classic album, a major influence on hard rock, progressive rock and heavy metal. Featuring the spellbinding sci-fi storytelling of the masterpiece title track and its five eclectic deep cuts that range from fun to introspective to ferocious, it was also the breakthrough Rush was so desperately in need of.