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Music / Hemispheres

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"We can walk our road together if our goals are all the same/We can run alone and free if we pursue a different aim/Let the truth of love be lighted, let the love of truth shine clear/Sensibility, armed with sense and liberty/With the heart and mind united in a single perfect sphere..."
When our weary was world was young
The struggle of the Ancients first began
The gods of Love and Reason
Sought alone to rule the fate of man

They battled through the ages
But still, neither force would yield
The people were divided
Every soul a battlefield
Every soul a battlefield
— "Prelude"

Hemispheres is the sixth studio album by Canadian Progressive Rock band Rush, released in 1978 through Anthem Records in Canada and Mercury Records internationally. Like the band's previous albums Caress of Steel and 2112, half the album is given over to a side-length Rock Opera, in this case "Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres", the Sequel Song to the previous album's "Cygnus X-1 Book I: The Voyage". The album has fewer songs than any other Rush album, with half the album's other side devoted to the lengthy instrumental "La villa strangiato". According to Peart, they took more time recording this song than they took recording the entire Fly by Night album. The other songs on the album, "Circumstances" and "The Trees", are more conventional. The latter is a case of What Do You Mean, It's Not Political?; many listeners assume that the song is an allegory about socialism or some other issue, but Peart insists that it was inspired by a comic he saw about trees arguing and that no Aesop was intended.

"The Trees" aside, this album arguably reflects a major shift in Peart's worldview, as the sort-of Title Track argues that a balanced worldview requires both reason and love for others. The latter of these would have been anathema to Ayn Rand, who had been a major influence on Peart's early lyrics, and who wrote essays with titles like "The Virtue of Selfishness". According to Peart himself, the shift in his worldview, perhaps surprisingly, came out of cynicism. His idealism led him to believe it was possible to base a functional society around self-interest, but as he came to see that Humans Are Flawed, he became convinced that this wouldn't work, and his politics and worldview shifted as a result. The Title Track, despite being allegorical science fiction, can therefore be taken as almost autobiographical in this sense, as it depicts a society learning the hard way that neither cold-hearted rationalism nor mindless selflessness can create a functional society: one needs both reason and love to create a fulfilling life.

The album was well received by critics and remains well liked by fans, many of whom consider it one of the band's best albums, if not their best. However, while commercially successful, it was less so than some of the band's preceding albums, which may have been one factor that prompted them to change their focus towards shorter compositions on Permanent Waves. As for the band themselves, Geddy Lee in particular wasn't thrilled with some of the keys he found himself forced to sing in (he noted that he and Alex had written the music without devoting much thought to the fact that someone would have to sing it), and he had felt the band's lengthy songs were becoming a bit formulaic. This was the last album where he sang in such a high register, and it was also the last album with a side-length epic. Peart would also start addressing real-world topics more directly on the band's Eighties material and moving forward. This album is thus, in many respects, the end of an era for the band; the dividing line between the band's Seventies and Eighties material is pretty distinct.

Track listing

Side One
  1. "Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres" (18:08)
    1. "Prelude" (4:29)
    2. "Apollo (Bringer of Wisdom)" (2:30)
    3. "Dionysus (Bringer of Love)" (2:06)
    4. "Armageddon (The Battle of Heart and Mind)" (2:56)
    5. "Cygnus (Bringer of Balance)" (5:01)
    6. "The Sphere (A Kind of Dream)" (1:06)

Side Two

  1. "Circumstances" (3:42)
  2. "The Trees" (4:46)
  3. "La villa strangiato (An Exercise in Self-Indulgence)" (9:35)
    1. "Buenos nochas, mein Froinds!" (0:27)
    2. "To Sleep, Perchance to Dream..." (1:32)
    3. "Strangiato Theme" (1:16)
    4. "A Lerxst in Wonderland" (2:34)
    5. "Monsters!" (0:20)
    6. "The Ghost of the Aragon" (0:36)
    7. "Danforth and Pape" (0:41)
    8. "The Waltz of the Shreves" (0:26)
    9. "Never Turn Your Back on a Monster!" (0:10)
    10. "Monsters! (Reprise)" (0:15)
    11. "Strangiato Theme (Reprise)" (1:03)
    12. "A Farewell to Things" (0:15)

And The Tropes That Are All Kept Equal

  • Accidental Hero: The explorer stumbles upon the Battle of Heart and Mind and then silently screams in horror at the chaos he is witnessing. Apollo and Dionysus sense this silent cry, resulting in them staying their hand and eventually realising what they've done to the world. This in turn leads to them dubbing this random new god Cygnus and asking him to keep them in check going forward.
  • Album Title Drop: In the sort-of Title Track.
  • An Aesop: "Hemispheres": Ruling one's life entirely by reason or entirely by emotions is unhealthy. Both are part of a balanced perspective. Averted with "The Trees", which was often interpreted as containing one, but none was intended.
  • And I Must Scream: The protagonist of the "Cygnus X-1" duology is left disembodied by his experience going through a black hole and can't move or audibly scream, which is a massive problem when two thoroughly misguided gods are duking it out and causing a thunderstorm. Fortunately, Apollo and Dionysus sense him, resulting in the battle ending and them both coming to a Heel Realization, but it's implied the only reason this happened is because they're gods sensing a newly-minted fellow god.
  • Distinct Single Album: The first side is given over to the Rock Opera that lends the album its title. The second side is comprised of three unrelated songs.
  • Downer Ending: "The Trees". The maples finally get their rights from the oaks, but humans end up cutting down all of the trees anyway.
  • Emotions Versus Stoicism: The central theme of "Hemispheres". The gift of Apollo (reason without love) lets the people build great wonders, but they don't derive any satisfaction from them and their lives feel empty. The gift of Dionysus (love without reason) makes the people happy, but they do not have any means to defend themselves from the elements. Ultimately the correct approach is depicted as being a balance between the two (reason with love).
  • Epic Rocking: The eighteen-minute title track and the nine-and-a-half minute "La villa strangiato". The former of these would be the last time Rush would devote an album side of a studio release to a single work. The other two songs aren't actually examples, but they feel like they are anyway due to the number of changes they go through (particularly "The Trees").
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: "La villa strangiato (An Exercise in Self-Indulgence)" is very self-indulgent. The song was apparently based on a nightmare Alex Lifeson had, explaining the self-indulgence (and why it ends so abruptly, as the dream ended when Alex jerked awake).
  • Gratuitous French: "Circumstances" contains the line "Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose", which is French for "The more things change, the more they stay the same". Which is the next line.
  • Gratuitous Italian: "La villa strangiato" translates roughly to "The Strange City" or "The Strange House".
  • Gratuitous Spanish and Gratuitous German: The movement "Buenos nochas, mein Froinds!" contains (presumably deliberately) mangled examples of both languages, with both using incorrect grammar and the latter spelt using a Funetik Aksent. (The Spanish is also slightly misspelled.) The Spanish and German should be "Buenas noches" and "meine Freunde", respectively. The phrase translates as "Good night, my friends!"
  • Instrumental: "La villa strangiato".
  • Overly Long Gag: The number of movements in "La villa strangiato". Some of them barely last much past ten seconds.
  • Pun-Based Title: "A Lexrst in Wonderland" - "Lerxst" is Alex Lifeson's nickname.
  • Romanticism Versus Enlightenment: The central theme of "Hemispheres". The song ultimately concludes that the only healthy approach is to take a balance between the two.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Averted in the case of "The Trees." Despite many people claiming that the song is about some kind of political conflict, it's not. Neil came up with the lyrics because he saw a picture depicting trees arguing with each other. That's it.
  • Sequel Song: "Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres" to A Farewell to Kings' "Cygnus X-1 Book I: The Voyage".
  • Shout-Out:
    • One of the movements of "La villa strangiato" refers to Alice in Wonderland.
    • "The Sphere (A Kind of Dream)" contains a possible reference to Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility ("Sensibility, armed with sense and liberty").
    • "Monsters!" and "Monsters! (reprise)" from "La villa strangiato" are adapted from Raymond Scott's "Powerhouse", a piece familiar to Looney Tunes fans.
  • Shout-Out to Shakespeare: "To Sleep, Perchance to Dream..." to Hamlet's famous bit of Thinking Out Loud.
  • Singer Name Drop: Guitarist name drop in "A Lerxst in Wonderland" - see Pun-Based Title above.
  • Take a Third Option: "Hemispheres" concludes that ruling one's life either entirely by emotions or entirely by reason will lead to unhealthy outcomes, and that a healthy life must include a balance between the two.
  • Title Track: "Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres" is a variant, as the album title is the subtitle of the song.
  • Triumphant Reprise: The ending chords from "Cygnus X-1 Book I: The Voyage" are reprised in "Cygnus (Bringer of Balance)", but in a much less sinister fashion than they were deployed in the original song, owing to the protagonist having become a god.
  • Whole-Plot Reference: "Hemispheres" is noted to be highly inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy.
  • Winter of Starvation: When the people start following Dionysus, they're too busy partying in the forest to think about storing food for the winter and are caught off guard when winter eventually comes and "[brings] wolves and cold starvation". This disillusions them to the Heart after they've already rejected the Mind.