Friday, March 21, 2008

Rush - Grace Under Pressure



Good day and it’s good to see you all could make it! I ask that everybody step, in an orderly fashion, into The Ripple Effect 3000xl Turbo Charged Wayback Machine™, strap yourselves in, adjust your head rest for your desired comfort, for we are traveling back in time to 1984. What a marvelous year! On your left, you’ll see the Van Halen brothers with DLR singing about Panama! And on the right side, if you squint, you may see the Boss dancing in the dark. Oh my . . . he seems to be crooning about being on fire! Oh look . . . there’s a young Madonna reminiscing on being a virgin! Dear God . . . look at all that hair! Now, that we’ve passed the wilder animals on our journey, let’s stop and gander at these three fine looking gentlemen. Hhmmm . . . the placard says they call themselves ‘Rush.’ Stunning example of musicianship, wouldn’t you say? Right . . . right.

The dark and brooding Grace Under Pressure was unleashed on the masses during the same time that the above mentioned artists, performers, and circus freaks were living la vida loca. This album is a direct reflection of the life and times of the world under the watchful eye of then U.S. President Ronald Reagan. The human ability to navigate through the chaotic storm of nuclear paranoia, the Cold War, totalitarianism, and technological advances serve as the themes for the tunes on this lost epic. Maybe the world wasn’t ready for such a vivid commentary of the ways things actually were in the world, but Rush were. They faced “the enemy within” while the American people wanted to hide in the fog of their inebriation and ignore their fears by masking them in consumables. The problem was, they had to wake up and face reality at some point, and the question now becomes, are they still asleep?

The boys return from the keyboard drenched Signals to the more straight up guitar driven sounds of Grace Under Pressure. Though there are still a ton of keyboards being used, they’re used more diplomatically and in conjunction with Alex Lifeson’s guitars rather than simply drowning them out. “Distant Early Warning” and “Afterimage” are great examples of the keyboards and guitars giving each other enough space to breathe, yet creating such incredible tensions that one begins to recognize how befitting the album title really is. “Red Sector A” features some of the most vivid imagery courtesy of Neil Peart’s masterful ability to work with the English language. The tale of life in a prison camp (past, present, or future doesn’t matter . . . hell is hell) is described with such conviction that this listener can perfectly visualize the barbed wire cutting through the skin of the prisoners clutched hands. I can practically smell the fear of death and torture, and feel the sense of desperation mixed with the dwindling rays of hope. Geddy Lee does a wondrous job of vocalizing Peart’s lyrics with the emotion that they deserve.

Rush were always more heady than their peers, some even went so far as to call them pretentious. The truth is, they translated their intelligence into a musical form that was far more complex than that of their contemporaries. If intelligence makes a band pretentious, then I want to be pretentious too. Someone show me the way to the library! Grace Under Pressure has the perfect balance of rock and sensitivity that makes it as important today as it was in ’84. “The Enemy Within” and “The Body Electric” have the same classic Rush prog-rock sensibility that made the band famous, but there’s an underlying kindliness in the way the music and lyrics weave around each other. We can see the band embracing technology to further advance their music rather than simply showing off and making noise for the sake of making noise. “Kid Gloves” bounces it’s way through the learning of lessons the hard way, and we’re treated to a pretty spectacular guitar solo. To this day, Lifeson doesn’t get the credit he should for his approach towards guitar playing. I kind of set him gingerly next to Andy Summers. Both gentlemen are phenomenal beyond reproach.

“Red Lenses” is a groovin’ tune that happens to be Peart-centric in both lyrics and in the drummers gravitation towards all thing percussive. The lyrics will have you stopping in mid step to follow the correlation of the words while the rhythms become a mind bending thrill ride. “Beneath the Wheels” closes the disc in an epic album closing manner. The interplay of keyboards and guitar create the theme of the song and build more of that aforementioned tension. By the time the chorus kicks in, the melody breaks you down into a whimpering mass of humanity. All three member of the band seem to be doing their own thing, flying at different speeds in completely different directions, but somehow make one of the most musical tunes on Grace Under Pressure. The passion of all performances shines through, especially during the guitar solo and Geddy’s vocal approach on the final chorus. Thank God they started playing this one again on recent tours! If you haven’t seen them live, do so.

Rush will never be confused with the pretty boys of the wild party days of 1984, but they did create one of the most remarkable albums of the decade. Unfortunately, I may be the only one who remembers it for it’s brilliance. Far too often it seems that Grace Under Pressure is given harsher criticism than it rightly deserves. Quite honestly, I can’t find anything about it to not like. Okay . . . maybe it could stand to be digitally remastered to bring more life out of the drums, but c’mon . . . that doesn’t affect the overall quality of the album. It’s brilliant . . . that’s why it’s on our tour of 1984! And with that being said, it’s time to return to our proper time and place. Everybody back into The Ripple Effect 3000xl Turbo Charged Wayback Machine™ and strap yourselves in . . . unless, of course, you want to remain in the land of day-glo apparel and parachute pants. - Pope JTE

Buy here: Grace Under Pressure






2 comments:

SomePunkKid said...

They actually sound pretty decent, not that I know to much about music though. Thanks for that, I'm gonna go check out there MySpace. :D

Lex said...

You stated that the album "This album is a direct reflection of the life and times of the world under the watchful eye of then U.S. President Ronald Reagan. The human ability to navigate through the chaotic storm of nuclear paranoia, the Cold War, totalitarianism, and technological advances serve as the themes for the tunes on this lost epic. Maybe the world wasn’t ready for such a vivid commentary of the ways things actually were in the world, but Rush were. They faced “the enemy within” while the American people wanted to hide in the fog of their inebriation and ignore their fears by masking them in consumables. The problem was, they had to wake up and face reality at some point, and the question now becomes, are they still asleep?"

That is partially correct. Please go to
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grace_Under_Pressure_(Rush_album)

"Red Sector A", is notable for its allusions to The Holocaust, inspired by Geddy Lee's memories of his mother's stories about the liberation of Bergen-Belsen, where she was held prisoner. "Between the Wheels" is one of the band's most synth-driven songs since Subdivisions from Signals. While the album's opening track, "Distant Early Warning", has been interpreted as dealing with the pressure involving the aftermath of nuclear holocaust, Peart in a contemporaneous interview demurred, saying, "It's about a lot of stuff."

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