Rush: A Farewell To Kings/Hemispheres

Listen to the Rush genius as it was intended – on vinyl.

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Some time in the mid-90s many of us did a rather foolish thing: we sold our souls to the Great God ‘Compact Disc’ and turned from the old ways.

We declared the old gods, vinyl and LP, ‘false’. We accused them of ‘scratchiness’ and ‘impurity’. We discovered ‘digital’, and we heard it was good. We abandoned vinyl to the ignominy of charity shops (or, in my case, sold all our LPs to pay for drugs). And then, CD itself was supplanted and a new god, the mp3, arose in the West, and Death followed with it…

But as we know, vinyl’s slowly and surely coming back into vogue, and what better time to get into it. Rush are celebrating their 40th anniversary year by re-releasing 14 of their classic Mercury albums on 180-gram black platters.

The recent reissue of A Farewell To Kings and Hemispheres isn’t about carefully re-packaged, über-geek boxsets full of cheeky and tempting extras. (Though, to be fair, the vinyl’s being offered with digital download codes for lossless audio.) Rather, they’re what most of us want and need: extraordinary and hefty slabs of vinyl made available again, beautiful in their vanilla nakedness.

A reminder of vinyl’s warmth, and Rush’s progressive spirit.

The renaissance in vinyl is no mere nostalgia. It’s a reminder to take time to marvel and physically connect with music. Listening to A Farewell To Kings on this format is to connect with what made us love Rush in the first place. Firstly, there’s that cover: a landscape to get lost in and interrogate for hidden meanings. CDs and downloads just cannot communicate the power of the visual, and Hugh Symes’ Farewell art is iconic.

Then there’s two sides of startlingly well-judged tunage. Back in 2012, Alex Lifeson said that 2112 was the first album where Rush sounded like Rush. Hard to dispute, but A Farewell To Kings defines their 70s sound: fierce and yet pastoral, mystic and yet heavy. This is an album made for vinyl: it insists we get up and take a break after Act One, then turn the disc over (the pleasure in that act!) and continue.

1978’s Hemispheres is a different yet no less intriguing beast. It’s surely a bridge between Rush’s cosmic 70s prog and the sound that ultimately led to Moving Pictures. Hemispheres offers a serious insight into the changing nature of the band. The Cygnus X-1 Book II suite – with its fond look back at Farewell’s own Cygnus X-1 – now seems a long goodbye to their old selves. La Villa Strangiato and The Trees foreshadow the 80s sound which define Rush in the popular mind.

These reissues could so easily just be cash-cow exercises. Rather, they’re a reminder of vinyl’s warmth and vibrancy, and also Rush’s progressive spirit.