DAY ELEVEN: Rush, Power Windows, running time 44:44, released October 29, 1985
When I saw Rush in Chicago in 2012, I was surprised that the band played not one, not two, not three, but four songs from Power Windows. An interesting choice, since this album is the antithesis of recent efforts that focus on a hard-edged, fuller guitar sonic landscape. I suspect there were many in the audience who were less than happy about it. I was thrilled to hear “Territories,” my favorite off the album, and maybe one more would have been fine. Four seemed to be pushing it just a bit.
This is the album when Rush made a conscious decision not to worry about being able to reproduce things live. From this point on, the band would lean more and more on prerecorded tracks, triggering them with foot pedals or synth keys, and their live performances became a little less live. Even easy synth parts, like the beginning of “The Big Money,” are not played live by Geddy Lee. I’m not sure why that is, but I suspect it has something to do with the band’s insistence of having their live tracks sound virtually identical as the studio versions. This is a mistake in my mind. Great bands like Zeppelin or The Who conquered the stage by doing just the opposite, with each performance unique and unpredictable (to a point). Imagine seeing Rush perform a song and not knowing how different it might be than the night before? It could produce some very interesting results.
Listening to Power Windows today, the opening songs – “The Big Money” and “Grand Designs” – sounded fresh and exciting, with more prominent guitar work than I remembered. Sure, there are frilly synth sequences that kind of muck things up, but overall I enjoyed the experience. The next two tracks, “Manhattan Project” and “Marathon,” are again good songs, but suddenly Alex becomes less and less important, and by “Territories” he all but disappears during the chorus. From there, the album really breaks down for me. The tracks vary so little in mood, tempo, rhythm and production, that by the time I get to “Middletown Dreams,” “Emotion Detector,” and “Mystic Rhythms,” I’ve simply had enough. Each song sounds unpleasantly similar to the song that preceded it. The album could have benefitted greatly from a tune featuring an acoustic guitar, a ¾ time signature or a less in-your-face synth sound – something to mix things up a bit.
Rush has said that if they could re-record an album, Presto would be it, but I think Power Windows would get my vote. Each song might stand on its own merits, but having eight songs in a row with so little to distinguish them makes the listening experience bland and unpleasant. It would be very cool to hear the band try some of these songs as a basic rock trio.
Tomorrow, I’ll be listening to…drum roll, please…number 6, Hemispheres, the last Rush album to offer a side-long song. Talk about a different feel! We shall see how it holds up.