"Grace Under Pressure", the 10th album by "Rush", was released on April 12, 1984
After Neil Peart's on Jan 2020, this album took on a completely different meaning for us, if only because of the lyrics Peart wrote for the song "Afterimage", but more about that later...
The album marked a further development in the band's sound and included extensive use of synthesizers and electronic drums. As part of the Canadian trio's experimenting process, the album's musical style ranges from hard rock, ska, reggae and even new wave.
In order to understand the background to this fundamental change in the band's sound, let's go back to the late 70's of the last century.
Rush ends the 70s with three progressive albums that include long and very complex songs. During this period the progressive rock genre was declining and gave way to other styles like punk, new wave and reggae.
Throughout their musical career Rush has been diligent in developing, experimenting and exploring new areas, making the necessary adjustments in sound and song structure and opening the 80s with the album "Permanent Wave", which usually included shorter and radio friendly songs and more use of keyboards. The album was a huge commercial success which ensured the band's survival at a time when prog was no longer relevant.
The band's change also continued during the next two albums, the masterpiece "Moving Pictures" and the album "Signals", which already included greater use of synthesizers, sequencers and electronic equipment, at the expense of guitar use.
In an interview with Geddy Lee at the time, he noted that although it was the easiest and safest thing to produce a sequel to "Moving Pictures", they chose to look for other musical directions. "We're a band that has always loved to challenge itself," Geddy declared.
But the new musical directions the band chose to experiment with were not to the liking of their regular producer Terry Brown, who wanted to keep riding on the dizzying wave of success of "Moving Pictures". Disagreements with Brown made the band realize that if they were interested in experimenting with new musical directions they must continue without him, and they began looking for a new producer to replace him. The task was not easy, the band had never worked with other producer than Brown. A lot of familiar names came up, but in the end the band chose Peter Henderson, a choice that turned out to be right for Rush.
The combination between the band's changing musically to Henderson's special and meticulous production, created a synthesized and electronic album with Ska and Reggae influences and a completely New Wave sound that matched the musical era of the 80's.
Despite the substantial change in sound and although on this album Rush has completely moved away from their comfort zone and the musical styles that brought them success, this is a very good album that maintains a high and uniform level throughout and includes some of the band's best tracks in its electronic era.
The song "Distant Early Warning" opens the album with a simple, catchy and sweeping synthesizer line. The combination of New Wave guitars and synthesizer creates a fresh, innovative and powerful sound for the band, which sounds more relevant than ever and matches the musical style of the 80's. Alex Lifeson's guitar solo introduces a rock element to the song and reminds us that the band roots comes from the hard rock style.
"Afterimage" is an exciting and moving song that talks about the loss of a loved one. The song opens with a thunderous wall of guitar and synthesizer that pulls across the intro and first verse. The music includes elements of reggae, pop and rock. Neil Peart dedicated the song to a friend who served as a recording technician on some of the band's albums, including "Moving Pictures" and the lyrics opens up with the words: "Suddenly You Were Gone ... From All The Lives You Left Your Mark Upon." About a decade later, two major tragedies befell Peart, after his daughter was killed in a car accident and his partner died of cancer less than a year apart. By this point the song has already taken on an entirely different meaning, with a line from it quoted on the back cover of the live album "Different Stages", in memory of the two. Unfortunately, on Jan. 2020 we were informed of the untimely death of Neil Peart - the greatest drummer of our generation, and in a chilling and inconceivable way the moving words Neil Peart wrote became an eulogy for himself, from now on listening to this song will never be the same.
An equally moving song is "Red Sector A" influenced by the story of Geddy Lee's parents, both Holocaust survivors, who survived the Bergen-Belsen and Dachau concentration camps. Neil Peart heard the story and wrote these moving words about the amazing courage of the survivors.
The other songs on the album also maintain a high level of writing and performing ability.
The track that closes the first side of the vinyl "The Enemy Within" whose lyrics includes the album's title - 'Grace Under Pressure". This is the third part of Neil Peart's "Fear Series", which was initially composed of 3 sections that appeared in reverse chronology over 3 consecutive albums of the band. The first, is "Witch Hunt" from the 1981 album "Moving Pictures" also called Part III Of Fear and deals with the way fear can be used to control people. The second, is "The Weapon" from the 1982 album "Signals" and it deals with dealing with external fears such as weapons. And the third, is "The Enemy Within" also called Part I Of Fear, from this album that deals with the inner fears of people who influence their decisions. It is interesting to note that 18 years later the band decided to add a fourth part to what "fear trilogy", as part of the comeback album "Vapor Trails". This time the song deals with paranoia and fear of the unknown and is called "Freeze - Part IV of Fear".
"The Body Electric" opens uop the second side of the album. It is based on the 100th episode of the mythical series "Twilight Zone". Sounds familiar? Right. Because this is not the first time Peart based a song on the mythological series. The album "2112" includes the song "The Twilight Zone" which was inspired by two episodes of the same series. Episode 28 from Season 2 and Episode 30 from Season 5. This time Peart was influenced by the 100th episode and wrote a song about a robot that struggled to go free. Anyone who listens to Alex Lifeson's solo and Geddy Lee's bass accompanying him on this song will surely find that they are very much influenced by the playing style of The Edge and Adam Clayton from the band "U2" in those years.
Right after that comes the track "Kid Gloves" with Alex Lifeson's Palm Muted guitar riff on an impossible 10/8 beat that brought back memories of Genesis' "Follow You Follow Me" from their album "...And Then There Were Three...". It's probably the most rhythmic and song on the album which undoubtedly adds a different color to its relatively gloomy atmosphere. it features one of Alex Lifeson's beautiful solos and there are quite a few on the album.
The track "Red Lenses" is perhaps the most experimental on the album, a bit prog, a bit New Wave but mostly crazy. A combination of instruments, rhythms and styles with Neil Peart's amazing and versatile drumming that goes between the electronic drum set, the percussion and acoustic set and back, and of course amazing keyboard work that for a moment reminded us of Talking Heads. Neil Peart also noted that this was the song he had the hardest time working on. He struggled with the words, changed the title many times and had a hard time getting to a finished product that he was happy with. Despite everything he stated that he really enjoyed working on it.
Finishes the album "Between the Wheels" with the monotonous and amazing synthesizer riff that just does not come out of the head. The lyrics include the iconic line "Another lost generation" quoted by Ernest Hemingway at the beginning of his book The Sun Also Rises.
In conclusion, "Rush" has undoubtedly come a long way in this album, both in terms of musical style and in terms of production and instruments (electronic drums and synthesizers). Despite escaping the regular patterns that had given them such great success on previous albums, and despite the long distance from their "comfort zone", Rush manages to produce a high-level album that matches the period, which will also help the band survive the 80s and remain relevant. .
Anyone looking for the classics "2112" and "Moving Pictures" on the album will not find them. At the same time, it is an excellent work in relation to the time in which it was released, and perhaps also the band's best album in its "synth" era.
It is interesting to note that in 2009 the band released a live album called - "Grace Under Pressure Live" that includes a performance of the band from 1984 which was until then only available in a video version. This show also came as a bonus disc to the ReplayX3 DVD package. The live album cover is the same only adding the caption "1984 Tour".