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Rush - Presto CD (album) cover

PRESTO

Rush

 

Heavy Prog

3.16 | 798 ratings

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Necrotica
Prog Reviewer
3 stars Most of us seem to look back on Rush's 80s catalog as the band simply trying to progress their established sound and usually succeeding at doing so. However, we also need keep in mind that back when these albums came out, many of the band's hardcore fans felt pretty betrayed by the excursions into pop territory and the heavy synthesizer use. Accusations of selling out were common, as well as accusations of the band forgetting the elements of what made them so great in the first place. But at the same time, many people also disregarded what made the 80s period of their music so good at points. Sure the arrangements were less long-winded and complex. Sure, Geddy Lee's synthesizers played a very dominant role in the instrumentation. And sure, the sounds of the pop and new wave artists of their time were creeping into their sound. But one reason that albums like Signals and Grace Under Pressure were so good was that they were so relatable. Not only was the signature Rush sound still present, but aided by the more personal and less fantasy-based lyrics that were already becoming a fixture in the last few albums. And the way the band's newly tightened songwriting was weaved in with their traditional progressive rock elements made for a successful formula.

Well sadly, they couldn't keep up this momentum for too long. Power Windows was a solid effort, sure, but it represented the band's most annoying feature at this period of time: too much goddamn synthesizer work. It was to the point that guitarist Alex Lifeson was getting pushed pretty far into the background, especially with the incredibly weak and watered-down Hold Your Fire. So naturally, Alex Lifeson ended up being the person who told the public that the next Rush record was going to be more guitar-driven and making a return to many of the band's traditional 70s musical traits. So with expectations being high, did Presto ditch many of the previous album's flaws? Well yeah it did, but it brought in other issues to take their place.

Presto actually shows a lot of promise with its first track "Show Don't Tell," which exhibits some of Rush's finest instrumental and songwriting chops in quite a while. Plus, Alex's heavy guitar tone is so satisfying to hear when in sync with Geddy's bass playing. However, right from the very first five seconds of its follow-up "Chain Lightning," you can instantly (and I do mean "instantly") tell what's wrong with the album. Namely, the sound is incredibly thin and sterile. I know it's been stated many times before, but Presto's production is absolutely horrible. While the watered-down sound is fine for mellower songs like "The Pass" or "Available Light," it doesn't even come remotely close to giving the faster and more intense songs the power and weight they probably deserve. This is the band's first album with producer Rupert Hine, and while he would do a better job on the follow-up record Roll the Bones (although only marginally better), this was just a lousy first effort. But sadly, this is not the only thing wrong with the album. The forgettable and boring nature of the record also extends to the songwriting, as the songs just seem to blend together around the middle portion. It's easy to forget you're even listening to the record as background music when you're not giving it a completely focused listen, which is a real shame considering the memorability of the band who made it. Some things do stick out, such as the simultaneously atmospheric and danceable "Scars" or the nicely off-kilter 7/4-time rhythm of "Superconductor"'s intro, but they aren't enough to salvage much of the record.

That is, UNTIL we reach the last four songs. Presto might have a lot of issues, but you wouldn't think so if it was just judged by these final tracks alone. From "Anagram" to the gorgeous closer "Available Light," Rush display some of their most inspired songwriting since Grace Under Pressure five years ago. "Hand Over Fist" benefits greatly from a great mix between quickly-strummed guitar chords and a fun melody from Lifeson, while "Red Tide" and "Available Light" can attribute their high quality to some really great piano lines that are integrated into the rhythms and melodies. These songs not only sound inspired, but very emotionally resonant as well. Also, as usual for Rush's standards, the musicianship of Presto is top-notch; for how simple and frustratingly bland many of these songs are, the band can find some pretty creative and impressive ways to give them life. While I already touched on Geddy and Alex's parts, Neil Peart is also great here. He might be limited by many easy 4/4 rhythms, but his willingness to make the best out of this format just displays more versatility and variety on his part. A drummer doesn't necessarily need to show off to be good, and Peart understands this concept very well.

So we have a bit of a mixed bag. Presto is just as flawed as Hold Your Fire, but the former is arguably more frustrating because there was the promise that Rush would be making some grand return to the glory days. On the other hand, Geddy Lee explained in an interview about the record that the band still decided to revert back to many of Hold Your Fire's pop elements and synthesizer-driven parts anyway. Perhaps they weren't quite ready to leave this comfort zone just yet and make another switch to their sound, but the lack of progression is still incredibly disappointing when given the album's potential. Luckily, things would turn around in a pretty big way with Roll the Bones.

Necrotica | 3/5 |

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