Admittedly, I am a fan of post-70s Rush…I think pretty much everything from Permanent Waves onwards is quality material. Which is not to say that the pre-80s stuff is poor–there are a number of songs from that period which I enjoy–but I feel they really hit their groove in the 80s. Hold Your Fire is their best creation of that decade.To begin, yes keyboards and synths are used quite frequently on this album. However, why some people interpret that to mean that Rush “stopped playing their instruments” or that Alex was replaced is mystifying to me. The synths on HYF add a nice additional texture to their music, and COMPLIMENT, rather than contradict, Alex’s guitar parts.The songs themselves are top-notch, and being one of the most pop-friendly albums the group have produced, this ends up being one of the albums I recommend first to non-fans. “Force Ten” begins with a jackhammer, and doesn’t let up from there. “Time Stand Still” is one of Rush’s catchiest, most memorable singles from this decade. “Prime Mover” and “Mission” are simply great, uplifting power-pop songs, while “Lock and Key” showcases the band’s well-known musical prowess. Neil Peart’s lyrics are, as usual, top notch, and deal more pointedly with social issues than in albums past. Geddy, long having since moved out of the “shrieking” period and into the “singing” period, sounds terrific, and Alex’s solos here rate as among the best of his career (particularly the end of Mission).Overall, while some songs are certainly better than others, there really isn’t a bad song on this disc. HYF remains one of the warmest, most accessible albums the trio have ever released. For those looking to break easily into the realm of this fantastic group, and for whom the idea of a 12 minute epic called “Bytor and the Snowdog” is a bit intimidating, Hold Your Fire represents an outstanding starting point.
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Neither fans nor critics were especially impressed with 1985’s POWER WINDOWS. Most weren’t so fond of Rush’s next release, HOLD YOUR FIRE, either. That’s a shame: if one really listens, there’s much to appreciate in this album. The songs here are more calm and warm than those in previous Rush releases, due largely to Neil Peart’s spiritual lyrics. This makes for a far more relaxed listening experience. The album gets off to a great start with the fast-paced “Force Ten”, followed by the beautiful and emotional “Time Stand Still” (the latter includes vocals by Aimee Mann). Other stand-outs include “Open Secrets”, “Lock and Key”, and “Prime Mover”. Geddy Lee’s bass is prominent and his vocals sound even more personal than usual, and while his oft-critiqued synthesizers do occasionally shut out Alex Lifeson’s guitar, the synthesizers really work towards creating a passionate atmosphere for the album. HOLD YOUR FIRE is an excellent, emotional, and underrated album that ranks among Rush’s best.
I like to write reviews about albums that have meant something for me personally and Hold Your Fire is definitely one of those. It went from a record that didn’t appeal to me on any particular level to one of my absolute favourite records from one of my favourite bands.
As a fan of almost everything that Rush has created musically during the years, including the records of the seventies as well as the nineties, it has always been the eighties era of the bands music that has appealed to my musical taste the most. With Moving Pictures, Grace Under Pressure and Power Windows they created music on a higher emotional level than before, leaving the science fiction lyrics and long rock epics for more human based themes and a music that was more of an intellectual art form, more developed and matured. My favourite album during this time was Power Windows with its symphonic keyboard sound and melodic and powerful melodies, mixing the guitar, bass and keyboard on a balanced level. Hold Your Fire had something that I just couldn’t get into the same way; it seemed more complicated and more experimental for a seventeen old lad like me, touching themes that I couldn’t understand in the same easy way as the themes of Power Windows.
But as the months went by I and I listened more frequently to the record something happened that made me want to listen more to it. Songs that hadn’t touched me before; Prime Mover, Second Nature, Lock And Key, suddenly had something about them that made me remember why Rush is one of my favourite bands; their ability to go beyond the music fashion of the time, borrowing ingredients of what characterize this ongoing trend and turning this into something more intellectual, complex, emotional and original than most other artists manage or ever would dear to do. I suddenly understood why the textbook in their greatest hits album Chronicles said that with Hold Your Fire the band had climbed to the top of the hill, reaching their musical highpoint.
It seems like the keyboard sound that is used on this album as well as some other albums of the eighties scares away some of the old-school Rush fans, claiming that it destroyed the sound of the band that they once had fallen in love with and learned to characterize with Rush. But personally I don’t judge music for the use of keyboard sounds or the lack of epics, I judge it for its musicality and originality. Hold Your Fire contains both these ingredients and it creates a musical landscape created by world class musicianship both on an instrumental and lyrical level. The music is melodic art as its best, linking lyrics and music together with a sound that has such originality that it can’t be heard, not even on a small level, on any other record of any other band. And that’s what progressive and experimental music is all about, it doesn’t have to be 20 minute epics with time changes every ten seconds to fill that criteria.
…isn’t it? From reading the reviews of several Rush albums, it’s apparent that people decide that Rush is at their peak at the time they first hear the band on the radio or MTV.”Hold Your Fire” was the first time I’d paid attention to the band, and to this day it defines, for me, the greatness of the trio, despite being a fan of most of their work. The lyrics on “Hold Your Fire” are the most powerful, most beautiful of all their recordings. How many albums can spark a sense of wonder of the universe (Time Stand Still, High Water), stir outrage against the powers that be (Lock and Key, Open Letter), or remind us of the beauty of human potential and accomplishment (Prime Mover, Mission)? This wide range of themes on a single album wouldn’t work in the hands of lesser musicians, but Lee, Lifeson and Peart are the masters of their instruments, and it is by the strength of their sound that we can seamlessly shift from wonderment to outrage to wonderment again. Some fans complain of the preponderance of keyboards on the album — these are generally fans of the older, guitar-heavy Rush style (which I like, by the way). But as Lee belts out on the album, Permanent Waves: “All this machinery/ making modern music/ can still be open hearted/ not so coldly charted/ it’s really just a question/ of your honesty.” The keyboards enhance the lyrics and the music, providing a depth that guitars alone could not.Not many bands have remained as honest to themselves and to their fans as Rush — whatever their fortunes and whatever the critics say, there’s little doubt that Lee, Lifeson and Peart gives everything they have to their music.
To a certain degree, Rush has always personified the battle between passion and reason. The theme even illustrated the cover of their 1978 opus, “Hemispheres.” Led by bassist-singer’s Geddy Lee’s love it or hate it falsetto vocal style, “Hold Your Fire” is a fitting bookmark to what was perhaps the most productive and musically-rich chapter in the band’s history. Drummer Neil Peart’s pensive lyrics provide the plot for what turns out to be the end of the musical journey begun with 1980’s “Permanent Waves.” As the title suggests, the theme of the album is the human struggle to temper instinct and passion with intellect and restraint.The songs explore several variations of the theme: honoring the sacrifices we sometimes must make to hold true to our dreams (“Mission”); warning us of the dangers of giving in (“Lock and Key”); or exploring the side effects of progress (“Second Nature”). Peart’s lyrics have always been among the most literate and thought-provoking in rock and, when all is said and done, it’s hard to disagree with them. The reason for this is that, rather than beat you over the head with his point of view, he chooses to explore the many shades of gray that illustrate one of the core struggles at the heart of human understanding.The irony is that, while the lyrics provide a well-balanced view of the passion vs. reason struggle, the music falls squarely on the side of reason. In choosing to push the power trio format to the limit, Rush chose to play heavily with the use of sequencers which, in turn, makes one feel that, with everything that is going on musically, the band never really cuts loose. Even Peart’s snare drum is not the powerful firecracker heard in, say, “Moving Pictures.”This is not to say, however, that “Hold Your Fire” is a sterile album. On the contrary, Lee’s vocals are at their most accessible and his bass and keyboard work is nothing short of amazing. Guitarist Alex Lifeson continues to play with phrasing with an inventiveness absent from most of the “guitar god” alumni of the time. And, of course, Peart is his usual self: one of the most inventive drummers in rock, equal parts power, precision, and intelligence. Adding first-rate production by the band and Peter Collins, “Hold Your Fire” is a terrific exercise, lyrically, musically, sonically and philosophically.