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Rush - Grace Under Pressure CD (album) cover

GRACE UNDER PRESSURE

Rush

 

Heavy Prog

3.70 | 832 ratings

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Finnforest
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars "You can so easily get disappointed." [neil]

"For instance, I thought that 'Grace Under Pressure' was the right album at the right time. It was a time of crisis in the world and I was looking around and seeing my friends unemployed and having a very bad time. Inflation was rampant everywhere and people were basically in trouble. The world looked dark. That album to me was a tremendous statement of compassion and empathy with the world and I thought because of this it would have a similar accessibility as '2112' or 'Moving Pictures' in their own eras. But it didn't have the desired impact because people do not wanna hear about sadness when reality is so gloomy. In the 1930's people didn't clamour for sad stories but absolute escapism and I realized that having the right feelings at the right time isn't necessarily going to be the best way of dealing with something, particularly in the so-called 'entertainment arts!'" [neil, metal hammer 1988 interview]

For my 300th review here I wanted to visit an old friend, a Rush album I purchased as a 70s throwback kid at the tender age of 17 in that spring of '84. From the perspective of my peer group at the time it was not Neil's reason in the opening paragraph that made us less than pleased with GUP. That might be correct for some people, but for us, the problem with Grace was that the image and sound abandoned our beloved 70s hard Zep flavored rock for (gasp) the hated 1980s. True this happened on Signals first but it was more pronounced on Grace. We didn't like the synths, we didn't like their clothes, their lame haircuts, or their refusal to play Hemispheres cover to cover at the show we attended that summer. We were not prog-heads at that time, we were unapologetic worshipers of 70s Rush/Zep/Sab who were truly distressed at the state of rock music. I recall being 3rd row in front of Alex at the Grace show and patiently sitting through 6 or 7 GUP tracks waiting for La Villa which never came. Their confidence in this material was clear at that time, instead of quickly peeling off 2 or 3 of the "new songs" they played nearly the entire album. While we longed to hear 2112 that night Rush were playing to a different audience. Their confidence in this album was correct. It didn't take me long to realize just how great this album is. I think that Grace was a logical place for Rush to be in '84 and while it doesn't have quite the overwhelming presence of invincibility that Moving Pics has it remains to this day elbowing for rank in the top 3 of my Rush fave list.

"My subject matter is drawn from other people, although it's nice to find a personal parallel if something upsets me. Anger is always a big motivation, and outrage gets me all fired up. But one thing I particularly hate is confessional lyrics, the one where people reach down inside their tormented souls and tell me how much they hurt -- that's really selfish and petty! If you have all that pain, by all means express it but be a little self absorbed about it and look around you at other people, because everyone has pain and frustration and you can find parallels if you look for them. For example, the song 'Distant Early Warning' (from the 'Grace Under Pressure' LP) contains the line 'The world weighs on my shoulders,' which is an expression of worldly compassion that any sensitive person feels occasionally. You feel so rotten, because the world is such a mess, so many people are starving and unhappy. It's an extreme that represents a feeling most people have from time to time. Yet I certainly wasn't going to put it in terms like 'Oh, I'm so depressed.' I wanted to get across the point of world-weariness and sadness rather than self-pity. [neil, metal hammer 1988]

While the style of the 80s Rush that is so evident on Grace can be debated by fans I find the album an amazing lyrical and musical success. It has done nothing but grow on me over the years as albums like 2112 have become a bit of a snore to me. GUP finds Rush delivering 8 very solid tracks crackling with musical energy and deliciously dark lyrical images. I love every second of it. It sounds like a cold (nuclear?) winter day with contrasting feelings of power and energy balanced by claustrophobic eeriness. Yes it does have the overly exuberant keyboard presence and sound that is a bit cheesy and dated at times but I am able to overlook this as a minor stylish flaw because the songs are so damn strong. Alex and Neil are just unbelievable in their energetic interplay on this album, finding new ways in every song to be monsters of their instruments while only adding to the overall texture of the track. Every song is an example of this but for specifics just listen to the guitar solo on "Kid Gloves." Jesus Christ, he can barely contain himself and the joy of the crunch just bubbles over. Where did this burst of energy come from? My guess is that Alex felt a bit constrained by Signals and you can hear his edgy redefined playing just smashing through here. Lyrically I have never been as blown away by Neil. For a friend of the band who died tragically too soon, the stunning "Afterimage".

Suddenly you were gone
From all the lives you left your mark upon
We ran by the water on the wet summer lawn
I see your footprings, I remember
I feel the way you would

Or from part 1 of Fear, The Enemy Within.

Every breath a static charge
A tongue that tastes like tin
Steely-eyed outside to hide the enemy within
And you, revolution or just resistance?
Is it living or just existence?
Yeah you, it takes a little more persistence
To get up and go the distance

"I think the joy of creation is very overrated. The irony of it is that the moment goes by so fast. At the end of it all, there's no joy of creation, there's no sitting back going, This is finished and wow, I'm so happy. Because you're so tired and drained from all of the mental demands you don't have anything left to throw a party. [neil, working musicians 2003]

"Distant Early Warning" opens with a feeling of dark clouds gathering. It rocks from the beginning and this album maintains a fierce pace throughout with crisp, concise songwriting that is as tight as the playing. Alex is always incorporating lots of picked open chords along with the chugged chords. Geddy's bass is a solid base below the keys and the drumming is ferocious. ("I see the tip of the iceberg and I worry about you.") Indeed. In "Afterimage" we hear the synths sounding so up front but if you listen closely the guitar and bass are right there as well blending together. The nice leads Alex plays during the ("I feel the way you would") portion are very emotional. His solo then combines the sharp new edge with a bit of the old Alex flash before going back into a chord progression picking, all very effective in providing a mood that looks forward with the sadness of losing a friend. "Red Sector A" speaks to the resilience of the human character and shows off some of Peart's most delicate of animated drumming, the percussion almost running a second lyrical story. "Body Electric" has so many cool little instrumental entanglements flopping all over each other that it's almost impossible to document them. It's a masterful job of layering to build a controlled power, no sooner does it break free and rock out that the initial main part pulls it back, even the amazing guitar solo falls into it the confines. You're almost breathless by the end of it. Perhaps sensing the tension overload the band loosens up a bit for the most fun rocker, "Kid Gloves." As mentioned before Alex has a killer solo here. "Red Lenses" is another showcase for Peart's outstanding drumming blending the traditional and the electronic. Geddy's bass is solid here as throughout, I really don't understand the criticisms that Geddy's bass sucked on this album, I think he does fine. "Between the Wheels" is a real highlight closing the album with the synths in the beginning very brooding and ominous. Alex has some great leads in the intro section and the vibe of the song is chilling. The melody of the chorus is beautiful and emotional before it slams back to the harsh verse section. Geddy's vocal is really heartfelt and pushes his own limits. Alex's final solo on the album is maybe his best here in terms of emotion and reminds me every time why I love his playing. The prophetic lyrics are chilling as they describe where we may well be arriving to:

Wheels can take you around
Wheels can cut you down
We can go from boom to bust
From dreams to a bowl of dust
We can fall from rockets' red glare
Down to "brother can you spare"
Another war, another wasteland, another lost generation.

In my country we have our next war and for many "brother can you spare" gets closer every day. Sure it's not the cold war Neil was referring to but still. The next generation is not yet lost but how much crap can we leave them with and expect them to handle. So much potential and so many resources, so casually squandered for the enrichment of the few. I think the anger and fear Neil expresses in GUP is perfectly relevant to our world today, the lamenting of lost promise, the pointlessness, the madness, the injustices. On a daily basis I struggle with maintaining hope after reading the news, though as dark as Neil is here I know he is also one to advocate pushing forward over giving up. I think the power of the music on Grace, as the title implies, is to convey the optimism of the human spirit despite the reality we see around us as conveyed in the lyric. As the written word gets us down, the spirit is in the music. A cool way to present material like this.

"I think we were just ready for an experiment and also there was the advent of new keyboard technology that I was really interested in. So, we decided we would try to make ourselves into a four-piece rather than a three-piece and Signals really represents that. It was an experiment that lasted for a number of years. I think we started rejecting that fourth person in the band right around the time we did the Counterparts record. That was the beginning of relearning how to be a trio." [geddy, ugo 2004]

I think it's very interesting that Geddy sees Signals-Counterparts as an experimental period for the band. I need to hear some of those others again with an open mind. I remember thinking Power Windows quite a drop in quality from Grace. But in any case Rush can be proud that while Yes, Genesis, Floyd, and the Zeppelin solo careers were stagnating and horrible around this time, GUP will be remembered by a few of us as forward thinking, classy, visionary, fresh, and biting, with great songs and amazing technical performances. Peart is right to question why some of the fans didn't like it. But he comes through as a perfect gentlemen in praising the "Rush fan" when asked how the three of them have managed to stay together for over 30 years:

"There's no easy answer for that, and yet it is basically a simple relation: We like each other, and we like working together. Still, nobody can choose to have an audience for 30 years - like dance partners, they have to choose you too. So we have always been delighted that as we pursued our goals in music, we managed to please enough other people to give us an audience. To say we'd be nothing without them is more than fatuous sentimentality - it's the plain truth." [neil, ugo 2004]

Finnforest | 4/5 |

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