Friday, June 6, 2003 | 8:43 a.m.
Year of release: 1978 (Polygram).
Song list: "Cygnus X-1 Book II Hemispheres" (I. "Prelude," II. "Apollo, Bringer of Wisdom," III. "Dionysus, Bringer of Love," IV. "Armageddon, The Battle of Heart and Mind," V. "Cygnus, Bringer of Balance," VI. "The Sphere, A Kind of Dream"), "Circumstances," "The Trees," "La Villa Strangiato."
Canadian power trio Rush has worn many hats during its 35-year career: storytellers of strange, far-off lands, proficient FM hit-makers and three of the world's most highly regarded rock musicians.
On 1978's "Hemispheres," the band showcases all of those talents in a neatly packed four-song album equally suited for newcomers to the band or for fans looking to delve a bit deeper beyond Rush's twin classics, 1976's "2112" and 1981's "Moving Pictures."
Recorded in the days before Geddy Lee (bass/vocals), Alex Lifeson (guitar) and Neil Peart (drums) fell in love with the synthesizer, "Hemispheres" features a hard-rock band ascending to the height of its powers, still hungry enough to lace its music with an edge missing from much of the work that followed in the mid-to-late 1980s.
The album opens with one of the trio's last prog-rock excursions, the 18-minute "Cygnus X-1 Book II Hemispheres," a vast improvement on the lyrically related but musically different "Cygnus X-1" from the album's predecessor, 1977's "A Farewell to Kings."
Lee's famously high-pitched vocal style is well-suited to the song's other-worldly lyrics. His shrill opening verse bursts forth from the instrumental intro: "When the weary world was young, the struggle of the ancients first began, the gods of love and reason, sought alone to rule the fate of man."
The second track, "Circumstances," rocks hard, hinting at the radio hit machine that Rush would soon become, while "The Trees" -- a metaphorical tale of prejudice and oppression -- proves that a band that often sounds like it pulled lyrics from a Dungeons & Dragons novel can also have a serious side.
Finally, "La Villa Strangiato" serves as the ultimate closer, a 10-minute instrumental that leaves no doubt about the immense skills of Lee, Lifeson and Peart.
Don't be scared off by the album's brevity. "Hemispheres" clocks in under 37 minutes, about half of what today's compact disc format allows. But in this case, adding bonus tracks would only have watered down the original record's impact.
Expect to pay under $12 for "Hemispheres," and be sure to pick up 1997's remastered edition, which has "The Rush Remasters" along the front spine of its jewel box. The improved dynamics, not to mention the decreased hiss, are dramatic.