In the annuls of Rush history, Presto feels like one of a couple of forgotten albums. It drops right in between what many consider the end of the keyboard era and the start of the return to a more straight approach to rock music. However, the keyboards are not absent on Presto and in fact work really well and help elevate this album to being one of the band’s best.
Presto, released in 1989, is Rush’s 12th studio album and eighth to receive the expensive (at least to the buyer) re-mastered treatment – available this week. It’s the fourth release in the Super Audio CD format by Audio Fidelity. It’s also the third Rush studio album recorded in the DDD format – digital recording, digital mixing and digital transfer. It’s hard to argue a case for an overhaul but it worked well with Counterparts and Hemispheres in the SACD format and Roll the Bones on the 24KT Gold disk. At any rate it sure makes for a nice collectors album since it is a limited edition release.
Presto gives one of the greatest Rush album covers, certainly the most cutest, with a mound of rabbits in the foreground, a few in the background on a hill and one sticking out a hovering magician’s hat. A little known fact, Rush almost never made it to the studio and were contemplating whether to continue after the Hold Your Fire Tour.
“I was the most concerned I’d ever been,” guitarist Alex Lifeson said in an interview with Music Express magazine in February 1990. “There seemed to be an air of uncertainty as to whether we were properly motivated to record another album.”
Eventually the trio met and decided indeed they had more in the tank. In fact, the day they were supposed to start writing material for Presto, they did just that.
“It was amazing how smoothly things went,” Lifeson said noting how stressful recording an album usually gets. “We were so well prepared that we had the album written, recorded and finished a month ahead of schedule, which for us is unbelievable. “
Drummer Neil Peart wanted the title Presto for the Show of Hands live album, which documented the Hold Your Fire tour but in a vote he lost so he wrote a song entitled “Presto” and subsequently had a studio album title to work with.
Presto opens with the catchy and cynical “Show Don’t Tell” which brings Lifeson’s guitar back front and center, as does the second tract “Chain Lightning.” The keyboards don’t stray far as “Show Don’t Tell” incorporates a great piano synth which not only elevates the song but the added melody is actually too short! The synthesizers also nicely lift the oddly named “Anagram (for Mongo).”
Hardly known for ballads, “The Pass,” touches on the subject of suicide and is as close to one from Rush as you’ll get but this one oozes raw emotion and singer Geddy Lee takes the listener into a purely contemplative state. A fan favorite, “The Pass” found life in the band’s most recent tour.
“Scars” puts the spotlight on Peart who incorporates a great percussion rhythm, very tribal-esque, throughout. The piano synths are out in force for “War Paint” albeit very background and how great is the drum fill at the end of the introduction section of the song. The title song closes out “Side A,” and gives Lifeson his due on the acoustic guitar. “Presto” the song got the live treatment during the band’s Time Machine Tour in 2011.
“Superconductor” opens “Side B” and starts with a great rock guitar riff, the previously mentioned “Anagram” is a song about what else, anagrams. “Red Tide” a song about ecology brings in a great piano intro and Lee’s almost earnest vocals bring it home. “Hand Over Fist” is an upbeat song with a great crescendo near the close. Finally, “Available Light” book-ends the album quite strongly a feat Rush manages to do album after album.
The difference between listening to Presto on SACD verses the regular issue as hardly discernible. At lower volumes even a trained ear would have difficulty in finding the re-mastered version any better. At most, there is a subtle crispness to the SACD version but really only at high volume and it doesn’t really offer any more enjoyment. Peart’s snare drum might sound a tad more punchy and Lee’s vocals a bit more brisk but other than that the two versions sound identical.
Overall, Rush strives to make complete albums rather than a few singles surrounded by fillers which is evident on this album. Presto may not boast a handful of radio friendly songs, or any really for that matter, but every track is a solid rock performance and nothing disappoints. Most of all, Lee’s vocals really shine on Presto and borderlines on elegant – if that can be said of a rock singer. “Available Light” and “The Pass” show off his range yet the entire album sounds like an assiduous approach to performing vocally.
As previously noted on past re-mastered reviews, the casual fan need not invest in the $30 CD. If not for the limited edition aspect it might not even be worth the purchase. As far as packaging, the insert offered in the SACD version is in a booklet format rather than the fold-out of the original release and the font for the lyrics is different.
Collectors and the hard-core Rush addict will surely find the album a worthy purchase but best of all, it puts the spotlight, albeit briefly, back on a great Rush album.
Rush Presto Track List:
1. Show Don’t Tell
2. Chain Lightning
3. The Pass
4. War Paint
8. Anagram (For Mongo)
9. Red Tide
10. Hand Over Fist
11. Available Light