All or nothing
By 1976 Rush had been in existence for almost eight years and had released three albums, two of them the previous year. They had shifted from being a mere copy of Led Zeppelin to a band influenced by Yes and Pink Floyd, combining their heavy and hard rock origins with their new passion for progressive music. Their previous work had been the first that had gone in this direction but its commercial pull was zilch, and left the band on the verge of bankruptcy and splitting up. Their future was at risk with this album and the record company urged them to deliver something much more commercial, but the three band members, bassist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer Neil Peart decided that if this was going to be their last album it was going to be the work they wanted, not the one the company and their manager expected.
So the band doubled down on the progressive side and delivered a 20+ minute song that took up the entire first side. Composed musically by Lee and Lifeson, with lyrics by Peart, 2112 was the story of someone standing up to the established order, and was something they felt they could relate to, although it also made countless references to both sci-fi and the works of the controversial Ayn Rand. The fact is that it was, without a doubt, the best thing they had done up to that time, demonstrating their enormously high level as musicians by separating the song into seven different movements that ended with a nod to another of their inspirations, the Who's Tommy.
2112 was responsible for saving the band, and placed them at the head of the progressive movement but without forgetting that Rush, unlike many of the bands of the genre, could match the energy of the best rock bands of the moment, such as Zeppelin or Deep Purple. To record such a colossal piece, Lifeson mainly used his 1968 Gibson ES-335 connected to a Twin Reverb, although for some solos he also used a Les Paul Standard and even a Stratocaster that he borrowed for the session since, in that moment, he could not afford one. For the acoustic parts he used a Gibson B-45 12-string and a Gibson Dove six-string.
The second side was more conventional, with separate songs without a storyline to tie them together; however several great songs by the Canadian band appear here. From the opening with the oriental touches of the great A Passage To Bangkok, with a great solo by Lifeson, to the powerful ending with Something For Nothing, passing through the beautiful melody of The Twilight Zone and Lifeson's great solo in Lessons, this side was more similar to what the company had in mind, although their instrumental expertise - that rhythm section is hard to beat - put them far above simple imitators. Mind you, not even Peart's drumming can save the overly sugary Tears....
Evidently what makes this album special is its title track - the same song that made their label not want to release the album -, but the band had made their bet and would not take no for an answer. They gambled - all or nothing - and came out victorious. 2112 was not the end but the beginning of a remarkable career that still had four decades ahead of it.