Chapter XII: Pop Commands Prog
Following the success of the solid Power Windows and its subsequent tour, Rush took a much-needed break so they could be with their loved ones and relax. However, after a mere few months had passed, the band members quickly started letting the creative juices flow again and they started writing material for their follow-up release Hold Your Fire. Once the promotional single "Force Ten" was released to the public, it was clear to everyone that Rush hadn't given up on the poppier arrangements of the previous record; in fact, it seemed even more accessible than usual! With punchy drum work and flashy synthesizer bursts from Geddy Lee's trusty keyboard work, it sounded as though Rush were really going off the deep end with their pop-rock phase this time around. And... well... yeah. In a way, they kinda did.
Don't get me wrong; there are indeed progressive moments scattered about Hold Your Fire. In fact, the album's big hit single "Time Stand Still" is ironically one of the most typical and classic-sounding Rush songs on this entire thing because of its frequently altered tempos and more experimental character (with the female vocals, heavy atmosphere, the works). Unfortunately, this is also one of the first times in Rush's career in which some of their choices end up really biting them in the collective ass. There's only so much someone can take of a more watered-down Rush, and songs like the bland power-ballad "Second Nature" and the overly cheery instrumentation of "Mission" are begging for a songwriting overhaul. The emotional weight is here in top form, but - and I do hate to say this - the music has a tendency to be just plain boring. It's not that Rush have to be technical to be good, and the band's instrumental prowess shines in tunes like "Prime Mover" and the mystical "Tai Shan," but the synthesizers are really what kill a good chunk of this record. Why? Because they're so damn overbearing. As with Signals and a decent chunk of Power Windows, it feels as though Alex Lifeson has been once again shoved off to the sidelines as Lee's large array of keyboard effects comes in to take command of the record.
There are, however, some nifty things here and there that provide a good contrast to this, my personal favorite being the highly guitar-driven rocker "Turn the Page"; while there is still a high amount of synthesizer work when the song occasionally slows down, Alex's presence is strong and provides a uniquely stark atmosphere to the track. As for Neil Peart, he's certainly very commendable on this album because of his ability to transform simplicity into an immersive experience. He could easily have just followed what the other instruments are doing, but instead offers his own unique takes on these poppy tracks. The fills on "Time Stand Still" and "Turn the Page" are among his finest, and his highly involved performance in closer "High Water" positively contrasts the song's slow tempo and simple instrumental work.
Still, it's quite upsetting to hear a band's sound become diluted to the point of genuine boredom, and Rush were quite close to hitting such a mark. Hold Your Fire isn't a bad album, but it's one of the band worst records regardless; the emotional content and atmosphere are strong, but not as powerful when coupled with the overdone synth arrangements and weaker songwriting. This just barely escapes its 2.5/5, but what a dangerously close call. However, to the Rush fans out there: you should get this if you're a completionist or into 80s Rush. Otherwise, I'd say this one's more for pop rock fans than the ones who adore the band's more progressive 70s material.