Red Alert. Red Alert.
It is a little odd that the first album that had been randomly selected would be a Rush album. Back in the early-to-mid 90’s, I fancied myself a huge fan of the Canadian trio. I still enjoy their work, but I have no plans of making “Tom Sawyer” my wedding song.
Grace Under Pressure was Rush’s tenth studio album and first one without longtime producer Terry Brown. Without looking at the liner notes, a listener would have a fairly good chance of pegging the year this album was released. While not quite as synth-heavy as popular bands of the day, it does exude an unmistakable “80’s sound” of electronic keyboards. And the dystopian themes presented in Neil Peart’s lyrics are fitting with his “cold war concerns” world-view of 1984.
I’ve listened to Grace Under Pressure a million times, but it still seems foreign to me. I like the album – and it has some stand-out songs – but it also harbors songs I found somewhat forgettable. Was it the song’s fault or was my brain just checking out when it didn’t find the hook it was looking for? I guess that’s what this project was intended to find out. I gave it a complete listen, reading along with the lyric sheet. I won’t be doing this with every album, but for this, I’ll take it one track at a time:
“Distant Early Warning”
The album starts off strong with this song. It’s definitely powerful and, crazy as it may sound, it’s almost like the album is warning you that what you are about to hear may depress you a little. Not because the music is terrible – far from it. But rather, there’s just a lot of darkness ahead. This album is not a happy place.
Here we are with a song about the aftermath of a friend’s death. It’s rather touching when you read the lyrics. But when you listen, the music almost overpowered everything being said. It’s like someone is screaming a eulogy. I’m not trying to make light of a tragedy or anything like that, but it just seems very odd. However, a softer song – something more fitting a tribute – would be sorely out of place on this album.
“Red Sector A”
I jot down little notes when I’m listening to an album and for this song, I had written “Neil Peart is to science fiction as PB is to J”. I couldn’t put a finger on exactly what I was thinking when I had written that but I suppose it had something to do with tiring of the whole dreary scenario (though it may be less science fiction and more social commentary). Again, not a fault of the album – just my tastes.
I still like the song, though. It’s really strong and certainly has no problem holding my interest.
The Enemy Within
This song is marked as Part I of the chronologically-backwards Fear series. It’s a really upbeat song, something you’d almost want to dance to if Rush would legally allow such a thing. Probably my favorite song on this album.
The Body Electric
Channeling his inner Asimov, Neil Peart gives us this tale of a robot in distress. Yeah, I’m still over the theme of this album. Maybe it caught me in the wrong mood. And that’s not to say the song isn’t strong. It is. It starts off with a really menacing drum beat, the kind you hear when you know your ears are in for a treat, and it follows through with a strong rock piece accented only when necessary by the shiny synthesizer.
On the other hand, this song never did it for me. It may not be Grace Under Pressure’s strongest selection. Just nothing to say about it.
The liner notes wrote half the words in a red font. How clever. And I love the rising anger of the subject in the lyrics paired with the melodic bass line. Something delightfully primal about the way it sounds. However, when it gets past the first few verses, it changes everything up and isn’t nearly as interesting.
Between the Wheels
This is the point in the album where I had almost checked out. I listened – but I found it hard to maintain my focus on the music. I wrote “caboose on a murdering spree” on one line and then “80’s movie montage” on the next. If you played this song for me tomorrow, I’d forget what album it was from.
Many will get the wrong impression after reading some of my thoughts about the individual songs. Don’t – I still like the album. It’s just not my favorite Rush album. Not by a long shot. I know they were trying to make it more accessible to the music fans of the time, but the side effect is that it sounds almost a little too dated. Plus, I’m probably not on the same wavelength as lyricist and drummer Neil Peart’s cynical prose on this particular day. Maybe on another day, I may feel differently.
What do you think? Do you love this album? Hate it? Let me know in the comments.