As Rush continued to add more and more synthesizers to their music, they alienated many fans who were used to the lengthy songs of the group's past. However, Rush also expanded their fanbase in many ways to people who would've never listened to a genre called "progressive rock" by turning into a synthesizer-based band. The group had been experimenting with synths for sometime, before finally making synths dominant in their sound with albums like Signals
and Grace Under Pressure
. In 1985, they released what is possibly their most "80's" album, Power Windows
, complete with poppy melodies and an abundance of synthesizers. However, unlike with many bands during this period that had switched to synths (Yes and Genesis come to mind), Rush were doing what they were doing damn well.
When "The Big Money" begins, one notices an immediate change in style - the synths are not a supplement to the music anymore, they are completely dominant. Not to mention the style of the song, and really of most of the album, is very upbeat and even poppy at times. Yet even still, the use of synths is very tasteful, and many of these songs would not have worked as hard-rocking guitar-driven numbers. And if one listens closely, he can hear that this is still indeed a Rush album - the music, while often poppy and even danceable, is as complex as ever. Just because there are no twenty-minute songs to show off the complexity doesn't mean it's not there. Geddy plays complicated basslines in each song, especially in tracks like "The Big Money," "Marathon," and "Mystic Rhythms." While Alex doesn't play any heavy riffs like he did in the early days, he lays the foundation for many of the songs without being too present, like on "Territories." And even though he isn't as apparent on this album as he was on, say, A Farewell To Kings
, his solos are as memorable and as strong as ever, with a few of the solos on here ranking among the best Rush solos of all-time. Neil Peart is still the goddamn professor - I don't think he can play a drumbeat that's not complicated. Everything he does on the kit seems like it was worked out mathematically before he did it. Peart's great drumming is a stable on every Rush album, yet on this one, he doesn't go for anything show-offy. He only plays what's necessary, and while it's all still complex, Peart and his bandmates never get into "over-the-top" territory.
The only downside to the music is one of its strengths as well - the synthesizers. While for the most part they are tasteful and make the songs work, there are times, especially in songs like "Grand Designs" and "Emotion Detector" where it just gets crazy, and you ask yourself, "What the *** were Rush thinking?" Despite this, things never reach a schlocky, cheesy level of 80's Yes proportions, because what stands as true as always is that out of all the 70's progressive giants, Rush were the ones with the best pop sensibilities and they were/are just better at writing songs. They could write lengthy, sprawling epics like "2112" and "Xanadu," and then have a short and memorable single like "Closer To The Heart" or "The Spirit of Radio." While most prog groups could only write epic compositions, Rush knew how to write songs, and they also knew how to adapt with the times musically while still staying true to what they wanted to do. This is why Rush succeeded as a band throughout the 80's, and while Genesis might have sold the most records, Rush could step in somewhat pop-based waters and still have a smart sound and smart messages.
The smart message is important - lyrically, Power Windows
may be the group's strongest album. Having long since stopped writing about science fiction, fantasy, and objectivism (Peart was 33 at the time and had grown out of such things), Peart was content writing about real life and how he viewed it. The theme of the album is different types of power and how they can control us, for better or for worse. "The Big Money" is the song that sums up 80's greed and yuppie culture, slamming the neverending quest for money with a type of wit and cleverness that wasn't present in a song like "By-Tor and the Snow Dog." "Grand Designs" is about the power of other people on something, and how one should strive to be "against the run of the mill" and "separate from the stock." "Manhattan Project" is like a travel-back to songs like "Bastille Day," not in sound but lyric-wise, as it shows Peart's interest in historical subjects. The song is about the power of the atom bomb and tells more-or-less the entire story that you probably learned in school. "Marathon" is about the power of an adrenaline rush gained by running in a race. Peart was and still is an avid runner, and this song is likely very personal. It is one of the most upbeat songs, musically and lyrically, with positive themes - hope, determination, perseverance. It is saying that while the "marathon" in question may be in control of you, you must change this and become in control of the marathon to succeed. "Territories" is a different style of lyrics for Peart - while he established himself as a rugged individualist in the 70's, this song seems to be calling for a type of unity amongst people. The power of terrority lines is hurting us, and we should be kind to one another, regardless of race, place of birth, or anything else. "Middletown Dreams" is like this album's "Subdivisions," yet this song describes the power that boredom and conformity has over all of us, yet it preaches and hopefully inspires one to escape and follow his own path. "Emotion Detector" is about the power of emotions and the masks we put up to conceal our true feelings. It is also an anti-conformity song, saying that we should all be ourselves, no matter if we want to be cool and fit in. Yet it can also be interpreted as a story about the complications of love - sometimes risks must be taken. Yet this is true in all aspects of life, and life is something that Peart seems to understand. "Mystic Rhythms" is one of the group's most interesting songs lyrically - it could be interpreted as an ode to a higher power (despite Peart's persistent claims of disbelief) or simply an ode to nature and purity and the world itself - while there is mysticism and seemingly magic things in the world, it is all simply a rhythm that we must follow, or try to discover more about. It certainly portrays humans as lesser beings, which we are, in the grand scheme of the world. This may not suggest a higher power, and I don't believe it does, but it suggests that there are things in this world, or possibly outside this world, that are greater than us, specifically the laws of nature and how we are all powerless to it.
is one of the most interesting albums in Rush's catalogue - the mood, the music, and the lyrics are combine to give a great listening experience. While this isn't the album to listen to first if you are trying to get into Rush, it is one of the best in their catalogue. It shows their validity as musicians who aren't afraid to try new things, and it also establishes Peart as one of the best lyricists in rock history. While the album may take repeated listens to fully appreciate, it is well worth it.