Review Summary: An 80's gem and highlight in a vast discography.
One of popular progressive music’s most notable acts, Rush arguably achieved much of their mainstream success in the 1980s. While this decade can be noted for driving a rift between the band’s fan base – those embracing the new synth-driven work, and those still hanging onto the early blues-oriented rock that started the trio’s long career – it was also the a decade of rebirth for the band. In a decade splattered with change for the band, a shift in lyrical direction and concept also began to take place in one form or another. In the case of 1984’s Grace Under Pressure
(sometimes referred to by fans as P/G) the lyrical shift was to a darker direction, the most bleak the band had ever tackled. With a somewhat overall theme of chaos and problems at the time of recording (and some events from the past) the band – or more likely drummer/lyricist Neil Peart - began to wrestle with concepts of nuclear holocaust, fear, longing, and even the holocaust of the 1930s-40s. Due to this subject matter, there are uncharacteristically dark spots within the music. Despite this darkness, the band begins a more heavy flirtation with reggae music, which does a nice job at keeping the mood somewhat light still, and balances the record well.
Grace Under Pressure
opens with one of the discs most popular songs, as well as a constant live favourite by the band in Distant Early Warning
. The track, inspired by the threat of nuclear Armageddon, begins with a signature keyboard line that continues periodically throughout the song. This particular aspect gives the song a dark yet somehow hopeful tone and makes it catchy as well as a bit of a thinker. This fades into a bit of a darker track in Afterimage
with a mixture of the first reggae sound to appear on the record. As a fan that feels these sporadic bits of mock-reggae in Rush’s music works brilliantly, the track is another must listen. Alex Lifeson displays some nice soloing work on this track too, as well as varying points through P/G. Red Sector A
probably possess some of Neil Peart’s darker lyrics, simply based on the topic being covered here. The lyrical theme – and musical to a point – is centred around experiences of the concentration camp environment during World War II, and the freedom of liberation from these camps. Frontman Geddy Lee, of whom comes from a Jewish family who survived the Holocaust, used imagery from his mother’s own personal accounts of her internment and liberation from a Nazi concentration camp.
The record includes the first part of the “Fear” trilogy, dealing with various ways in which the emotion dictates our lives and how we live them. These songs were released in reverse order based on the complexity of their specific topics. Enemy Within
is an incredibly strong track, the “Fear” trilogy aside, but starts out like the introduction to the movement. It begins with a strong ska/reggae-based guitar/bass attack, and these elements continue throughout, bridged with more ambient synthesiser moments, making for an extremely catchy and accessible song for a newer Rush fan to sink their “teeth” into. The later half of the record feels a little tamer than the first, with some songs taking a back stage to others made popular. This, of course, is a matter of listener opinion, and each piece does possess something worth hearing despite its shortcomings. The slightly boring The Body Electric
is surpassed by Red Lenses
bright-spots, though it seems to drone on a bit. Between the Wheels
is notable for being the most synth-dominated number on the record, and has an eighties-pop appeal in turn. Interrupting the bleaker half, however, is Kid Gloves
, a catchy and upbeat number that seems to symbolise everything that is the band’s music, and nestles itself nicely between the other pieces.
Grace Under Pressure
possesses an overall feeling that is just that: there is a sense of urgency, bleakness and tragedy, all intertwined with scattered bursts of hopeful optimism. The album is a highlight amongst the band’s vast array of work, and should be enjoyed by Rush and music fan alike.