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Rush - Grace Under Pressure CD (album) cover




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3.70 | 1144 ratings

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3 stars Right from the beginning of my album-purchasing days, I became familiar with Rush. "Tom Sawyer" was on my first ever cassette purchase, a compilation of hits from 1982. Geddy Lee appeared as a guest on my second cassette, Bob and Doug MacKenzie's "Great White North" album, a comedy album that included a song "Take Off (to the Great White North)" with Geddy singing the chorus. So I knew about Rush. However, once I started watching late night music video programs, the Rush I heard was "Grace Under Pressure" and "Power Windows". As a young lad who was into anything heavy metal, these albums did not impress.

It wasn't until the fall of 2010 when I was checking out Rush on Wikipedia, just out of curiosity, that I learned what an incredible career these three fellow Canadians had achieved. Always proud to support domestic talent, I braced myself and delved into the world of Rush, knowing that it would mean acquiring those eighties albums that had failed to stoke my interest back then.

"Grace Under Pressure" came in my first purchase of six albums (I actually already owned five Rush albums; I was just not a big fan) and hearing "Distant Early Warning" and "Red Sector A" brought back memories of those eighties videos. Surprisingly though, I found myself enjoying the music. Perhaps 26 intervening years of musical exploration and personal maturation along with a desire to welcome the music of Rush whole- heartedly into my life made it very easy to accept what had previously been unacceptable.

This is the first Rush album to have been recorded without long-time producer, Terry Brown. From "Permanent Waves" through to "Grace Under Pressure" the band was experimenting with shorter songs that packed a progressive approach into a more compact and traditional rock song format. In spite of this, you can still expect to find a few of the Rush trademarks including Geddy Lee's active bass and unique vocals, Neil Peart's crafty drumming and insightful lyrics, and at least a couple of signature guitar solos by Alex Lifeson. However, as with the previous album "Signals", the guitar sound has changed from the heavier rock sound of the band's earlier albums and become a tinny, New Wave pop slashing of chords with lots of echo and reverb. Also gone were the heavy riffs, replaced largely by these "schwaaang"-sounding chords. And of course there is the heavy use of synthesizers and electronic drums. It's funny how an album that sounds very seventies receives a compliment while an album that sounds very eighties receives scorn or derision, but I personally find this eighties style to be very treble focused and lacking in the bass department. The sound is not as balanced as seventies albums nor as rich as more modern albums. This I also find on Saga's album "Heads or Tails". I like the music of both "Grace" and "Heads" but the bottom end of the sound spectrum is missing.

"Grace Under Pressure" includes eight songs, though there are no longer any Rush "epics" to wriggle with excitement about; the songs range from 4:21 to 5:45, a fairly standard range for more intelligent pop rock. There does indeed seem to be a lyrical theme of "Grace Under Pressure" throughout the album. The Cold War theme surfaces in "Distant Early Warning" and "Red Lenses"; "Red Sector A" is a song about a Jewish prisoner in a concentration camp and was inspired by the real life experiences of Geddy's mother; "The Enemy Within" is about facing up to one's own inhibitions and living a more adventurous, regret-free, life; and "The Body Electric" is about an android attempting to free itself from servitude.

Musically, some of the highlights for me are the dramatic opening of "Distant Early Warning" and the overall quality of the song, along with Geddy's passionate expression; the eighties rock reggae sound of "The Enemy Within", which I also find is the most frantic and intense song on the album; and Alex's memorable guitar solo in "Kid Gloves" as well as his guitar work in "Between the Wheels", which is also the heaviest song on the album with a grinding-of-steel and gritted teeth quality to it at times. I also have always loved the cover art even back in the day when I had no interest in the music. I like the Asimov-themed story of "The Body Electric", too.

This music bears no resemblance to the great epic songs that Rush were known for in the seventies; however, I do believe we see the band progressing. Heaven knows the eighties were a challenging time for the seventies progressive bands, and music was changing in style, sound, and production. It is my opinion that with "Grace Under Pressure" Rush were evolving and progressing as they explored new angles and new possibilities with their music. Yes, the songs follow a more standard rock/pop format and are rife with the sounds and instruments of the often derided eighties pop scene. But Rush attempt to make them work here within the framework that is Rush, which happens to be a rather elastic framework capable of stretching and expanding to accommodate the whims and curiosities of three creative musicians.

FragileKings | 3/5 |


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