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Few bands can boast a discography as rich, deep, and consistent as that of the Holy Trinity, Rush. Fly by Night, 2112, A Farewell to Kings, Hemispheres, Permanent Waves, Moving Pictures-All of these were classics by the time Grace Under Pressure came out, and with the exception of Hemispheres being an extension of Farewell (or vice versa), none of them sounded quite alike either. Rush had innovated so much by this point in their career that you'd think they would be ready to settle into a niche, and indeed they would eventually-Grace Under Pressure, however, is not that niche.
Stylistically, this album isn't too much of a far cry from its predecessor Signals. It does have a lot of the heavy focus on pop hooks that Signals had, but in my honest opinion, outside of the classic Subdivisions, there wasn't a whole lot of memorable material on Signals overall. Grace Under Pressure is essentially Signals with the biggest thing Signals lacked-substance. This album is also a lot more of a rock album than its predecessor. The synthesizers are there, but it rarely feels like they're suffocating Alex Lifeson's vibrant guitar leads or Geddy Lee's frenetic, intricate bass lines.
The production here is absolutely brilliant. Grace Under Pressure is the only album credited to Pete Henderson, and that is a damn shame. Everything sounds exactly as it should. The synthesizers are balanced perfectly with the shimmering, layered guitar work, the bass can be heard clearly throughout, and Neil Peart's drums have that fantastically cheesy "80's arena rock" feel to them. Where the hell was this Henderson guy when the painfully synth-drenched Power Windows was recorded?
The playing here is tight, controlled and restrained. There are no La Villa Strangiatos or YYZs here, and there don't need to be. Rush definitely didn't need to prove that they could play their instruments at this point (let alone that they quite possibly the three most technically proficient musicians alive) and they don't have any acrobatic tricks up their sleeves on Grace. Instead, what the band delivers here is eight catchy, prog-infused power pop tunes with a distinctly Rush feel to each.
Neil Peart's songwriting never disappoints, and Grace Under Pressure is far from an exception. Even on the worst Rush album (which in my opinion is Hold Your Fire but that's definitely for another, much angrier review) there are great lyrics to be found. Grace Under Pressure has an unusually antiwar slant, having been recorded in the uncertainty of the Cold War era. Several tracks either contain references to or have been interpreted by fans as being about the Holocaust. Red Lenses is about global warming and the United States' impact on the environment. There's some personal stuff here too. Afterimage is an aching reflection on the loss of a loved one, and The Body Electric refers to the fear of total subservience to authority. None of these things are particularly uncommon in popular music, but keep in mind that Rush's comfort zone before this time was 20 minute rock operas based on Ayn Rand novels and instrumentals composed in Morse code.
Finally, two more things really have to be noted. One-the hooks here are absolutely superb. Not only are several of these songs Rush classics, but Grace Under Pressure is overall probably the catchiest set of songs Rush has ever dished out. Rush isn't exactly a band well known for their big, singalong choruses, but this album boasts a few. How many bands could get a packed stadium of fans to sing along to "one, zero zero, one, zero zero, one?" Not too terribly many, I'd argue. Another, final thing that brings this album home-This album is probably the best vocal performance Geddy Lee has ever given. While I love the early Rush material as much as the 80's stuff, I was never a huge fan of his screaming vocals, and his performance here, while toned down, still displays a remarkable amount of range and control. It's not going to turn a Rush hater into an immediate Geddy Lee convert (his vocals are definitely an acquired taste) but it is really good stuff and should please any fan.
Speaking of fan pleasing, now I have to get to my main problem with this album-it rarely gets any attention from anyone but diehard Rush fans. I would actually consider this one of the best Rush gateway albums (though I'd still point a newbie to Moving Pictures first and foremost) and yet with all its casual appeal, it still gets overlooked on so many fans' "best Rush albums" lists. I suppose the pop flavor could be a little off-putting for many fans of the former prog-rock giants, but then on the other hand you have the even poppier Signals, which is considered a classic by many Rush fans both casual and hardcore. Ultimately, my message to anyone getting into Rush, check this one out. And to diehard fans who treasure this album the same way I do, I implore you to go out into the world and champion it to the Rush younglings. Let the brilliance of Grace Under Pressure be secret no more.
The front cover - bleak, surreal, yet somehow optimistic, the font for the lyrics, the lyrics themselves, the labels on the original vinyl album, the egg in the clamp on the inside sleeve, the unflinching realism of the band photograph on the back cover - it all fits the album so perfectly. And the music...clinical in its execution, but infused with such emotion and energy makes this, for me, one of the definitive Rush albums.
There has been much talk about the 'overwhelming' use of synthesizers on Grace Under Pressure (indeed, from Signals through to Hold Your Fire) and whilst they are often at the forefront, they are used tastefully as a textural device to layer and expand upon the already huge Rush sound and add colour to Rush classics such as Distant Early Warning and Red Sector A. Furthermore, there is plenty of full-bodied and glorious guitar work on tracks like Afterimage and Kid Gloves. Between The Wheels features a monstrously heavy riff during the verses and some brilliantly heavy guitar work during the chorus, then just wait until that solo kicks in, easily one of Lifeson's finest - fast, fluid, and brimming with emotion.
Afterimage, one of my very favourite Rush songs (the lyrics are pure heartbreak and read like poetry), also features tremendous guitar playing with another heavy riff during the chorus and one of those wonderfully odd 'chord-solos' that Alex was experimenting with at the time. You can also hear this technique used on Red Sector A and The Body Electric and reaches its experimental pinnacle on the punchy Kid Gloves.
The album covers some haunting themes - the spectre of global pollution, bereavement, the holocaust, and fear, all conveyed through intelligent, emotional, and passionate music. You really need to listen closely and study this recording, for it will not reveal all of its secrets upon first listen, but persevere and in time you will hear the subtle detailed beauty of this great album. Grace Under Pressure is classic Rush. This is the album as art.
In 1981 Rush began distancing themselves from the sound that had garnered them so many fans and loyalists in the decade previous. The band began abandoning the progressive rock elements and long-winded, complex compositions of years past - a cornerstone of their critically acclaimed releases. The resulting album "Signals" was certainly a change from their past works. Now, shorter, snappier songs accompanied an influx of keyboards and synthesizers. The music seemed to be more to-the-point and while it may not have been the successful formula they created and perfected in earlier times, it worked just the same. Because of this, Signals was mainly well received and remains a strong part of Rush's library to this day. However, the band's follow up Grace Under Pressure was by no means insufficient. The 1984 album finds the band pursuing the transition initiated on Signals but doing so amidst darker lyrics and more varied soundscapes.
The opener "Distant Early Warning", a cold war anthem, remains one of the band's most legendary tracks. It features a very memorable chorus that works hand in hand with perfectly used keyboards and driving guitars to push the track over the top. It was the perfect way to open the album and it's a track you'll notice yourself listening to again and again because it has great lasting value.
Meantime, the ska inspired "The Enemy Within" and horn laced "Kid Gloves" illustrate the band was set on diversifying their overall sound while maintaining that unmistakable Rush aesthetic. But despite being eclectically ambitious the band also didin't forget how to write sturdy, hard rocking songs. The closer "Between the Wheels" is highlighted by menacing keyboards but also by some fantastic work from Alex Lifeson who plays his part perfectly on this album despite being buried in the mix from time to time. Regardless, Between the Wheels It is by far the heaviest song on the album and includes a solo that may even rival "Freewill" from the Permanent Waves album. It certainly wouldn't be ludicrous to call it one of Rush's most underrated songs.
Other standouts from Grace Under Pressure include Red Sector A and Afterimage. Both songs are very poignant musically and lyrically. The sincere Afterimage deals with the loss of a loved one while Red Sector A features more heavy, intense keyboards as well as mellow, crisp guitar passages and speaks of human tragedies & sufferings during World War II. In fact, with a few exceptions, you could say that at the time Grace Under Pressure was Neil Peart's most mature album, lyrically.
The highlights certainly do outnumber the faults on Grace Under Pressure but there a few missteps that inhibit this release. Red Lenses is so silly that it commands the skip button treatment and The Body Electric, while not entirely worthless, is not too far off either. However, these are the only two examples of excellent songwriting gone astray on an album that any Rush fan needs to procure.
Grace Under Pressure is undeniably a winner.
Rush continues the synth based 80’s with the neo-art prog rock of Grace Under Pressure, also known to fans as “P/G”. The smooth production and light tone of Signals was a pendulum swinging one way, with the weight of Grace Under Pressure swinging the other. By weight, I mean the multi-layered density of the sound, as if the band wanted to bring all the instruments forward, ultimately resulting in a texture of sounds washing over you all at once. Also, the tone of the album lacks the light soundscapes of its predecessor, musically and lyrically, becoming the darkest album since Caress of Steel and arguably the darkest album in the catalogue. The production of 80’s Rush was painted in varied bright colors while Grace is many shades of grey.
Lifeson is more in the forefront this time, and it’s good to hear his axe work swinging, the chops working in long deliberate strokes of dark contemplations. See “Between the Wheels” for some of Lifeson’s most sinister sounding solo work. Lee’s voice rolls over the troubled landscape with grim lyrics, addressing varied personal and societal issues revolving around the theme of pressure. This can be the apocalyptic “Distant Early Warning”, the concentration camps of “Red Sector A”, or the fatality of “Between the Wheels”. Peart’s percussion is its usual technical greatness, but more structured, an attempt to drive the music less at times but provide support beams for the whole mass. This style change is due to the music, which has now taken a left turn from the usual hard rock of Rush with infusions of ska and reggae.
That last point must be reiterated, for the casual hard rock fan can be very well put off by this change in the groups sound. If you do not care for ska or reggae, then this albums stock will drop quickly for you. Keep in mind the ever-present keyboards also. There is a lot going on within those three concepts to turn many a headbanger away, for surely there is a lot going on that betrays the principles of rocking out and metaldom in general. It’s the compositions themselves, combined with the performances that once again save the whole confusing approach, turning the dark tales into more than their parts, the density betraying a gratifying depth.
Grace Under Pressure is the odd man out in the 80’s synthesizer sound of Rush, an era that continues to polarizes Rush fans. While the sounds are there, the album is not the pop fare associated with later releases. It’s an eclectic piece of dark art prog rock that is really the dark horse of the catalog. A love it or hate affair that is a definition onto itself, a piece of muse centered upon itself; combining many elements of what Rush was with what Rush will become, mixed with what Rush is this once. Give it a spin or three, but go in with both ears open.
Sometimes a picture really is far more descriptive than words. The cover of Rush’s Grace Under Pressure, an expressive and eye-catching depiction of a figure staring off into the horizon, serves as a fine prelude to the album. This is a band looking to the future, a band focused on expression, and a band of complexity and subtlety. A band not easily defined by images or words. Refusing to accept the limits of their sound and songwriting, Rush continued the path they began carving with Signals for better or for worse, but most certainly without looking back.
And though Grace Under Pressure is certainly softer than even Signals, I think the final product was more or less for the better. Again, don’t confuse softer with simpler, as they’re still pulling their weight, but whatever rough edges the band might have had before this have been smoothed and polished. Getty Lee sounds the best he’s ever sounded vocally, while his playing is not a step below his level of ability on Hemispheres. Whereas many players will dumb down their playing when going for a simpler sound, Getty Lee is just as fantastic as ever. Same can be said for Neal Peart of course, whose ever-evolving technique and creativity continue to impress. The real surprise on this album is the greater role that Alex Lifeson plays on this album. His guitars are still used as a backing instrument, but he’s quite audible (he was mixed out for a significant portion of Signals) and his playing is just as good as ever. Note however, that as the guitars are increased for this album, the synth presence is as well. The band’s sound is completely saturated by the various effects and it’s one of the primary reasons this album is mellower. But what it lacks in sheer rock ‘n’ roll bravado it makes up for in mood and atmosphere. Though Rush was always a band of hope, they can’t help but cast a melancholic feeling throughout Grace Under Pressure, the only exception being the laid-back “Red Lenses,” which calls to mind some of the avant-garde King Crimson output in the 80’s. This feeling holds up lyrically as well, with most songs expressing discontentment just a hint shy of despair. And it actually works really well, considering the mood of the songs themselves, with only the chorus of “The Body Electric” calling to mind the band’s sci-fi past in the cheesiest of ways (it’s in binary, sigh). But overall, the new mood is versatile enough to be applied coherently throughout the album, resulting in another highly consistent release.
And it is consistent, as all the songs have likeable qualities akin to the band’s nature. But like all of their 80’s albums, there may still be a listening curve for fans of the band’s prog-era or those that aren’t into albums of a mellow nature. Hopefully those for which this applies will be able to overcome their stigma and appreciate this. Otherwise, they’ll just be leaving more to love for those of us that already do.
RUSH- GRACE UNDER PRESSURE
The first of my top three reviews is for an album by a band that are very special to me. Special, that is, in a different sense than the two bands who rank above them, because they paved the way for those bands’ very existence. Canada’s Rush, in the mid-1970s, invented progressive metal. They fused the sounds of early metal bands like Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple with the sound of British progressive rock in the vein of Genesis and King Crimson, effectively creating my favorite genre. My favorite album of this band is one that came out ten years into their career, Grace Under Pressure. Rush fans and n00bs alike have accused me of having poor taste in Rush, maybe because Grace could be thought of as the sequel to its precursor, Signals, because both albums tend to be dominated by keyboards, but further listens should reveal that this is an entirely different kind of animal, perhaps the most bestial metal experience Rush released from 1984 to the present, save for Vapor Trails.
Since this is also a thread about your three favorite bands, this demands a bit of background. I got into Rush when I was a wee lad of ten or eleven, listening to classic rock radio and hearing songs like “Tom Sawyer” and “Fly by Night”. It took until two years later, when I finally got into metal, to buy my first record of them, Moving Pictures. It was an album that demanded your full attention, and that intrigued me. I was a prog nut before I even realized what prog was, and I was interested by the weird time signatures and experimental use of instruments. Rush meant much to me in my formative years, and they remain high on my favorite band list.
And so commences the review of the album, song by song.
1. Distant Early Warning- The album kicks off on a fresh and positive note, and the guitars and synthesizers are more or less evenly distributed in the production. That delicate balance is struck time and time again on the album, which is one of the reasons it is my favorite from Rush. Lyrically, Neil is at the height of his game, weaving a tale that can be taken as metaphoric for the Cold War tension of the time (Leonard Roberto, author of A Simple Kind Mirror, argues that Grace is a concept album about the East-West conflict). Geddy Lee’s voice is truly great on this song and the album in general. This is a vocal from a short-lived era (roughly 1984-1991) during which he no longer utilized his shriek, nor had his voice begun to wither away. On an album full of gems, it’s hard to say which one is my favorite, but this one just may take the prize.
2. Afterimage- This is a highly personal song. A friend of Geddy and of the band died in an accident during the sessions for the album, and he was immortalized in lyrics that read as a eulogy. Geddy recalls talking and drinking in the misty dawn, and skiing fast through the woods with this stranger to the fanbase but beloved friend to the band. Alex Lifeson, guitar god, steals the show on this, with his tasteful fills during the verses and equally tasteful take on an atmospheric interlude. The song is all in all a classic, and was probably my favorite one on the album on my first listen to the album.
3. Red Sector A- Wow. If you want to shed a tear listening to Rush, go for this song. It isn’t a ballad, but it evokes twice the emotion of any power ballad you could name. Geddy’s parents were both Holocaust survivors, and this song is a brutal description of the horrors which occurred during those years. The imagery is powerful, referring to “ragged lines of ragged gray” and depicting “skeletons, they shuffle away”. As a personal crusader of teaching the lessons of the Holocaust and acquaintance of one of the Mengele survivors, this song truly touches the core of my soul. Musically, dreary minor chords dominate, and there is heavy synth use. The instrumental sections do just what music should, it conveys the message of the lyrics just as powerfully as the lyrics themselves. This song is another classic.
4. The Enemy Within- This is Part One, therefore the last song (Rush can count backwards because they have more money than you), of the “Fear Trilogy”. The listener, after listening to a song about bereavement and a song about the Holocaust, needs this song. It picks up with a happy rhythm, and has a generally enjoyable vibe to it. The album’s title probably comes from this song (that and Rush’s high opinion of themselves ), featuring the line “I’m not giving in to security under pressure.” The Fear Trilogy ends on a high note and the song is a wonderful way to end side one of the vinyl of the year, 1984.
5. The Body Electric- Kudos to Walt Whitman for writing “I Sing the Body Electric” and inspiring Neil Peart to write another technology-based song (the other great one has a twenty-one and a twelve somewhere in it). This is the story of an escaped humanoid trying to reprogram himself in the “hot desert sun”. If you’re curious, Geddy sounds very good in binary code. S.O.S.
6. Kid Gloves- Ignore the very stupid title and get to the actual lyrics (well, except the part that rephrases the very stupid title). You’ll realize that Peart is sort of penning a sequel to “Subdivisions”. The guitar is the showcased instrument (Except for the drums. I only haven’t mentioned those because every single Rush song showcases the drums. Neil can’t help it.). Alex plays an aggressive staccato riff and segues right into the powerful vocals that Geddy belts out over sustained chords and truly metal riffage. Rush were such forerunners. You can sense the Dream Theater itching to get out in songs like these.
7. Red Lenses- If there’s a song that could possibly be linked to the Red Scare/Cold War/Communist theory that Mr. Roberto came up with, it is this song. Opening directly with Geddy singing, “I see red”, this song seems to be a jaundiced look at the fear that was spreading the western hemisphere, and had been since the ‘50s. Perhaps he is wagging an accusing finger, perhaps he was joining in the fear. It’s quite hard to tell. But children, beware, there may be Soviets hiding under your bed, according to this song. The song is, again, awfully metal, disproving the uneducated horses who try to accuse Rush of abusing keyboards on this album. This is the album’s weak link, to be certain, but that doesn’t keep it from being an incredible song.
8. Between the Wheels- Sure, it’s keyboard-dominated, but this dreary showcase of skills is a perfect closer for a perfect album. If you want to see it in it’s most incredible version yet, buy the R30 DVD. Geddy’s vocals aren’t as good, but Alex sounds great on it. The nihilistic theme reemerges, saying that the way mankind is headed, we could see “Another war, another wasteland, another lost generation.” The song clocks in just under six minutes, and is fittingly epic for its length (the longest on the album, though it seems quite short). The soloing is downright insane during the instrumental section. Geddy’s vocals on the chorus sound great too, especially the last time around. I can hardly explain just how good this song is. You may find yourself listening to it several times in a row without cease. Buy the album.
Do I have to tell you? 100%.
Rush, one of the most original and intelligent bands in rock history evolved from early hard rock influenced albums to some kind of art rock in 80's. Music is full of synthetizers, keyboards and with no more long compositions.
Rush started this experiment with previous release Signals, but with this album song compositions, sound and using of new elements (synths, keys) became finally complete.
Everything starts with the album cover, which is nice, atmospheric and very deep. First song on album, Geddy Lee's favorite Distant Early Warning has typical trademark for Rush in 80's, that means energic, but balanced guitar production and sound almost based on keyboards, what helps to create original and fantastic atmosphere. Don't get me wrong, keys are not lead instrument here, but their role is still very important.
Geddy's vocals became with previous albums more listenable, and they are no longer so high-pitched and agressive. You can hear that he tried to get more emotions and tone into his voice.
I said there's no more long compositions. Rush left their long progressive opuses and turned into more conventional song structures, the length of songs is always about 5 minutes.
Band uses this standard music elements to create something new, strong and inovative. Their creativity was incredible in that time, because with using only typical rock instruments (vocals, guitar, bass, keys) they were able to create trends.
The sound is really nice and deep. Another thing are percussions... always very inconspicuous, but important for the sounding of songs, and if you will be attentive, you will find their technical excellence.
I don't want to dissect songs here, because the thing, that this whole album is about, is lyrics hand in hand with atmosphere.