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.