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Power Windows is that rarest of animals - a perfect album. Every track and the mood of the album is electric. It is also one of the very best Rush albums. Polished, slick, and glossy, but more importantly it is infused with layered depths of emotional and musical intelligence.
Grand Designs and Middletown Dreams overflow with excitement, powerful pulsating bass lines combined with some of Neil Peart's most unusual, complex, and exciting drum fills fully brought to life by the lush, full-bodied production.
Elsewhere, Marathon and Emotion Detector burst with feeling via Alex Lifeson's stunning guitar work. The Big Money will make you wonder how on earth three musicians can create something that sounds so vast. I find the songs pulse with energy and vibrancy, almost like a living thing, and the craftsmanship and quality of the songwriting is first class. This is one of those records that can transport you to another place, like taking a walk on a dark evening with lightning in the sky and a brilliant full moon remote in the blackness. This is is a record that will make you feel alive.
Power Windows is one of the best rock albums you will ever hear. Rush blended electronics with the full power of traditional instrumentation to create something quite extraordinary. To fully appreciate this album in its correct context, I strongly recommend the previous studio album, Grace Under Pressure (an album approaching perfection) and Hold Your Fire, the latter being the sister record to Power Windows as it shares many rhythmic similarities and contains further developments on the the themes of power and emotion. Also, Rush experiment further with the fusion of electronic and acoustic instrumentation.
Rush have never been afraid of taking chances, for they are musical scientists exploring sprawling new avenues of sound with a rare honesty and bristling intelligence. For me, Power Windows rates among their best work alongside Permanent Waves, Moving Pictures, and Signals.
I’ve wanted to write a review of this album for some time now, but I find it hard to articulate how I feel about it. Anyway, I’ll try to do it justice.
This is the first album I really got into by Rush. I’ve liked the band for quite a while, but it was always various songs, and their more recent live albums that I listened to. I never gave Power Windows much of a chance, partially due to the rating score on metal-archives; I chose to check out albums that had been rated high. Eventually I got around to hearing Mystic Rhythms, and from there it began. I have become infatuated with this album and it is by far my favourite album. There aren’t really any other Rush albums that I listen to the whole way through; Grace Under Pressure and Hold Your Fire sometimes… (I love their mid 80s period).
A common criticism of the album is the lack of presence from Lifeson. I suppose this stems from the fact that the songs aren’t riff driven, but that is where the true genius of his playing shines through. His playing is so fantastically tasteful, textural, and succinct. He does so much, by at times doing so little: minimilistic brilliance. Personally I believe some of his best soloing is on this album. Take for example the solo on The Big Money; it’s nothing short of orgasmic.
The calm approach also applies to Peart’s work on the album, so tasteful and perfect. The simple repetitive drumming on Mystic Rhythms creates a hypnotic effect that drives the song and makes it so memorable. They do so much by at times, but not doing too much. The tasteful playing creates expansive songs that breathe.
Geddy, on the other hand, is as brilliant as ever on the bass. His vocals also sound the best out of any work from the 80s as well. There must have been something happening in the band that created such cohesiveness.
Another criticism levelled by many is the use of keyboards. This isn’t the first album they used keys on, and it wasn’t the last. Whereas previous albums sounded more like progressive rock with keyboards added later, Power Windows uses the keyboards in conjunction with the material. It sounds so much tighter and organic than their other work. The great use of effects by Lifeson on this album also adds to the layers, creating such a smooth sound.
Peart’s lyrics at times can be fairly cheesy, but on this album I find them to be much deeper and profound. The only detraction could be some of the lyrics in Territories. The lyrics deem with a lot of individuality (Grand Designs), evil powers (The Big Money & The Manhattan Project), collective consciousness (Mystic Rhythms), and following your dreams (Middletown Dreams). I could go on at length about the lyrics on this album, but I’ll cite a brief excerpt from Grand Designs:
“Against the run of the mill,
Static as it seems,
We break the surface tension with our wild kinetic dreams,
Curves and lines,
Of grand designs…”
They get me every time…
The only aspect that detracts from this album is the lyrics on Territories, and not them all, but particular verses that just make me cringe. The music is still good, but I feel the song would have fit better on Grace Under Pressure. Perhaps it was left over from that writing period. That is the only thing holding this album from a perfect score. Even that being said, the album is close to perfection. I really had to nitpick to find something wrong, and even then the lyrics aren’t that bad.
I hope more people can enjoy this album. It can take time to get into it, due to its unique nature, but it’s worth it. This more than any of their other albums takes time to get into, and I really find it to be the pinnacle of their 80s output, much more than the popular Moving Pictures.
In my opinion, Rush’s legacy is defined by their consistency. Their first decade of studio activity (the ten albums from Rush to Grace Under Pressure) ranges from quite good to absolutely brilliant (the lowest score I’ve given to any of them is an 80). But no band whose work spans a long period of time is capable of maintaining such an inspired pace forever. After all, Rush has two more decades worth of material since ’84. Power Windows, their eleventh studio album, is the first to dip below their legendary margin of quality and unfortunately it wouldn’t be their last.
The theme of the album is power and ironically, that’s precisely what its songs lack. Opener “The Big Money,” despite being one of the better tunes on the album, is a great example of what’s wrong with Power Windows. There’s just too much reliance on the synthesizers and vocals and not enough emphasis on the band’s famous rhythm section. Alex Lifeson is again virtually absent from this recording, as he is on most of the band’s mid-80’s output (the leads are there, but they’re brief and unimpressive). Getty’s bass is still prominent and Neil Peart’s drum prowess is too, but by track two the rampant synthesizers have become completely overwhelming. A line from “Grand Designs” states it best: “too much style without substance.”
But truly, it’s hard to concentrate on the funky bass of “The Big Money” and cool vocal harmonies with all the pad layers. This problem recurs throughout the album, notably in “Territories” and “Emotion Detector.” What happened to the subtle layering of Signals? Or at least the potent moodiness of Grace Under Pressure? Indeed there are no songs with the immense draw of “Between the Wheels:” the best we get here is “Mystic Rhythms,” the band’s weak attempt at a pure New Age sound. With all the emphasis on atmosphere and superficial pop fodder, you’d find it hard to believe this band ever played rock music, progressive or otherwise.
The only song that really approaches the pedestal of what Rush is capable of is “Manhattan Project,” a song about the atomic bomb. Sort of connected to Grace Under Pressure lyrically than to the rest of this album (which is remarkably less compelling than a Rush release typically is), it makes use of a moodier atmosphere complemented by booming bass pedal to good effect. It’s also the sole beacon of thoughtfulness; the rest of the album seems lazily written by comparison.
For those that really enjoyed Signals and Grace Under Pressure, Power Windows is an extension of that sound, albeit a shallower, forced incarnation. Similar to Yes’ 90125 and other 80’s releases from 70’s progressive bands, it’s the first album chronologically that you could call mediocre and not receive a tirade of abuse from Rush’s devoted fanbase.
Key tracks: “The Big Money,” “Manhattan Project”
Transition into the 80's may not have treated Rush too well according to some of their fans. A victim of the times, so to speak. Others, however, feel just as strongly about the band's synth-laden catalogue as they do the group's quitessential 70's releases.
I fall into the latter.
It isn't hard to recognize that the band wanted to perpetuate what they had started on Signals and continued with Grace Under Pressure. As a result, Power Windows shows a band furthering experimentation and alteration yet remaining confident with their new sound. This is a very smart album, both lyrically and musically, and while you can eschew it for it's cheesiness you also have to appreciate that for it's time Power Windows was anything but subpar.
This album converys a very distinct atmosphere. Songs like Big Money, Middletown Dreams and Grand Designs produce a cold almost autumn like sensation. In fact, after hearing the album, one can completely comprehend the cover and understand the parallel between it and the music. The album title speaks volumes. Indeed, very powerful.
It isn't difficult, however, to see how one would not care for Power Windows. The band sounds dramatically different than their efforts five years prior and gone are the complex, lengthy compositions in favour of a more straightforward to-the-point approach. For some, the excessive keyboards do not help matters either. If one didn't know better Rush from 1985 and Rush from 1980 were two completely different bands. At least, to the untrained eye.
Lee's intricate and stunning bass lines are ever present, Lifeson while often times overpowered by the synths has some fine moments and Peart's handling of the lyrics is just superb. Mystic Rhythms sticks out for that very reasons and remains an all time favourite from this part of Rush's career.
Power Windows remains Rush's top release from their 80's era for the simple fact that everything clicks. That is to say, each song contributes nicely to the identity of this album. It's a curious album musically and lyrically but tremendous and unique.
Rush’s 11th studio album to date fully realizes the bands growing trend of using super production and new wave synthesizers: The crisp and clear dream of 80’s new wave pop. Sadly, this time around great performances can’t save the band from themselves. Rush composing, constructing, and engineering an album that have rendered themselves into a bright and shinny two dimensional picture.
This is production turned up to 10, stifling otherwise decent performances. Music has a life to it that flows with energy, a life that can be drowned by a cold and sterile picture perfect production. Peart’s percussion is an example, his technical prowess is still on display in many fine moments, but comes across as clinical, mechanical, and computerized. That is in itself a tragedy, as the listener should never have need to contemplate if the sound is genuine or a trick of studio magic. Peart is that good, engineers only on site to calibrate their instruments to his higher standards. The fact that this is lost or questionable is criminal. Add the keyboards and you have a sound that actual sounds more dated than material Rush released half a decade earlier
The compositions run from inspired moments to a desire to fast forward, usually in the same song as if each tune was a mix of old Rush and new wave filler, causing a urge to fast forward to the good parts. Alex Lifeson’s guitar is properly mixed for the first time in several albums, but he spends too much time being another background texture, no different than the keyboards, until let loose for brief inspired moments that unleash what could have been. If they would have put the keyboards as sole background texture, and gave the forward parts to Lifeson to rewrite into riffs, this album could have delivered. Lee’s bass is thankfully the same, his ability to work his half of the rhythm section only surpassed by his ability to make the bass a dominate and unique participant in the music. Peart, as mentioned is still in top form, my only wish is the production was rolled back to allow some warmth into his performance.
Sure, the guys rock hard at times, like in opener “Big Money”, but you still need to wait for a live release to hear them flourish under the banner of performance over production. Atmospheric moments, like in “Mystic Rhythms” are lifted by well thought out composition but fail to carry their weight, again due to the airless vacuum of the production. See “Xanadu” from A Farewell to Kings for atmosphere done right.
Lyrically, the album bounces around on subjects conceptually involving “Power”, but is underdeveloped and unworthy of the group’s legacy, Rush now writing trite complaints about money, working too hard, and international disputes. That being said, honorable mention goes to the well researched “Manhattan Project”, which is a good song and the only piece that lyrically delivers.
And that is where the album ultimately falls apart; the guys are superior to the songs they have written and better performers than the sound they have created. Rush have obviously taken great care and time on this album, their self appointed roll as composers being taken seriously – To the point of burying their sound within safer ideas and a big budget spectacular. To bad they forgot we’re here to rock.
Probably Rush’s most 80s sounding album, Power Windows has a lot of synth on it. While Hold Your Fire had plenty of synth, it came off to me as more mature and refined in sound. Lyrically, this album deals with different forms of power whether it be money or nuclear bombs. So technically this is a concept album. I am a fan of concept albums as long as the songs are strong enough to support the overall concept. While the songwriting here is good, the resulting sound of most of the songs bugs me.
The Big Money is exceptional. The slap bass line rocks in the verses, it’s probably one of the better bass lines he’s written. The guitar solo in the song it great, although it doesn’t sound quite as strong as it should be. This is probably due to either the production or the type of guitar he used at the time, plus I’m comparing it to the Rush in Rio version where the guitar sounds much fuller.
The next track is Grand Designs. This is where the synth and chime sounds are overdone. The beginning alone is enough to make you cringe. It sounds very . . . joyful. Not that sounding happy is a bad thing, however it feels like something that would fit on a kid’s TV show. Other than that, the verse of the songs works well. The guitar has a reggae-like quality to them.
I don’t have a problem with Rush using synthesizers to complement the music, it appears that here they decided to use it way to much. See Middletown Dreams, Mystic Rhythms, and Emotion Detector for the ‘dated’ 80’s sound I am referring to. I’m sure back then it might have sounded fine, but twenty something years later, it doesn’t come off as ‘cool’ sounding.
Besides the negative points, this is a Rush album so you can expect worthy performances by each member of the band. I wish the guitar’s sounded a bit thicker to make the music for driving, but the solos here are worthy to be called Lifeson’s own. The bass lines, as mentioned previously, as quality. Neal Peart sounds like he began experimenting with electronic drums, as the album has some drumbeats that vary from the typical drum kit possibilities (see Mystic Rhythms).
This one has grown on me the more I listen to it. Try to put the synth in context and enjoy the album.