If forced to pick a favorite Rush album (difficult for me because I’m a die hard fan), this is the one.True, it is darker-sounding than previous outings, and the lyrics are much more foreboding than those that drummer Neil Peart had written before, but Rush wear the mood well.The album is shrouded in synthesizers, electronic percussion, and washes of textural guitar, allowing the band to nod toward what was happening in popular music at the time without sacrificing the virtues thay had always practiced that made them uniqe.For me, it is “Kid Gloves” that is the stand-out track. Time signatures shift between 5/4 and 4/4 as the verse and chorus modulate from the key of G to the key of E. Through all of this, the beat is pumped like some anxious variant of the dance-pop so prevelant in those long gone days of 1984. As icing on the cake, add Alex Lifeson’s warped, cliche-free guitar solo. When other players were trying their hardest to sound like Eddie Van Halen, Alex looked the other way toward players like the Edge, Andy Summers and Adrian Belew, all the while retaining his unparalleled technical command of his instrument and his rather sick sense of humor.If you’ve ever wondered what the musical conventions of the mid-eighties might sound like in the hands of real musicians, then GUP is your kind of record.
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Why so many four star reviews? Obviously, some people have seemed to miss the inherent change in style that the band brought to this album. Grace Under Pressure is an amazing album, yes there are more keyboards and some of the songs are a bit slower but who cares? They are still great songs. By this point Rush was beginning to move into the middle phase of their career that would be marked by a more electronic less rock sound. The songs are extremely well crafted and the music (by Lee and Lifeson) as always is unheralded. Let’s look at side 2, The Body Electric, although not one of Rush’s best efforts it is certainly worthy of space on this cd. Kid Gloves and Red Lenses may be the two most overlooked songs in the Rush catalogue. Kid Gloves just flat out rocks with biting poignant lyrics by Peart. On Red Lenses, Geddy shows why his is the master of the Rickenbacher. The song has such a laid back coolness about it that is supplied totally by Lee’s infectious bass line. Between The Wheels is a great closer and actually sounds more like a Signals tune but it’s still great. Distant Early Warning is a concert standard that Rush would open many a show with. They even made a video for it! Afterimage is another flawed gem that only the most ardent Rush fans have come to cherish. Red Sector A is still played in concert to this very day, although its not my cup of tea many Rush fans really took to it. The Enemy Within ranks among my top 5 greatest Rush songs. These are probably the best lyrics Peart has ever written, “I’m not giving in to security under pressure…” Peart’s lyrics about anxiety and panic (“Every muscle tenses to hide the enemy within..”) are right on point, and truly show why his nickname is “The Professor.” If I have not sold you on this CD by now, no one ever will. BUY THIS NOW!
To many fans Rush’s 1984 album GRACE UNDER PRESSURE may have come at a bad time. Their 1981 breakthrough MOVING PICTURES is widely regarded as their finest album, and the following album SIGNALS annoyed many because of its poor production after such an excellent release. Some came to see GRACE UNDER PRESSURE as a continuing slide downhill simply because it didn’t give them more of MOVING PICTURES. I believe that anyone who appreciates stylistic evolution, however, could see this as one of their finest albums.The first half of this album is incredibly cohensive. It opens with the stunning “Distant Early Warning”. A reference to quick notification that a nuclear missile has been launched, the album communicates drummer and lyricist Neal Peart’s pessism at the state of the world in the early 1980’s, with increasing pollution and continuing standoff between the US and communism. From this first song it’s obvious that the musicianship of the trio has gotten better and better, Peart’s timing is incredible and Alex Lifeson was considered guitarist of the year for his screaming solos. One notices more use of synthesizers by bassist Geddy Lee, but they congrue with the rest of the band well and are overused like on the following two Rush albums. The second track, “Afterimage”, is an elegy to a friend of the band who had passed away. It ends with a tight instrumental jam of the sort rarely heard after the band moved to a more radio-friendly song length. “Red Sector A” continues the superbness of the album. A reflection on Man’s darker moments, among other the Holocaust, the song stands out because of Peart’s exclusive use of the digital kit. In fact, on several following songs he uses this to some extent and it lends considerable freshness to the band’s songwriting. The fourth track is “The Enemy Within”, which is the album’s most energetic and driven song.The second half of the album doesn’t stand out as much as the astounding first half. While “Kid Gloves” is often considered Alex Lifeson’s finest moment, it isn’t a very memorable song. “Red Lenses” is also instantly forgettable. The final track, “Between the Wheels” is pleasant, but it contains too much of the excess of production that was to plague 1985’s POWER WINDOWS.While MOVING PICTURES or this year’s VAPOR TRAILS would probably be the best choice for someone who has never heard Rush before, I’d certainly recommend GRACE UNDER PRESSURE as one of the first albums a new Rush fan should pick up. The excellent balance of instruments, clean and clear production, and songwriting relevant to the period but also timeless make this a great album.
Many have called Grace Under Pressure one of Rush’s worst albums, as the band got away from some of thier heavier riff-rock stuff in favor of a cleaner, more synth-driven sound. Why critics and fans alike have seen this as being a bad thing is beyond me. First of all, the songwriting on all of “Grace” (especially lyrically) is some of thier best. The songs are shorter and multi-textured, with Alex Lifeson using higher pitched and open chords and Geddy concentrating on grooves, allowing the keyboards to drive the song. This gives Alex, Neil, and Geddy the oppurtunity to do different things than they have ever done before, showing a new side of the band. There really isn’t a bad song on the album, but the true standouts here are Afterimage, Red Sector A, Kid Gloves (containing arguably Alex’s best solo ever), and Between the Wheels. This is Truly an underrated album that non-Rush fans can enjoy just as much as us Rush-heads.
Grace Under Pressure is sometimes my favorite Rush album, and sometimes it’s second to Signals, but either way, it’s a masterpiece.
Coming smack dab in the middle of Rush’s synth period as it does, one might expect guitarist Alex Lifeson to have only a background role in Grace Under Pressure. That’s not the case at all, and in fact, I think this is his best Rush album. His solos in “Kid Gloves” and “The Body Electric” are just incredible, while his rhythm guitar roles in “Red Sector A” and “The Enemy Within” rock hard.
That’s not to say that synthesizers play a minor role in Grace Under Pressure. They’re at the forefront of every song (except “Kid Gloves”), and unlike many later Rush efforts, they never get in the way of the song. Everything on the album blends together perfectly. “Distant Early Warning,” for example, has everything that `70’s Rush classics have- a great guitar riff, Geddy Lee’s heavy bass and high-pitched vocals, and Neil Peart’s maniacal drumming and cryptic yet concrete lyrics. However, it also looks to the future, with a more pessimistic mood and blasts of keyboards scattered about.
The rest of the album doesn’t disappoint either, with “red lenses” (the title is supposed to be written in all lower-case letters, for whatever reason) being the best of the bunch. The song is unique in the Rush canon, to say the least, having a stream-of-consciousness and dissonant feel to it. This is also one of Neil Peart’s best Rush songs- there’s a percussion section in the middle of the song that will blow you away. I have no idea at all what the lyrics mean (“We’ve got Mars on the horizon, says the National Midnight Star”), but that doesn’t matter, because it’s just so fun. You can tell they had a whole lot of fun while recording “red lenses,” that’s for sure. I wish Rush would play it live, because it’s very high-energy and would make a killer show-opener.
Elsewhere, cynicism and bleakness abound, with a Holocaust theme in “Red Sector A,” an ode to a deceased friend in “Afterimage,” and wartime lament in “Between The Wheels.”
“Red Sector A” is a noteworthy song because, shockingly, there is no bassline. Geddy Lee is only the singer and keyboardist on this song, and it features a great hook where the guitar and synthesizer trade riffs. Add Neil Peart’s pounding electronic drumbeat, and you’ve got a Rush concert favorite. You won’t even notice the missing bass guitar.
Like I said, this can be my favorite Rush album, and the only bad thing I can say about it is that the front cover isn’t all that good (well, that and the band’s photo on the inside- I bet they hate to look at that now, twenty years later). Every single second of Grace Under Pressure is excellent, and there are just too many highlights to go over in this review. You’ll just have to listen for yourself.