Album Review: Rush – Grace Under Pressure

Rush Grace Under Pressure Album artwork

Never turn down a free Rush album.

Too many years ago, my fifth-grade classmate Keith told me he was at a swap meet the previous weekend and someone there was giving away Rush albums.

Huh?

So the story goes, as well as my memory of this unprecedented event. This most excellent classmate, who knew I was a Rush fan, offered me one of the albums. One was 2112, the other an album I had never heard before. I already has 2112 so “thanks!” I’ll take the other one.

He indeed gave me that album the next day at school.

Upon getting home (again if memory serves me correctly) my older brother was waiting for my mom to take him to the music store, probably Music Plus, to get the new Rush album. Oh, you mean Grace Under Pressure as a gleefully pulled out the new album on cassette tape like a magician.

To this day I do not know the real story behind the “free” Rush tapes but I am pretty sure my getting Grace Under Pressure was a stomach punch to my brother as he seemed to fall away from his fandom of the Toronto-based power trio and latched on to Adam Ant for a time.

All Grace Under Pressure did for me was cement singer and bassist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer  Neil Peart as my premier supergroup known as Rush who continued to expand their horizons, find new avenues of musical creativity and record another fine album from beginning to end. Grace Under Pressure featured some of art director Hugh Syme’s best album covers and the record was Rush’s first without longtime producer Terry Brown.  Peter Henderson came onboard after Steve Lillywhite backed out to which we can only be ever so grateful as Rush might have turned into U2 and called it a career.

Rush endured a bit of unjustified criticism (a lot in some circles) for their heavy embrace of keyboards in the 1980s something quite evident on Signals but an instrument they seemingly incorporated deliberately, then sparingly thereafter. One could argue that after Signals Rush figured out the fine line of keyboard use while keeping a focus on Lifeson’s guitar and this shows on Grace Under Pressure.

I felt Rush’s use of keyboards simply broadened their sound but mostly represented a natural progression of the band as they tried new and different things to prevent falling into a rut. By the way, if you have ever heard the version of “Tom Sawyer” with Lee’s bass pulled up you get an idea of how much keyboards were used on that iconic song and how little bass.

At any rate, while bands of the day were talking women, sex and drugs, Rush was making music about the Holocaust, memorializing a lost friend, and a radar system used to detect incoming Soviet bombers during the Cold War that also helped provide early warning of any sea-and-land invasion, known as the DEW line.

Pretty meaty stuff for a 10 year old!

But I never bothered much with lyrics as they, to me, contributed to the music like the guitar, drums, bass and yes the keyboards.

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Rush Grace Under Pressure Album Review

The eight-song near 40 minute Grace Under Pressure requires an investment in time and though some songs immediately take foot others require settling in melodically. Understanding musical composition helps in this regard if you listen for intricate patterns and other complex arrangements.

“Distant Early Warning” opens the album and when I first played my “free” tape the static that initiates the song initially led me to believe I got a bad copy or some type of bootleg. But the rest of “Distant Early Warning” and the album played fine so I chalked it up to being a “free” album but eventually confirmed that indeed the static was studio quality.

“Distant Early Warning” which made my Top 10 Best Rush Songs list methodically intertwines all that makes Rush great. It begins a slow burn from the start as it crescendos into hard rock before dropping back and building up again culminating into a fine melodic jam with Lee’s keyboards and Lifeson’s guitar producing an epic musical climax. DEW never really lets off the gas once it starts and offers a great introduction for Grace Under Pressure.

“Afterimage” follows and begins with some rather prophetic lyrics, in more ways than one, though the song was written in memory of their friend Robbie Whelan as noted in the liner notes. Lifeson lays down a solid solo. The Holocaust song comes next on “Red Sector A” a weighty tune, not necessarily intense, but not melodically driven at the onset.  “The Enemy Within” ends the first side with a simpler harmony and some balanced measures that flow nicely.

Peart handles the drums with flare in a power cadence to open the second half of the album on “The Body Electric.” A busy song much in the vein of “DEW.” The sweet melody of “Kid Gloves” continues the upbeat chords, also a song that apparently contains the fastest Peart drum fill at the 3:23 mark. The sneaky clever “Red Lenses” is a fun piece and the album closes with “Between the Wheels” a track that got much love live and handily goes from a near dour repetitive keyboard opening before fully opening into a brisk pace. If you rank the Top 10 Rush chorus melodies this would make the list. Another fine Lifeson solo.

The first half of Grace Under Pressure embraces some robust lyrical themes while infusing germane melodies. Despite the somewhat despairing subject matter you don’t fall into a contemplative mood requiring a restart. However, the lighter journey of the second half extends a nice contrast with breezier refrains that implement a progressive rock, pop sound. You can bob along to “Kid Gloves” not so much with “Red Sector A.”

Do you really think I will give Grace Under Pressure anything less than an…

Grade: A-

Rush Grace Under Pressure Track List

  1. Distant Early Warning
  2. Afterimage
  3. Red Sector A
  4. The Enemy Within
  5. The Body Electric
  6. Kid Gloves
  7. Red Lenses
  8. Between the Wheels

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