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Rush - Grace Under Pressure CD (album) cover




Heavy Prog

3.69 | 1121 ratings

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Symphonic Team
4 stars 1984 was a poor year for prog but Rush continued to eclipse the rest

Ah, the enlightenment of the 80s; prog was really dwindling on the decline and becoming mediocre, but one band continued to release one great album after another; the power trio, Rush. The music definitely changed, the lengthy epics were shortened to 4 to 6 minute tracks and the synthesizers dominated the music, but somehow Rush had enough innovation and melody driven songs to produce an excellent album. This may well be the best prog album in 1984 but the competition was very lean in these difficult years of prog. Let's put this into some sort of perspective before settling on a rating for "Grace Under Pressure".

Here is a short exploration of the 80s. The bands that were producing the best prog albums of the year were neo proggers, Marillion ("Fugazi", and the live "Real to Reel"), eclectic pioneers, King Crimson ("Three of a Perfect Pair") and Solaris ("Marsbeli Kronikak"). Others that were making some sort of impact were Uzed ("Univers Zero"), Pallas ("The Sentinel") and Camel ("Stationary Traveller"). Queensryche were beginning to make progress ("The Warning") as were Los Jaivas ("Obras De Violeta Parra"), however progressive rock was being phased out gradually with the uprising of manufactured synth and electronica. I am not talking about the innovative prog electronica of Kraftwerk, this was a crystal clean sickly sweet saccharine sound adopted by 80s pop icons such as Prince, Culture Club, Chaka Khan, John Waite, Duran Duran, Thompson Twins, Sheila E, Cyndi Lauper and Eurythmics. The hit singles were dominated by the power ballad, noteworthy were 'Oh Sherrie' by Steve Perry, and there were the curios too of one hit wonders such as '99 Luftballons' by Nena. This is what Rush were contending with and few people were interested in the prog epic or songs with odd time signatures. Even classic prog icons Yes sold out with their album "90125" and Genesis who had a hit with 'That's All'. And metal was being split in half, mellowing to synth patterns with Van Halen's 'Jump' and ZZ Tops 'Legs' making it big on the mainstream charts, and becoming more defined and popular with such albums as Metallica's "Ride The Lightning" and Iron Maiden's "Powerslave". A year of transformation you might say.

Ok, history lesson is over but how would Rush answer this on their eagerly awaited album. They produced something with a distinctly 80s sound but it is endearing and melodic without selling out against a progressive sound. The first track 'Distant early warning' signifies the new approach to the Rush sound. Lifeson's guitar is layered with effects, lots of delay and echo, and the synthesizers are predominant from Lee. His vocals are layered at times but never imposing from the music. Peart really tends to hold back, without notable breaks but his drumming is consistent and effective. The lyrics changed too. Nothing to do with Greek gods, trees or Snow Dogs, instead songs about survival, protagonists in danger, and machines or techno phobia. I love the chorus; "The world weighs on my shoulders, But what am I to do? You sometimes drive me crazy, But I worry about you, I know it makes no difference, To what you're going through, But I see the tip of the iceberg And I worry about you..." The best tracks on this are those with strong melodies and creative approaches to the music with powerful lyrics. There is no filler material I am delighted to report.

'Afterimage' has a strong beat with fast rhythms from the drums and loud guitar chords. Lee plays a mean synth on this and his vocals are storytelling at his best; "I feel the way you would" he explains and the uplifting style enters the conscious. Then Lee continues to give meaning behind the themes; "Tried to believe but you know it's no good, This is something that just can't be understood, I remember The shouts of joy skiing fast through the woods, I hear the echoes..." The next section is very haunting instrumentation, bizarre effects on the synth and glorious riffing from Lifeson. He later plays a lead break with a lot of slide work. The riff at 4:05 is fabulous. So far the album is an excellent display of heavy melodic rock.

'Red sector A' is the best track on the album, I always liked this when I first heard it on "Rush: Gold" compilation. The guitars are stunning, lots of echo and hammering down on the strings, but it is a beautiful sound Lifeson emits here. The lyrics and melody are sensational; "All that we can do is just survive, all that we can do is help ourselves to stay alive." The next verse gives me the chills especially when I hear the section where lee sings, "I clutch the wire fence until my fingers bleed, A wound that will not heal, A heart that cannot feel, Hoping that the horror will recede, Hoping that tomorrow we'll all be freed..." There is an enchanting instrumental passage with harmonics and virtuoso chord and fingering on the guitar. The live performances I have seen of this are even better, Lifeson effortlessly twangs out the melodies. The mid range vocals and medium tempo are endearing, and transfixing. I would easily rate this track among the top ten tracks for Rush in their huge repertoire.

Another highlight is 'The enemy within (Part I of Fear)' that has a fast tempo and strong melody. The chorus has some great lyrics; "I'm not giving in to security under pressure, I'm not missing out on the promise of adventure, I'm not giving up on implausible dreams, Experience to extremes, Experience to extremes..." Then the track has a slow crystalline guitar and synth motif sounding like tubular bells, creating an ethereal atmosphere. The time sig changes slightly on the bridge until it returns to the tempo again. Towards the end there is an off beat reggae feel and it fades. Great track to revel in and not one you will hear often in concert.

'The body electric' begins with pounding drums and a guitar lick and then the trademark twanging of Lifeson crashes down. The track is memorable for it's chorus; "1 0 0 1 0 0 1, SOS, 1 0 0 1 0 0 1, In distress..." It has a terrific lead break that soars and dives with massive bends and arpeggios. It took a while for this to grow on me but I now think of this as another highlight of the album. The lyrics are fun too telling a story of technology taking over, "Memory banks unloading, Bytes break into bits, Unit One's in trouble and it's scared out of its wits.... It replays each of the days, A hundred years of routines, Bows its head and prays, To the mother of all machines." Not a power ballad thankfully.

'Kid gloves' has an odd time sig and a killer riff that plays constantly and locks into the melody. A sleeper track that is not played live often but I can get into this tuneful track easily. The half time feel is great and there is a wonderful lead break, with delay and some very nice drumming from Peart. The bass keeps the rhythm and then it merges back to the main motif.

'Red lenses' begins with "I see red..." and then the guitars crank out the familiar effects pedal laden riff of previous tracks. Some of this sounds a bit like 80s Genesis, particularly the keyboard riff that clicks into gear after the first verse. The time sig changes a few times during the track. I like Peart's rototum playing on this that suits it perfectly. There is a nice interlude of drumming and keys with some eclectic guitar twangs. The synth solo is excellent on this. There are some good lyrical content; "And the mercury is rising, Barometer starts to fall, You know it gets to us all, The pain that is learning, And the rain that is burning, Feel red...." Once again this might be misconstrued as a filler but it really grows on you.

'Between the wheels' begins with staccato keyboard playing that create a tense atmosphere. The disjointed rhythm works well as Lee sings the estranged lyrics; "You know how that rabbit feels, Going under your speeding wheels, Bright images flashing by, Like windshields towards a fly, Frozen in the fatal climb, But the wheels of time Just pass you by, 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 And another lost generation." The track has a solid powerful attack of synths and guitar throughout but the real feature is the instrumental break that launches into a brilliant lead break. The guitar squeals and presents harmonious parts of the melody in a unique style. The staccato synth returns after the next chorus, and Lifeson plays new variations of the main motif, making his guitar scream and dive. A highlight of the album make no mistake.

So at the end of this exploration of 80s sounds, Rush measure s up and maintains a progressive feel while keeping true to the new sound of the 80s. The result is the best album of 1984 and what an album it is. After a few listens it grows on you like osmosis, you become accustomed to the clean guitar crashes, and the full on synthesizer treatment. An excellent addition to your prog collection, I am certain.

AtomicCrimsonRush | 4/5 |


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