Pressure Points

'Grace Under Pressure' Album Review

By Geoff Barton, Kerrang!, No.65, April 5-18, 1984, transcribed by Dave Lythgoe


Dunno what it's like in your particular TV area, but where I live the weirdest series used to turn up on the screen late Sunday nights/early Monday mornings.

Nah, I'm not talking about B&W repeats of 'Dragnet' or horror schlock from The House Of Vincent Price, I'm referring to a cathode curiosity called 'Rock Concert'.

Never heard of it? It's not surprising, it was hardly essential viewing. Situated at the dustbin end of the boob tube schedules, the programme used to feature ancient footage from a bizarre variety of MOR and rock acts. One week it would be Crosby, Stills And Nash, the next James Last, the one after the Little River Band...all human life used to be there, and for some peculiarly masochistic reason I used to watch every surreal edition intently.

Imagine my surprise, therefore, when Rush turned up on the show one week. Yeah Rush, all long hair and satin cloaks, all mid-Seventies sword and sorcery, all 'By-Tor' and 'Beneath, Between And Behind'... all so dated.

Long-time readers of the Bartonian word will remember I used to rave about the Rush of this era. Well, not any more - those clich├ęd 'Rock Concert' clips finally laid that particular ghost to rest. Not before time, I've caught up with the modern-day doings of Messrs Lee, Lifeson and Peart...and this new album 'Grace Under Pressure' is the latest link in a truly lustrous chain.

It's always a pleasure to hear master craftsmen at work. Seconds into the opening track, 'Distant, Early Warning', it's obvious that all machine parts are meshing with sublime sensitivity. Like a hand-built V-8 engine, the band propel themselves along with minimum fuss/maximum efficiency, content in the knowledge that - WHOOSH! - there are vast reserves of power available if required.

But Rush, they don't need to floor that foot pedal too often. Restraint, understatement and (most of all) feel are the prime movers in this glorious gramophone game. Under-inflated rather than overblown, in ace producer Peter (Supertramp) Henderson's hands Geddy and co. are a sparse swirling Police...a jagged jaunty Aswad...a free-form, doodling Mahavishnu Orchestra. The sky really is the limit, and Rush reach for it every musicianly step of the way.

'Grace Under Pressure' is the band's toughest, most accessible album for some time, due in no small part to drummer Neil Peart's highly immediate words.

The scheming, scholarly skinsman seems to have adopted a new, more direct and straight forward lyrical approach this time around. Although the subject matter is almost uniformly doomy, the words are magnificently memorable - no more so than in 'Red Sector A' - a claustrophobic commentary on life behind prison walls. Stark stanzas like "Ragged lines of ragged grey/Skeletons they shuffle away/Shouting guards and smoking guns/Cut down the unlucky ones" perfectly complement the tight, tense, terse rhythms.

'Pressure's standout track however, is "Red Lenses", a strange-but-startling hybrid of jangling Oriental rock and lazy, loping Steely Dan-amics. It's loose, undisciplined feel is enhanced by some trippy stream-of-consciousness phrases. "I see RED/And it hurts my head/I guess it must be something that I read," sings a bloodshot-eyed Geddy Lee, before mouthing more nonsense along the lines of "A pair of dancing shoes/The Soviets are the blues/The Reds under your bed/Lying in the darkness/Dead ahead!"

As is always the case with Rush album reviews, there is so much to say...in so little space.

So for the moment suffice it to say guitarist Alex Lifeson plays a much bigger, raunchier part in the scheme of things this time around...that 'Body Electric' has 'hit single' written all over it...that 'Kid Gloves' has a pacifist message to really hit home...that 'Enemy Within' will prompt you into some disturbing bouts of self-analysis...and that this is another cunningly crafted, thought-provoking Rush album.

Who'd have it any other way?