Review Summary: 30 years on, Rush's 8-track anti-Cold War message still sounds fresh.
Oh, how great it would be to have been alive when Rush were in their prime. It was almost like Rush were putting out new albums every year; and at this point in time, their sound was maturing and progressing. Starting with Moving Pictures
, synths were becoming heavier and more prominent with every album, and their sound became darker. With Signals
, a black cloud began rolling in over the rather breezy atmosphere of the music- the synths provided a dark, and almost demonic undercurrent to rather optimistic sounding music (evident in songs like "Subdivisions"), and their lyrics began to focus more on political issues, social justice and the writings of Ayn Rand. And then, Grace Under Pressure
came in.?? and that's when there was a full on thunderstorm.
Grace Under Pressure
is every bit as catchy and melodic as it is absolutely grim and depressing. There are two major themes that run throughout the songs: how we only act when under pressure, and The Cold War. Yet the music is what helps further the message- while the songs are upbeat and catchy, the lyrics' dark tone stand head and shoulders above and all. And of course, the synthesizer use sounds even more ominous here than it did on Signals
- at times, even sounding suitably outright scary. You'll be especially surprised at "Red Sector A" and the dark, menacing atmosphere it creates with the fact that there's no bassline at all- rather a pulsating bass beat created by Geddy's glorious Roland. The lyrics about Geddy's parents' experiences in a concentration camp are complimented by the brilliant atmosphere of the music- in particular, the instrumentals in the verses, where the synths almost sound like crying from prisoners, but then are interrupted by the machine-gun effect that the guitar gives off.
The tone is consistent for most of the album- in fact, the album kicks off with "Distant Early Warning", which starts off nice and easy before the synths blare into the music at full blast. The song displays a perfect balance of time signature changes (slow in the verses, fast in the chorus, uncommon time in between), and lyrics about Canada showing concern for the US in their involvement in the Cold War. The song helps the album waste no time in getting right to the point, and thankfully the momentum is continued into "Afterimage", which is undoubtedly one of Rush's catchiest tracks, yet is focused on the death of close friend Robbie Whelan. The signature reggae feel of some of their tracks returns in the chorus, and even the cool middle section crests a ton of palpable suspense. And then there's tunes like "The Body Electric", with the dark undercurrent running under the music- only Rush can make you feel tempted to sing "1001001, S.O.S." aloud. But let's not forget to mention the real standout- "Red Lenses", which is mostly a song which Rush uses as an excuse to show off their skills. If you think you've said "Neil just did the impossible" enough times already, well wait until you get a load of this song.
If there's any real drawback to Grace Under Pressure
, it's that the synths do start to overpower the music over a whole- Alex seems a bit neutered in this aspect, as he seems to appear here and there for most of the part. Nonetheless, these moments don't detract from the overall quality of the music. It's not about the synths, it's about the songs. Nonetheless, this album is absolutely fantastic, a maturation to an already mature and focused sound the band had been following for quite sometime, and even manages to serve as an excellent transition piece into Power Windows
. For any Rush fan hopeful, it's a must.