Review Summary: An overlooked album full of resolve and anxiety
In the 1982's synth-dominated Signals, Rush underwent a revolution. Gone were the rock anthems of Red Barchetta and The Spirit of Radio and the progressive classics such as Xanadu and Jacob’s Ladder, which were discarded in favour of a more contemporary sound that retained the unmistakeable Rush feel. Unfortunately, this change came at a price, in that Alex Lifeson's guitar was given less priority in the arrangement, while Geddy Lee’s keyboards dominated the picture. Grace Under Pressure represents a compromise as sorts in the wake of this alteration. This album is effectively a continuation of Signals' futuristic synthesizer sound, with Lifeson restored to the limelight. The results are as distinctive as they are excellent.
The album kicks off with fan favourite Distant Early Warning
, which immediately introduces an spacey sound helmed by Geddy’s bass, of which you’ll hear a lot over the course of this album. The song does everything right, throwing around enough keyboard melodies to categorize it distinctly into Rush’s 80s period, whilst rocking hard enough to make it easy to imagine that this album could have switched places with Signals as the follow-up to Moving Pictures. If you are looking for a general sampler of the album, this is a great place to start, since it contains aspects of all the other songs whilst still being interesting in itself.
Next up is Afterimage
, which is very upbeat compared to Distant Early Warning
, and quite a bit darker; hardly surprising when you consider that it was written about one of Neil Peart’s friends after they passed away. “I feel the way you would” certainly conveys a morse sense of reflection. This song is very catchy and distinctly melancholy, supported by a fantastically memorable guitar solo. In my opinion, this successfully expands and improves upon the template set out by Distant Early Warning
with its nuanced upbeat drive.
Conversely, Red Sector A
is a far more sombre track that stands as somewhat unique in Rush's discography. The simplest way to put this would be ‘a dark pop song’, but that does it no justice. The keyboards are prevalent here to a greater extent than the rest of the album, but it is focused around Geddy’s singing (which is very strong throughout the album), especially the lyrics. Neil Peart wrote this song about the holocaust, and the subject matter of “ragged lines of ragged grey” combines with the futuristic vibe to create a song that is very dark, very memorable and absolute win. Hear this if you haven’t already; it’s a surreal experience.
After Red Sector A
, the album could easily have reached a climax and failed to carry on at the incredible standard performed thus far. Fortunately, Rush were hardly going to allow this to happen, so they recorded one of the most underrated songs I’ve ever heard. The Enemy Within
is the perfect song to succeed Red Sector A’s
depressing message; it is even more upbeat than Afterimage
, but without the melancholy lyrics; this song is full of energy and makes you feel good to be alive. The highlight and driving force is without a doubt Geddy’s bass line, which Lifeson plays around flawlessly. My personal favourite from the album; a must have if you like Rush.
Unfortunately, Rush couldn’t maintain complete perfection for more than the first half. The Body Electric
is a great song, but it fails to stand out as much as any of the songs that preceded it. However, it is still worth listening to, as Geddy’s binary in the chorus works very well, and the lyrics are based on the original subject matter of “A humanoid escaping/An android on the run”, which brings to mind later imaginations in this vein from other bands, such as Nevermore’s Sentient 6
After The Body Electric
lowered the bar along slightly, what Rush needed to do was to put a winner in slot #6, a song that would add a new perspective to the album whilst shining alongside the first four tracks. Kid Gloves
succeeds in offering a new perspective with its plucky, upbeat nature, but it sadly fails to impress as much as any of the other songs. Lyrically, it’s a continuation from Subdivisions
' self-conscious examination of society, with lines like “It’s tough to be so cool” catching a sense of anxiety that feels quite particular to Lee's manner.
After Kid Gloves
lowered the album’s profile once more, Rush could pretty much follow it with anything of similar or higher quality. Red Lenses
is the album's ugly duckling, half funky singing, half proggy funk, It does not surpass anything on the album in terms of quality, but is still somewhat impressive and memorable. At this point Rush would seem to have ticked all the necessary boxes, with a range of upbeat, melancholy and quirky happy songs; all that album requires to round things up is a strong track in a similar vein that improves on the second half's standard somewhat. Between The Wheels
fits the bill perfectly, featuring great interplay between Lifeson and Lee throughout and keeping the listener hooked with its forceful keyboards and stellar guitar solo. Its chorus is engaging and slightly dramatic, touching base with elements of Distant Early Warning
as it closes the album in style.
With Grace Under Pressure, Rush perfected a template for their synth era and deliver several of their finest tracks along the way. As such, the album has been somewhat overlooked and makes for an essential component of their discography.