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I get this feeling - 85%

SoundsofDecay, December 6th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2004, CD, Atlantic Records (The Rush Remasters)

Maybe I'm in the minority, but I love transitional albums. They're a great window into the development of a band's sound as they move between styles (if they're inclined to do so), and are often the most interesting simply due to the fact they don't sound like a band sitting on an established sound. Rush being a band that continually evolved and never made the same album twice, their transitional periods are twice as interesting. Especially when they're actually a bit of a mixed bag, like this album.

Released at the tail end of the 80s, Presto finds Rush moving between the synth dominated, highly complex tech-pop of Power Windows and Hold Your Fire and the more streamlined arena rock sound of Roll The Bones, which eventually lead into the harder rock sound of Counterparts onward which defined the band's sound for pretty much the rest of their career. Hold Your Fire was essentially the logical conclusion of the sound that had begun on Grace Under Pressure and exploded into cinematic technicolour on Power Windows, and was then refined to its limit on Hold Your Fire. I don't think they could have taken it any further, and it's no real surprise that Presto finds Rush heavily dialing back the keyboards, returning Alex Lifeson's guitar to the forefront, and bringing back a more solid riff-driven power trio sound with (relatively speaking) simpler song structures and a greater focus on hooks.

The results? Mixed, though mostly outstanding. I'm a huge Rush fan, of the 80s era in particular, and frankly there are a handful of dull songs on the album. Thankfully the first half of Presto is pretty much all gold. "Show Don't Tell", with it's rapid fire bursts of choppy riffing, immediately sets the tone for the album and highlights the greater emphasis of space in the arrangements and features some brilliantly melodic bass playing. "The Pass" is Rush's attempt at a ballad, and is a great success thanks to it's moving lyrics and a great performance topped by a brilliant vocal. It's worth pointing out that Geddy Lee probably never sounded better vocally than on this album. His voice having long since lost the high pitched wail, he's aged like a fine wine and sings with a slightly lower pitch that really fits the material. "Scars" is my favourite track, and one of the most atypical Rush songs: a slightly dorky synth funk bass sits on top of a dense and hypnotic African sounding dance beat, topped off with heavily processed bursts of stratospheric guitar and leads that soar over everything like a high desert wind. It's a startlingly effective song that sounds like nothing else in Rush's long discography.

There's a few duds, however. I never really got into "Hand Over Fist" or "Red Tide", which sound kind of like Rush-by-numbers to me. "War Paint" had to really grow on me, and I do quite like it now. Fortunately that's about it. The title track is another great song which I feel is really underrated, if not a little saccharine. "Superconductor" sounds like Rush sarcastically trying to write a hit (with some quite witty lyrics about manufactured rock stars) but this is still too complex to be top 10 material. It's still one of the most catchy songs they've ever written. The album closes on a great note with "Available Light", which went over my head a bit at first but has now really grown on me. Sonically the album sounds brilliant. The production is bright, open and highlights every nuance, and the remastered version is full and punchy without sacrificing too much dynamic range (all the Rush albums were very well remastered, in fact). Performance wise the band are on top form. Geddy's bass, both playing and tone, was at it's best in this era in my opinion and on Presto reaches it's peak. Lifeson is clearly enjoying being given more opportunity to just rock out and play some great guitar riffs as opposed to more textural splashes, though those do still show up in places. As mentioned the keyboards are heavily dialed back, though they do make appearances here and there for texture's sake. Neil Peart is Neil Peart. The guy's a brilliantly inventive drummer and offers some of his best lyrics for this album.

There are few Rush heads out there who would recommend an album like this one to a new listener. It's just not the most obvious choice. I might, though, and not merely to be contrary. Presto is a great rock album with catchy songs, and enough of an emphasis on less keyboards to not scare off any fans who think the mid-80s era was too much. It's also an underrated album that doesn't really get the credit it's due, and an important cornerstone in Rush's artistic development.