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Rush - Grace Under Pressure CD (album) cover




Heavy Prog

3.69 | 1121 ratings

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2 stars It was 1984 and a lot of bad things were happening. Orwell's vision seemed to be coming true in the guise of an increasingly tense international atmosphere and an American cowboy-turned-President. Music as well was in a deep freeze, with such luminaries as Kenny Rogers, Duran Duran, Billy Squire and Madonna in command of the publics' attention. And Rush, the last intact bastion of a thinking person's rock, was not immune to these events. What little we know of this period is that the band wanted to 'make a change' and dropped their long-time producer/mentor Terry Brown in favor of Peter Henderson, a last minute replacement. But that wasn't the only shake-up; abandoned was the group's single-minded direction toward the fantastic, instead adopting a colder, regrettably sober image complete with bleeding cover art, bad 80s haircuts and decidedly dreary lyrical content. Of course little of that would've mattered if the music had been worth it.

This was all quite a shock, especially on the heels of the previous 'Signals', one of their best offerings. Had 'Grace Under Pressure' been the soundtrack to a Karate Kid movie it would probably have worked. But this was a new Rush album, an event, and the first chance many young people would have to see the band on tour. What we got was a grey, wounded, emaciated record with little of the magic we all hoped for and needed in those tense times. As fans, we desperately sought out the few good moments among the new songs. But it soon became clear that something had happened, something terrible-- grace under pressure, indeed... but what pressure? And this was graceful?

In fact, the album reached number ten on the Billboard charts, so, from the band's perspective, perhaps it all worked out. Opener 'Distant Early Warning' was an inexplicable hit, securing mainstream status with, ironically, their most uninspired work in ten years. The cut is a bit of a plodder with a soggy bass and thin drum sound. Guitarist Alex Lifeson has some of the better moments on the album having fully developed his new minimal style, lightly decorating the material with tasteful chirps, trills, squeaks and neat noises. 'Afterimage' though is a prime example of the forgettable work here, not bad as much as empty, a song that seems to evaporate as it plays leaving no discernible taste. 'Red Sector A' pumps with some promise but Peart's lyrics only remind us of what peril were all in with none of his usual light, and 'The Enemy Within' sealed this deal with a dreadful ska beat. A bit of uplift on the C3P0-like 'The Body Electric' about a wayward and all too human robot, one of the few genuine and unexpected moments, and rather good 'Kid Gloves' was a touch of the old Rush power and enthusiasm. But 'Red Lenses' is cringe-causing, a simply horrifying example of how far this great trio had strayed from their muses. 'Between the Wheels', the one really good thing here, comes much too late to save this languid release. Awesome in its disappointment, almost masochistically so, GUP has somehow become a favorite for many and remains a symbol of one of the darkest periods in progressive rock.

Atavachron | 2/5 |


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