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Hold Your Fire (or 'The Red Album' as I have fondly come to think of it over the years) is a rich, exciting record that, to a certain extent at least, finalised the experimental synthesizer period of Rush's career, in that the keyboards were used as a multi-layered textural device that was now a huge part of the Rush sound, although they had been using synthesizers as early as their classic 2112 album. Whilst it may not be as well produced as the exquisite Power Windows, this album holds some of their finest work - Time Stand Still, Prime Mover, Open Secrets and Mission. And yet, it is worth mentioning that there is not a single bad track to be found on Hold Your Fire, it is a very complete sounding piece of work. Some of it is uniquely experimental, the gentle sophistication of Tai Shan for instance, whilst the closing track sounds vast, almost overwhelming, the exotic, High Water.
There is some room for improvement within the sharp and 'thin' production treatment given, unlike the huge and full bodied sound of Power Windows (a personal favourite of mine) however, there is no denying the quality of the songs. It is probably best listened to on vinyl, for a richer, warmer, more 'red' sound, although the remaster can sound quite pristine on a decent sound system, add a touch of extra bass for punch if you have tone controls on your amplifier.
Neil Peart displays a somewhat more open and personal approach to the lyrics than usual (at least at this point in his writing career...) on songs that deal primarily with emotion, power and also with the passage of time. The best example of this approach can be found within the wonderful Open Secrets and for me, this song features one of Alex Lifeson's most emotive and evocative guitar solos. It reminds me of a wild, haunted wind, pining and lonely, blowing through the leaves of trees on a hot summer's night. Indeed the whole album invokes a sense of deep red within me, of an evening at the height of summer, when the sky is crimson, almost bloody in its look and feel, a dark red that will soon turn to black as the first chill of the evening descends from green, lush hills and the air is hot and sweet. Geddy Lee's pulsating bass work during Open Secrets is also a thing of rare, moving beauty.
Prime Mover is classic Rush, a complex framework of rhythms that stop and start, stop and start - 'the point of the needle, moving back and forth...' The music and lyrics are moving forward, in a fundamentally optimistic view and attitude that informs the listener that 'anything can happen.' This song is one of the reasons that I love Rush so much, it is at once outward looking and introspective, an echo of the sentiment within opening track Force Ten - 'Look in - look out - look around.' It is complex yet accessible, joyous in its statement of intent - '...thrill to be alive - the point of the journey, is not to arrive...'
Mission illustates perfectly just how accomplished Neil Peart had become at blending electronic percussion into his acoustic drumming, the middle section is nothing short of stunning, the mechanics of which can be seen in startling splendour on the Snakes and Arrows Live DVD, which for me holds the definative version of this song, also worth looking out for is Alex Lifeson's electric, searing solo during the end section, which simply shakes with emotion and you can see just how much he enjoys playing live. I read once that there is a version of Mission Rush recorded with Peter Collins that features a brass band, I really hope they release that version one day.
Time Stand Still is another standout track, warm and quietly haunting, with some beautiful backing vocals from Aimee Man that fit the mood of the song perfectly. Neil Peart's drum pattern during the chorus never fails to please me with its pin-point precision and constantly shifting rhythms. There are some subtle, contemplative lyrics during the song, contained within the verse -
'I turn my face to the sun,
Close my eyes,
Let my defences down -
All those wounds that I can't get unwound...'
Again, here is a track that is at once both introspective and outward looking -
'Time stand still -
I'm not looking back
But I want to look around me now.'
The final song that Rush wrote for the album is also the opening track, Force Ten. It starts with treated vocals and electronic drumming that sounds like a pneumatic drill before giving way to an urgent, busy bassline and driving snare drum pattern that carry us off into the journey of Hold Your Fire. It is a rich, rewarding experience that I find myself returning to, sometimes when there is a warm wind in the evening, the trees sway and late summer turns everything to a soft, bloody red and slowly, the first dark creeping tendrils of colour begin to float into the sky. By midnight the moon rides high over metallic cloud and the night sky holds its own circle of brilliant white fire.
I've found every Rush album to peak in its enjoyment after a few listens. After maybe five listens, I'll be able to decide whether or not I love it or not. 'Hold Your Fire', however, was an exception to that rule. At first, I found it too mellow and boring, but being it a release from one of my favourite bands, I forced myself to keep listening to it until I at least found something to enjoy about it. As I became more familiar with the music, I allowed myself to let the sounds wash over me and to interpret the lyrics as they naturally came to me. I found myself pleasantly surprised at the result, which was a state of real enjoyment and liking for this album.
This is the most laid back and symphonic effort from Rush. The guitars do not play a huge role in here, instead making way for Geddy's keyboards and voice to lead the way. This isn't a hard rock album. This isn't even really such a prog album....
...but is there emotion? Yes. Is there intelligence? Yes. Do I find myself moved by it? I would certainly have to say so.
This is music that might take a bit more time to get into than most Rush fans are used to. The symphonic influence here is very profound. I'm sure if this was an album by a symphonic band like Genesis or Yes, people would warm up to it more because that's what they're expecting from a band like that. I suppose this release is progressive if you take into consideration that although Rush is traditionally a heavy prog band, they were willing to explore symphonic rock and take risks. And isn't that what prog is all about?
This is an album with a toned down, yet very optimistic sound to it. It's music to listen to when feeling down and stressed - a piece of music to unwind to. That's what it was intended to be, and that's what it should be taken for.
Rush releases their 12th studio album, and the pinnacle of Rush’s new wave synth era is realized, the bands long climb taking them to the summit as master composers. To bad we gave up the journey, not wanting to see this view from the wrong hill. Hold Your Fire is a collection of all the wrong ideas from Powered Windows, with any remaining old fashion rocking filtered out to insure a perfect pop collection; at times inspiring, as if the bands current mission statement can’t completely deny the great performers and writers behind the curtain, but otherwise safe and light weight.
The music gasps with a few moments of greatness, but otherwise crumbles under its own sanitary perfection, forcing the listener to see the empty space where once stood a complex machine. Big productions and engineering perfection is now an end instead of a means. And when the music does hit hard, you just probably missed it after wading through mediocre versus and simple performances. Now there are two words that make me want to cry: “Simple Performance”. This is Rush for Gods sake. Yes, Peart is performing well, and Lee is still a signature bass player, but both simply blend into the background, the band intentionally holding their fire as performers, writing themselves into a smaller part of a big whole. Don’t even get me started on Lifeson. Besides a decent showing in the first and last song, the poor guy seems like an afterthought. How in the hell a three man rock band decides to write their only guitar player as a supporting part is beyond me. The moments he is allowed to shine (usually a token solo, which are still good) are just criminally to far apart.
Lyrically, this album rides just above average. I don’t expect bands to necessarily be profound as a rule, but this is Rush. When I put on Rush I have expectations, but it’s hit or miss on this one. If you look beyond ideas that are safe, generic, or pretentious (see “Second Nature”), you’ll see that “Mission” turns a pretty good verse, and the conceptual “High Water” delivers in an abstract way.
Speaking of “High Water”, for me this is the one song that delivers as a whole, the simplicity and polish of the 80’s highlighting a brief shinning moment of progressive conceptual goodness. Peart brings his ‘A’ game, Lee’s bass is sublime or commanding as needed, and my god Lifeson slowly comes to life. His gradual escalation coinciding with the eastern themes, which is excellent for the song structure - Where have you been Alex! It’s not “Something for Nothing” by a long shot, but at least you’re here. Next time get the guys to make the other nine tracks like this, and the album would have been a solid piece of 80’s art-prog. I can live with keyboards and all the other stuff when they are on hand to support you.
If you are a big fan of 80’s pop, this album will deliver for you. To the bands credit, they have written an album that far exceeds what one would think be possible of such music. If you are a huge Rush fan, you’ll find a few moments, so wait and get a good deal on this along with its sister release Powered Windows. From there you can rip them together into a pretty decent EP of your favorite tracks. The rest of you will find this average at best. For me, this is a disappointing moment in a lackluster period of Rush’s catalog. Moral of the story: A musician should never hold their fire.
Having split with long-time producer Terry Brown after Signals (who co-produced every album from Fly by Night to then), it was only a matter of time before Rush fell into the same pack as their peers, altogether abandoning progressive rock for the younger, hipper synth-pop of the 80’s. Miraculously, Grace Under Pressure was still a really good effort, despite the overwhelming synthesizers. Power Windows wasn’t bad, but you could see that the band’s ideas were running thin. And then comes Hold Your Fire, which is the musical equivalent of the band bending over and receiving a major shafting from the sound of the era.
The sound on Hold Your Fire, while realistically a natural evolution from their other 80’s albums, is Rush at their most fragile and innocuous. The New Age leanings that were perceptible on their previous few releases are in full swing here: the result is an album that is soft, commercially appealing, and utterly devoid of the things that make Rush worth listening to. Where is the hard-riffed, technically astonishing rock outfit that tossed literarily brilliant epics in the face of skeptical critics and came out on top? Not here my friends. Here we have an aging band trying to recapture the acclaim of youth by doing things entirely different than they would have then. Alex Lifeson’s guitar hasn’t been a focal point on an album since 1981’s Moving Pictures. Think he couldn’t be utilized any less? Here’s he might as well not even been in the studio. He spends the duration of the album competing against the heavy synthesizer for supreme backing instrument that you’ll barely hear beneath the bass and vocals. Of course Geddy Lee fans can rejoice over this: the bass is everything. Even on this, the band’s mellowest album, Lee’s bass is still punchy and wonderful. His vocals are nothing special, though fans of his later, more expressive singing may enjoy it. Peart’s drumming isn’t particularly special either, as he concentrates more on being textural than anything else. This includes utilizing a lot of auxiliary percussive gimmickry, the kind that your New Wave types were synthesizing anyway. And speaking of synthesizers, they’re actually a little less persistent on this record. Not that they aren’t everywhere (they are), it’s just that they’re not as overwhelming as say, the fucking bass guitar. Yes, Geddy is good, but did Steve Harris mix this album or what?
So as for the songs, there aren’t even any highlights. The more energetic numbers of “Force Ten” and “Prime Mover” are the closest to past Rush rockers, while “Time Stand Still” has certain niceties to it. But otherwise the songs stick to the basic formula. Straightforward, unremarkable, non-progressive, bass-heavy, synth-heavy, pop-rockers that drone along for a few minutes longer than any of them should, occasionally featuring a castrated Lifeson solo. That’s the base recipe for a Hold Your Fire song, topped off with pretentious, pseudo-spiritual fluff for lyrical content. Sounds delicious.
I know a couple of Rush fans who really dig this album, so there’s no guarantee that you’ll hate it. But I’m certainly not afraid to say that it sucks, so I will. Hold Your Fire sucks. You like Rush? Well you better like them a hell of a lot before you spend a penny on this one.
This may be Rush’s most synth-laden album, but it is still of excellent quality. One of the major complaints I have heard about Rush’s synth era is that Alex Lifeson had less to do. That’s not entirely true. Sure, he doesn’t play blazing leads or crunching riffs as he did in the early days, but he does play some excellent rhythm guitar during this era. Even still, a lot of his best solos were done through this time period so it’s not like he abandoned them all together. Don’t expect to hear classic hard rock when playing this album. It definitely softer, but the depth of the music is great.
The opening track, Force Ten, rocks the hardest here. The bass line is phenomenal, and overall the synth does not strike me as being as cheesy as it was in the past. Time Stand Still is probably the most ‘pop’ song here, but at least the lyrics are strong. It’s about wanting to slow down time to enjoy life a little longer. Prime Mover has yet another excellent bass line. I really wish more bands would use leading bass line like Geddy Lee does instead of just playing root notes. My favorite of the album is Mission. It’s got inspirational lyrics about sticking to your dreams and goals in life, and it has great instrumental section near the end. A powerful guitar solo finishes off the track, and I think it’s one of Lifeson’s best.
I have spoken mostly about Geddy and Alex, but what about drum god Neil Peart? He’s not all over his drum kit like in the past, however he used electronic drums and percussion here, so his creativity is still evident. HYF has some of his best lyric writing as well. Force Ten, Mission, Open Secrets, and pretty much every other track has well written lyrics. I’m not sure if there is an overall theme to the album, but a lot of the tracks have inspirational lyrics.
There are some weaker tracks here though. I’m not a big fan of the closing track, High Water; it just doesn’t come off as epic as a closing track should. Mission probably would have worked as a better closing song. Tai Shan is ok, as long as you don’t expect a usual Rush song. It’s mostly synth and mandolin, but no drums. It has grown on me with several listenings.
I know I said in a previous review that Permanent Waves was my favorite, but HYF practically surpasses it. It may have a lot of synth in it, but Rush performed it well. It’s definitely worthy of checking out.
Highs: Musicianship, lyrics, mostly everything.
Lows: The synthesizers may turn some people away.
Final Comment: One of Rush’s strongest albums.