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.