Review Summary: An album with some great songs that could've been a lot better with different production and some tweaking.
If you were still a loyal Rush fan in the late 1980s, you knew that the only thing you could expect from Rush was the unexpected. Since 1974, the band had been dabbling in many different styles of music, and with each new album one was never sure which direction Rush were going to take their music in. After releasing four albums dominated by synthesizers, the band made an agreement with each other that they would cut down the use of synths on this album and return to a more "rocking" style. The result is 1989's Presto
is an odd one in Rush's catalogue. The most noticeable change is the production. Rush had had stellar production on all of their 80's albums up to this point. This album sounds significantly less "rocking" than the band had likely attended. It sounds like an average 80's rock band, except with slightly worse production. These are songs that could've rocked much harder, but the production makes the music quite thin and lacking-balls. Geddy's bass, which is undoubtedly a strength for the band for even nonfans, is oddly mixed somewhat in the background. This was likely done to give Alex a chance to shine a bit more on this album since fans had been complaining that he lacked a significant presence in the band on the previous couple of albums. Despite this great effort, Alex himself even comes out sounding weaker for some reason. His guitar was heavier even on previous efforts like "Big Money" and "Lock and Key." Even Neil sounds a bit weaker on this album, and it has nothing to do with his actual drumming. The band is as talented as ever with no noticeable slouching coming from any member, but the production makes it all sound much softer than it should've been.
As for the songs themselves, there are hits and misses. Presto
is a transition album in the band's catalogue, and in typical Rush fashion, the transition album is always a bit weaker and half-baked than the album where the sound is typically perfected. Caress of Steel
led to 2112
, Permanent Waves
led to Moving Pictures
, and so on. This album is where Rush get the idea of rocking again, and that sound that they aimed for on this album would be perfected on 1993's Counterparts
The opener, "Show Don't Tell," is more-or-less a Rush classic at this point - the main riff is easily the heaviest thing the band had done since Moving Pictures
. The band sounds in top form, and would have sounded even better if not for the production (which is basically the case for all of the songs, minus the "sounding in top form" part because of some weaker tracks). "The Pass" is the best and most moving number on the album, its lyrics dealing with teen suicide (before Pearl Jam made it something cute and hip). The song has a hypnotic effect that only a band with the chemistry of Rush could create, and it remains a live staple to this day. It serves as further proof that Rush is a band capable of writing great songs, and not just sprawling epics about science fiction. The title track is another winner, sounding more like a catchy pop rock song than I'm sure the group intended. Nevertheless, it's one of the funnest songs on the album. "Superconductor" is another personal favorite, and while it is one of Rush's most maligned songs, it's really a clever and catchy song. It's catchy enough to be a hit, it's fast-paced, it has a sing-a-long chorus in which Neil or Alex imitates a black man, and the lyrics work on two levels - they can be seen as poking fun at the music industry, with artists being more concerned with image to attract a large audience, or the song can be seen as poking fun at male and female relationships. Men will package themselves "as a rebel or a hero," instead of being true to themselves, so they can attract a mate. The other songs range from good to mediocre to weak. There is still a keyboard/synth presence on the album which simple does not fit, and this is the fatal flaw with already-boring tracks like "Scars."
is the band's weakest effort up to this point, and it marks the first time Rush failed at what they set out to do. They wanted to create a straightforward rock album, but because of bad production and unfitting synthesizers (combined with some plain weak songs), the album is like a failed experiment. That being said, it still has some great songs on it, but it's not up to Rush's standards at all.