20 Rush Albums in 20 Days: Grace Under Pressure
DAY FIVE: Rush, Grace Under Pressure, running time 39:12, released April 12, 1984 (my 16th birthday)
No Rush album captures the feel of a time period the way Grace Under Pressure does, taking us to an era of Reagan and Gorbachev, The Day After, War Games and general paranoia about what lay ahead. It’s a feeling that might not lend well to an enjoyable listen, and indeed, the entire first side of Rush’s tenth album is in a minor key with production that sounds like cold, stainless steel. Luckily, just as the album starts to labor under its own weight of self-importance, side two comes to save the day
Rush recruited Peter Henderson to help with production after parting ways with long-time producer Terry Brown, and the results are mixed. Some of the choices are extremely unsatisfying. Half way through listening to “Afterimage” I had the sneaking suspicion that Journey’s ”Separate Ways” must have been playing on an endless loop in the control room prior to recording this song. Terrible synth choices, and for me, the weakest song on the album by far. The instrumental breaks of this tune and the following track, “Red Sector A,” are among the most unsatisfying of any Rush song. True, Alex Lifeson doesn’t need to have a guitar solo on every song, but instrumental sections also have to lead somewhere. Here, they remain stagnant, serving as little more than time filler.
The opening track, “Distant Early Warning,” still holds up well, and the lyrics “You sometimes drive me crazy – but I worry about you” have never resonated more to this father of three. The dreary mood of side one gives way to a refreshing set of songs on side two that alter the feel of the album just enough to provide a welcomed second wind. “Kid Gloves” is a fun tune, and one that I would have expected to become a mainstay in Rush’s setlist, but it hasn’t been played in concert since 1984. Go figure. Rush added “The Body Electric” to its most recent tour, and I thought it was a refreshing addition. Yes, the chorus is a little cheesy, but I’ve always been a fool for cheesy songs. “Red Lenses” is one of those tracks that inspires a heated reaction. My son hates the song, and from what I’ve read on-line, many other Rush fan feel the same. I love it. And though a guitar solo is avoided yet again on this tune, the instrumental passage works, offering a change in feel instead of just droning on the way other tracks from this album do. "Between the Wheels” ends the album where it began, in an ominous minor key, as if to remind the listener that despite the mild humor of the previous song, things really aren’t okay. As if we needed reminding.
Lifeson's guitar work on Grace Under Pressure is very interesting. I comare his crunchy, clean upbeats on "The Enemy Within" to his work on "Vital Signs" three years earlier, and it's apparent to me that by 1984 he'd found his footing, managing to make the guitar relevent even in the evolving sonic landscape of the 80s. His contribution, both innovative and subtle, warrants repeated listenings.
Grace Under Pressure benefits from it's short length. One more tune – especially a tune in a minor key – would have put it over the edge. As it stands, it's a decent, if imperfect, album.
Tomorrow, I’ll be listening to…drum roll, please…number 1! The debut album. Back to the basic blues/rock band with banal lyrics. This ought to be interesting…