On October 11, 1985, "Rush" released "Power Windows", their 11th studio album.
This album continues the change in the musical line of the band, which began with the 1982 album "Signals" and continued with the 1984 album "Grace Under Pressure", further deepening Rush's entry into the digital age of the 1980s.
If you thought the use of synthesizers on "Grace Under Pressure" was excessive, then "Power Windows" took it even a step further, and beyond the use of synthesizers and electronic drums, which was part of the previous album, the band first introduced samplers, strings and even a choir, To expand the range of instruments and sounds used.
Drummer Neil Peart said that this album was different from all its predecessors, partly because the band decided not to limit itself, in terms of the use of musical instruments and effects. Neil explained that while on previous albums the band thought during writing about the ability to play the songs live, this time they decided to go wild at the writing stage, leaving the concern for how the songs will be performed live without the help of guest musicians, for a later stage. Indeed the sound on this album was different and richer than all its predecessors. Layer upon layer of musical instruments and effects created a "wall of sound" if we use the expression and ideas of renowned producer Phil Spector.
To fulfill its vision, the band is assisted (for the first time) by several outside musicians who helped to build the "wall of sound" that exists on this album. Andy Richards plays keyboards alongside Geddy Lee and is in charge of the synthesizer programming, Jim Burgess is also in charge of programming, Anne Dudley is the conductor of the string ensemble and Andrew Jackman is the conductor and arranger of the choir.
The result really does not sound like anything else the band has done up to that point. A combination of instruments and effects that blend into each other and create a fluid stream of cascading sounds that make up the album's so unique sound. The clean and clear production of Peter Collins is without a doubt one of the best of the band's albums, and unlike the previous album, the balance between keyboards and guitars, in this case, is simply amazing and gives Alex Lifeson much more room to experiment and develop.
The album opens powerfully with "The Big Money", featuring Geddy Lee's trumpet-like synthesizers, Neil Peart's electronic drums storm, and Alex Lifeson's experimental guitar layers, which very quickly leave the song's lead to Geddy Lee's frantic slapping technic. It is interesting to note that a sample of Neil Peart's voice is heard in this song and is triggered through his drum set. The name of the song is taken from the third book in the USA trilogy by writer John Dos Passos bearing the same name. Neil Peart who is a fan of Passos was influenced by him writing another song of the band - "The Camera Eye" from the album "Moving Pictures". The lyrics to "The Big Money" speak of the power of "the big money" and trade in the modern economy, especially in the 1980s.
HIt is interesting to note that the connecting thread between most of the songs on the album is the word "Power" and in this case, as mentioned, the power of money.
We slow down a bit with "Grand Designs" which opens with a synthesizer effect and continues with Alex Lifeson's "Power Cords" and Neil Peart's minimalist and smart drumming. The use of synthesizers is really what drives this song. This is really a Geddy Lee track. His synthesizer playing, bass playing, and excellent voice are the leading force in this track, and at the same time, Lifeson gives a great and emotional guitar solo here. This song also has a "power" motif that can be found in the words: "So much poison in power…"
The third track is one of the most beautiful and special songs on the album - "Manhattan Project". The song is about the "Manhattan Project" which was the code name for the development and production of the first nuclear bomb during World War II. Neil Peart wrote the lyrics after reading literature on the subject. He, Geddy, and Alex managed to create a short musical story on the subject. The song opens with the military drumming of Neil Peart and the arpeggio chord of Alex Lifeson as the playing during the verses is very minimalist and allows Geddy Lee to tell the story of the act. In this song, you can hear the beautiful work of the string ensemble which numbered 30 members and took the lead in a melodic and beautiful solo (3:20 minute). The bass section of this song is played by Andy Richards using a Roland JP-8 synthesizer and to recreate that sound in the show, it was necessary to sample this sound to a Geddy Lee's keyboard. The song ends with the bombing of the "Enola Gay" plane in Hiroshima and the very strong statement that the invention of the doomsday weapon changed the course of history forever, and the connection to the "power" that connects the album's songs is clear.
"The pilot of "Enola Gay", flying out of the shockwave on that August day.
All the powers that be, and the course of history.
Would be changed forevermore..."
The first side of the album ends with the excellent "Marathon", which ostensibly talks about a person who faces the difficulties of running a marathon as a metaphor for life and that they are full of difficulties and obstacles that require endurance and dedication to pass them. The song features fantastic music from the three members, especially Geddy Lee's baseline during the verses. In this song, you can hear the 25-member choir, accompanying the instruments and enriching the sound (especially from the fifth minute of the song). Also, the guitar-bass-drums section starting at about 2:50 is completely reminiscent of Rush's good old sound that pops out from under the rich production and sound layers.
The other side of the album opens with "Territories" which once again expresses the use of force, this time for the conquest of more and more land. Neil Peart did an excellent job writing and conveying the message against wars and conquest of lands with a slight wink to China and its policy regarding the territories around Hong Kong. Geddy Lee's bass work and Alex Lifeson's guitar in the transition section starting at 4:00 are just amazing and the words there just cut like a knife through the leaders' hearts:
"They shoot without shame
In the name of a piece of dirt
For a change of accent
Or the color of your shirt"
And when Alex Lifeson comes out of the transition section starting at 5:20 his playing and his guitar sound are simply reminiscent of those of The Edge from "U2". It is interesting to note that Peart plays this song without the snare drum and that the song includes a sample of Geddy Lee saying the words "Round and round".
The song "Middletown Dreams" is a relatively quiet song written following Neil Peart's visit to several American towns during the previous album's tour. Neil used to spend his days between shows riding a bike through towns that the band visited along the way. He said that when you pass a town by bike you see much more than by car. He examined the people and tried to imagine what they think about, what they went through in the past, and what they dream of in the future and hence the idea for the song. Musically the song includes one of Alex Lifeson's beautiful solos on the album and on the other hand the most "poppy" synthesizers of all the songs in it, starting at 2:00.
The song "Emotion Detector" was born out of the band's intention to create a ballad. It didn't really work because the lyrics Neil wrote with the intention of fitting a ballad, fitted in nicely with a relatively rhythmic musical piece that Geddy and Alex had already written. The song may have opened up slowly with a synthesizer sound that was imported from the Far East, but later the rhythm rises to the sounds of Neil Peart's electronic notes and Alex Lifeson's arpeggio.
The song that seals the album "Mystic Rhythms" was crowned by Geddy Lee as the most "synthetic" song on the album. All the instruments in its sound "synthesized" like Alex Lifeson's acoustic guitar painted with a synthesizer effect, but there are great rhythms, beautiful melodies, and clever lyrics in this song.
In conclusion, on this album "Rush" is definitely taking a big step into the new wave and increasing the use of synthesizers and electronic equipment, while fundamentally changing the band's sound. This is an album that veteran Rush fans had a very hard time digesting at first, but it is definitely an excellent album that includes some of the special moments of this so-diverse band, an album we always enjoy going back to.
More than 30 years later it can be said that this album has much more than what was seen at first. Even the band, which almost completely ignored it in their setlists during the 90s and 2000s, learned to appreciate it more over the years and gave it the respect it deserves by right and not by grace, when during a tour that accompanied the album "Clockwork Angels", four of the album's eight tracks starred in the setlists: "Middletown Dreams", "Grand Designs", "The Big Money" and "Manhattan Project".
This tour, which also included a string ensemble that accompanied "Rush" on stage for the first time, was recorded on the double live album "Clockwork Angels Tour" and we recommend you to hear the very special live versions of these songs from it.