The Rush Project - January's Playlist

The Rush Project - January's Playlist

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According to my Last.fm stats, Rush is now my 5th most played artist, up from 18th place last month. They’d have been 4th, but I listened to a ton of Nightwish this month.

As I mentioned last month, I’ve been listening to the following albums.

I have written and rewritten this post more than almost any other post. My feelings about these albums keep swinging wildly and unpredictably. I go from dear god, awful to this is a great song, all while listening to the same damned song. I actually googled schizophrenia symptoms at one point because that’s just how hard these albums hit me.

After my first listen, my initial thought was Wow, this going to be a long month. I don’t like any of these albums. I’m pretty sure I worked through the five stages of grief on each. I’m a hard rock kind of guy, which explains why I stopped following Rush early on. And it also explains why these albums, which are nothing short of a full-scale abandonment and complete overhaul of the band’s sound, left me staring longingly at my copy of A Farewell to Kings.

Although Witch Hunt was a harbinger of things to come, we could not have foreseen this. The jump from Moving Pictures in 1981 to Signals in 1982 is fairly extreme. The keyboards and sequencers move from experimental to spotlight and remain there throughout Grace Under Pressure and Power Windows. The band’s entire sound changed. I knew heading into this project that Rush changed sound in the 80s, but I simply never appreciated how fully committed they were. These guys took a decade-old, well-greased and well-loved sound and threw it under the bus. As Metalich’s review of Signals in The Metal Archives notes:

The sound slams home, requiring mental rearrangement of what Rush is, for while the core of the band is still here, it is subtle in comparison to the changes.

I spent the better part of the first two weeks fighting with that mental rearrangement. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to being shell-shocked for the first 2-3 listenings.

These were hard albums to love, but they do “reward patience”. After listening to each no less than five times, I eventually found something in each to enjoy. It started slowly. Come on, you like Distant Early Warning, Red Sector A and The Body Electric – that’s 3 songs right there! Okay, fine. I’ll listen to the album again. And after a while, the songs started working their magic. They broke through. I found the joy, buried as it was, and eventually found myself quietly singing one zero zero one zero zero one, SOS to no one in particular.

But this is true: I don’t yet love any of these albums, certainly not in the same way I love 2112 or Clockwork Angels. However, that’s changing. Just the other morning I found myself actually happy to be listening to Grace Under Pressure and the thought occurred to me that one month might not be enough to fully appreciate these albums. I might need give them a little more space and time.

Signals

This album marks Rush’s last collaboration with producer Terry Brown, who had co-produced every Rush album since 1975’s Fly by Night, and had engineered their first album in 1974. Brown initially refused to record Digital Man and was not sold on the band’s new direction.

I initially thought he might have the better of the argument.

Peart’s lyrics are extremely good. His percussion, as always, is incredibly focused and tight. Lee kills the bass and keyboards. For the most part, Lifeson is relegated to the background, but when given the opportunity, he’s explosive and dead-on.

Subdivisions and New World Man were immediately familiar and just as good as I remembered. The Analog Kid is ridiculously good. It’s everything that’s right about this “new” Rush and one of my favorites on the album. The lyrics, to me, hint somewhat of the band’s thoughts on their new direction:

When I leave I don’t know
What I’m hoping to find
When I leave I don’t know
What I’m leaving behind…

Very few bands make time signature changes feel as natural as Rush does. Although not a standout and certainly not an exception, Chemistry highlights just how tight the band is. It’s one of the few songs in the band’s history where all three members contributed to the lyrics. Digital Man is a strong entry, showcasing Peart’s lyrical mastery. The Weapon (Part II of Fear) gets better every time I hear it. It’s a damned good song. Losing It surprised me and was the first song on the album to really grab me. Countdown is as interesting as it is enjoyable.

However I might feel about the band’s new direction, the general public ate it up. Signals hit #10 on the Billboard 200. Released in September, 1982, it was certified platinum in November.

This album might eventually be one of my favorite Rush albums. It’s growing on me in a weird way.

Grace Under Pressure

As mentioned, unhappy with the sound of Signals, the band parted ways with Terry Brown. My opinion is that Rush had charted a course that Brown didn’t agree with, the recording sessions were probably uncomfortable and sometimes heated, and Rush is simply too Canadian to out-right say it, so they went with the old standby of “we didn’t like the way it sounded” as a polite excuse to part ways. But that’s simple speculation and the end result is the same: Brown was out and, by all accounts, amicably so.

Grace Under Pressure continues to evolve the new sound. The band is confident in their new direction and this album shows it. Building from Signals, keyboards continue to be the focus and drive. Lifeson shines a bit more and does so brilliantly. Lyrically, this is probably their darkest album to date.

Distant Early Warning is the only song I remember hearing before. It’s fantastic. Afterimage is a powerful song. It’s dedicated to Robbie Whelan, a friend of the band who’d worked as an assistant engineer on Moving Pictures and Signals and had recently died in a car accident. Later, the opening lyric was quoted in the liner notes of Different Stages as a dedication to Peart’s daughter and wife, who died in 1997 and 1998, respectively.

Suddenly, you were gone
From all the lives you left your mark upon

Red Sector A is very dark and grim with quick glimpses of hope in the face of oppression. Everything about this song is amazing and it quickly became a favorite. The Enemy Within (Part I of Fear) is notable if only for the fact that it’s the first of the four songs encompassing the Fear series. The Body Electric is something of a sad song, set against a snappy beat and addictive chorus. Between the Wheels is a lyrical gem.

This album is growing on me slower than Signals, but I think it’s more musically diverse. Lifeson’s contributions are more easily heard and are not as buried.

As with Signals, this album hit #10 on the Billboard 200. And it also went platinum within two months. Released in April, 1984, it was certified platinum in June, 1984.

Power Windows

This album seems to solidify the band’s 80’s sound. It’s a logical progression from Grace Under Pressure with some minor changes here and there, but for the most part the pattern continues. The band kicks off with The Big Money just as if they’ve always sounded this way. Confident and supreme. Lots of keyboards, not much room for Lifeson, solid percussion, bass and lyrics. Lifeson is doing a lot more than you hear on first listen and his performance is really quite brilliant.

For the most part, I don’t care for this album. I know, guys. I’m sorry. I tried really hard, but this one just isn’t doing it for me. Maybe it needs more time and space to grow on me, but I just can’t care any more.

Marathon is great song. I absolutely love it. Mystic Rhythms is a keeper. Manhattan Project is also a standout. Otherwise, I’m going to mark this album as a sleeper and let it ride.

Released in November 1985, it went platinum in about 3 months.

I probably should listen to it a few more times.

Moving On

This month I’ll be listening to these three albums:

I haven’t done any reading or research on these albums yet, but given what I lived through this month, I figure I’m in store for more of the same. Challenges and searching for the joy. I’m optimistic, but I’m also ready to be done with the 80’s.

Onward and upward, eh? Let’s get to the music already.