Part one of a two-parter.
RUSH – Grace Under Pressure (1984 Anthem, 2011 Universal remaster)
When Rush followed 1982’s synth-driven Signals, they said goodbye to producer Terry Brown. The band weren’t satisfied with the sonics of Signals and wanted to try working with different people. They chose Steve Lillywhite, who wasn’t available, and so used Peter Henderson. The album Grace Under Pressure was one of their most difficult to make. Perhaps this is why it has such a cold, dark aura.
Even if Grace Under Pressure has a downer vibe, the first side is excellent. Few albums have a strong an opener as “Distant Early Warning”. Rush’s recent penchant for keyboards is front and center. It also boasts one of their most catchy choruses: “I see the tip of the iceberg and I worry about you.” This single is a perfect storm of hooks, tension and biting guitars.
The album as a whole shows new influences. “Afterimage” has a contemporary 80s new wave sound, but “Rushified”.* Alex Lifeson in particular seemed to draw new influence from Andy Summers of the Police. Reggae and ska became a part of the band’s arsenal, with Lifeson deftly handling those enigmatic chords. “The Enemy Within” is one track that shows off these tricky new rhythms, in a frantically rocking way. Synths and sequencers are a part of the picture on “Red Sector A”. This post-apocalyptic track utilizes robotic rhythms to paint a picture of a future world. “Are we the last ones left alive? Are we the only human beings to survive?” The lyrics are actually inspired by Geddy Lee’s mother, a holocaust survivor. With the digital pulse beneath, you could just as easily imagine it’s about The Terminator.**
The second side also has memorable tracks such as “The Body Electric”. This number definitely has a Blade Runner-like future setting. “One humanoid escapee, One android on the run, Seeking freedom beneath the lonely desert sun.” And how many songs can you name with lyrics in binary? A lesser Rush song, “Kid Gloves”, is upbeat but not legendary. “Red Lenses” is also somewhat forgettable, except for Peart fans who will savour every little moment of exotic and electronic percussion.
Rush saved the longest track for last, “Between the Wheels”, a melancholy but challenging track that reminds of the old school progressive Rush. Backing guitars are exchanged for keyboards, but Lifeson uses the guitar to make unorthodox sounds.
It’s unfortunate that Grace Under Pressure has a brittle and icy production. While that definitely works on “Red Sector A” and “Distant Early Warning”, one wonders what side two would sound like if it were a little fuller.
* “Rushified” is a word coined by Paul Rudd in the film I Love You Man.
** Aaron Lebold will return tomorrow to discuss Rush lyric interpretation.