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Rush - Grace Under Pressure CD (album) cover




Heavy Prog

3.70 | 1079 ratings

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3 stars This album has always disappointed me, though my disdain for it now is much less than when I first listened to it oh so many years ago. The album more or less sounds like what I'd expect from a sequel to Signals, but I find myself getting irritated by the sound and the songwriting much more here than I ever did there. This isn't anywhere near a bad album, and some of the songs really grew on me over the years, but there's no question to me that it's a major step back for the band.

The first few times I listened to the album, I made the mistake of thinking the problem was that the synths had become too prominent, and that Lifeson was excessively shoved into the background. I was full of crap for thinking this; there's clearly a lot more guitar work on this album than on Signals, and I don't think there are many more synths on here than there. The big problem with the synths, I think, isn't that they're used too often, but rather that when they are used, they almost never work. The keyboards on Signals, to my ears, never once hurt the sound; on Grace, they sound painfully awkward almost every time they're used. They're almost always set on BIG DRAMATIC mode, but they never really enhance the songs, and at worst they really harm them. I have never liked the keyboard work on "Afterimage" or especially "Between the Wheels," and even in a song like "Distant Early Warning" I don't really see their point. Come to think of it, I'd be really interested in hearing a mix of the album that stripped out all of the keyboards.

Then again, it might not be that interesting even then. The band is as virtuostic as ever, and as I said there's a marked increase in Lifeson's presence (with some great parts from him), but there's an excessively sterile feel to all of the instrumental work here that really bugs me. Lifeson adopts a Synchronicity-style sound in a few of the tracks, and while that sound worked with the kind of tweaked pop songs The Police wrote for that album, I don't think it works as well here. Defenders of the album often point out that the lyrics are very bleak and depressing on the album, and that because of this it makes sense for the music to match it in bleak soullessness (and it certainly does). Well, I hate to be a presumptuous ass (more so than usual, anyway), but if these lyrics were going to require Rush to make its music sound this discomforting, maybe Geddy and Alex should have made Neil write some new lyrics.

Despite these problems, and despite the fact that I think over half of the songs on here are overlong by at least a minute, I still think there's a lot of strong material on here. Actually, come to think of it, the whole first side is good. The opener, "Distant Early Warning," is a bonafide classic, with decent lyrics about nuclear war, a nice vocal melody with a legitimate feel of desperation, and a lot of memorable guitar work. "Afterimage," then, is a song I used to completely dismiss because of the awkward keyboards, but I've come to realize that they're a relatively minor part of the song, so I should focus on the other aspects, which are quite good. The lyrics are a decent look at the emotions that surround losing somebody close to you in an accident, there's a nice (albeit somewhat overlong) instrumental stretch in the middle, and a great frequent guitar line that sounds like Steve Hackett on a very good day. "Red Sector A," an ode to holocaust survivors, is an up-tempo, almost dancable pop song, with decent interplay between the simple synths and the rest of the band in the main parts of the song and a great vocal melody to go with a great vibe of (again) desperation. The side closer, "The Enemy Within," is somewhat weaker, as the funky ska-portion feels awkward next to the heavenly synth portion, but it still kinda works, and I think the hooks are ok.

Unfortunately, my attitude towards the second half of the album veers between boredom and revulsion. "The Body Electric" has one of the dumbest vocal hooks I've ever heard, and I don't hear anything especially interesting in the instrumental work to make me want to hear it again. "Kid Gloves" is a mediocre pop song that I find neither catchy nor rousing, and it passes me by every time.

The last two tracks, then, really suck. "Red Lenses" is a play on all of the different ways that "red" can be construed, and a really dippy one at that; the production also just sucks the life out of this one completely, and the melody doesn't impress me at all. And finally, "Between the Wheels" is just a fall-on-your-face disastrous combination of bad synthesizers and ugly, UGLY instrumental passages, with a feeling of bombast that feels completely unjustified to me and only bits of enjoyable melody to speak of (I admit to somewhat liking the parts where it goes into "generic uplifting 80's Rush" mode). In short, there's half of a good album here (despite that half being plagued by the same problems as the other half), and half an album that shows a level of writing incompetence not seen since A Farewell to Kings. It's worth hearing for the best stuff, but I just don't get the appeal of the rest.

tarkus1980 | 3/5 |


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