20 Rush Albums in 20 Days: Hold Your Fire
DAY ONE: Rush, Hold Your Fire, running time 50:30, released September 8, 1987
While attending Berklee College of Music in 1987, I picked up my first Rush CD (previous purchases had been on vinyl), the newly released Hold Your Fire. Midway through the album, the guitarist from across the hall inquired about Alex Lifeson’s playing. I couldn’t lie. It was almost unnoticeable. To say Lifeson’s playing on Hold Your Fire is understated would be an understatement. It’s not only that his guitar parts are less busy than on earlier records (notice the non-solo guitar solos on “Time Stand Still” and “Mission”), it’s also that his guitar sound is so clean and pure and pushed so far back in the mix. This trend really began with 1982’s Signals, when Lifeson changed his contributions to the band, taking a backseat to Geddy’s keyboard prominence, and Hold Your Fire would cap off this period (captured on the live A Show Of Hands). Beginning with the next release, Presto, Rush gradually yielded to a heavier guitar sound.
Despite the change in the band’s sound in the 80s, Rush continued to pump out a quality product. Sure, some of the synths sound a little dated today – ”Second Nature” is a fine tune, but somehow regrettable in retrospect – but much less so than a lot of what the 80s produced, and the musicianship of Rush’s three members continued to elevate their product above the din of most bands. Geddy was very much a melody guy at this point in his career (vastly different from more recent albums), and even on songs when the production seems over the top, the tunes themselves are hummable, almost pop-like in some cases. Aside from “New Word Man” off of Signals, I would argue that there isn’t a poppier Rush song than “Prime Mover” (and a damn good one too, in my opinion. Best song on the album).
Hold Your Fire includes what Lee and Lifeson have reported as their least favorite Rush Song, “Tai Shan,” and though I still like the song, the album, running at 50 minutes plus, could probably have benefitted from cutting this one. Since the Hold Your Fire tour, only three tracks from the album have been played in concert, which is too bad. Rush has a tendency to lean on familiar territory in live performance, but I for one would love to hear a track like “Prime Mover” or “Turn the Page” live.
The album’s closer, “High Water,” finishes off the CD with a resounding lift, even employing a cheesy modulation for effect (think Barry Manilow), but it works. I buy into this kind of manipulation hook, line and sinker if it’s done well, and for me, Rush in 1987 did enough well to warrant our attention. They created excellent melodies with sub-optimal production. I think if they had to do it all again, they would reproduce this album to make it a little less synthy and a little heavier, with more crunch, more force and more low end.
But still, not too shabby of an effort.
Tomorrow, I’ll be listening to…drum roll, please…number 13. Aha! Rush’s very next album, the aforementioned Presto. It’ll be interesting to hear what changes took place in the intervening two years. Until then...