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Rush - Power Windows CD (album) cover




Heavy Prog

3.53 | 974 ratings

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3 stars My beloved wife is a wonderful woman but she does have a few tendencies and peccadilloes that sometimes prove to be bothersome and/or unproductive. One is that when she and I discover some previously un-sampled entrée or snack to be absolutely delicious we, quite naturally, develop a hankering for more of said delicacy. In my case I'm happy to simply make a mental note that the next time I have a chance to eat it I will take full advantage of the opportunity. In her case she feels compelled to buy up the entire stock at Walmart and consume it daily until we can't stand it anymore. I think that's what happened to Rush when it came utilizing synthesizers on "Power Windows." They overindulged.

In their defense I should point out that the field of electronic keyboard technology and innovations in the mid-80s was erupting like a musical Mount Vesuvius, putting an almost infinitesimal variety of fantastic sounds at the fingertips of anyone who wanted to (and could afford to) explore that colorful realm. Evidently Rush's bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee was their Ponce De Leon in that area and the other two members gave him enough rope to hang himself. Whereas Geddy's tasteful and inventive foray into the world of synthesizers made 84's "Grace Under Pressure" a well-crafted album that tactfully melded their traditional sound with a more modern, "New Wave" approach to prog rock sensibilities, his unrestrained obsession with them turned "Power Windows" into a classic case of excessive audio enhancement. The band's decision to turn the producing reins over to the eager-but-still-green-behind-the-gills Peter Collins didn't help to curb Lee's addiction to synthetics, either. I'm not saying it's a bad record, just a slight misstep on their long, successful road that continues to this day.

Rush does the right thing by opening the disc with their strongest offering, "The Big Money," wherein they charge right from the gate with Alex Lifeson's huge power chords exploding through the speakers. The immediate presence of Geddy's heavy synth embellishments indicates that the trio was completely committed (for better or worse) to his vision of integrating a multitude of keyboards into their progressive art. This song in particular makes me think of where The Police would have ventured if they'd "gone prog" at some juncture. Due in no small part to Neil Peart's drumming there's certainly no lack of intensity, especially during Alex's guitar lead in the middle section. Next is "Grand Designs." On this cut the production is extremely bright and clean but not at the expense of the lower frequencies, displaying that the group had wisely learned the experiential lessons of how to make the recording studio work to their benefit. The tune's glossy synths and deep reverberations are cool but the songwriting involved is somewhat average. Speaking of depth, "Manhattan Project" has it in fathoms. Lifeson's precision is remarkable in erecting an un-ignorable wall of guitars to back up Lee's impassioned vocal while Neil, as usual, provides the necessary high-octane fuel.

The following track "Marathon," is where I began to suspect that the synths were intent on taking over. While they stop short of making the number's overall ambience appear timidly saccharine or trite (mostly because of their reliable and edgy bass, drum and guitar foundation that bolsters the vital dynamics that sets them apart from the herd) their unnecessary dominance is unnerving at times. I admire that Rush stays true to their prog roots, though, by continuing to utilize odd time signatures and unorthodox riffs and also by tacking on a grandiose soundscape at the end that satisfies the insatiable symphonic prog monster dwelling in so many of us. "Territories" doesn't fare as well. The tune comes off as a strange mixture of late model Genesis and ever-so-briefly-hip Duran Duran pop. I find the way the synths rudely intrude into the number's personality a bit garish and startling at times, setting the track on an uneven keel from start to finish. "Middletown Dreams" begins with another blast from Alex's 6-string arsenal, leading to more Police-inspired rhythmic patterns. (Being a fan of that influential band, I don't mind much at all.) Further kudos to Lifeson for employing an array of different guitar effects to keep the tunes from sounding identical yet the deficiencies in the composing keep surfacing the farther one travels through the album. In essence, melodies manufactured to fit into jam-induced arrangements don't always translate to "memorable."

"Emotion Detector" is next and it's at this point I finally have to agree with so many of their critics (and die-hard fans, for that matter) in announcing that Geddy's synthesizers had become obstructive, overemphasized to the degree that they cloud the view. This is where an experienced producer would've insisted on injecting some modicum of restraint into the proceedings but perhaps Peter Collins was exhorting Lee to take it to the limit, thus compounding the problem exponentially. Despite its shortcomings, however, this cut features the best of Alex's guitar rides found on the record. On "Mystic Rhythms" Peart's booming toms grabbed my aural attention from the get-go and I hoped that the band would take me out on a high note. Alas, though I kept yearning for something spectacular and thrilling to occur, nothing does and I was left with a feeling of still being slightly hungry.

One major flaw in "Power Windows" is that Neil's always entertaining drums are consistently positioned down in the mix and that in itself is inexcusable. Bringing them up to their rightful volume could've cured a lot of ills. But, having said that, I don't want to give the impression that I find this collection of prog tunes to be un-listenable. On the contrary, in light of what else was being released in the autumn of 1985, this record was downright exemplary in comparison. The prog waters were running pretty shallow in that era and Rush at least had the guts to follow their envelope-pushing muse wherever she led. The album reached #10 on the LP charts and kept them afloat so there's a lot to be said for that alone. It is what it is. 2.8 stars.

Chicapah | 3/5 |


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