Signals ushered in Rush’s most musically creative era in the ‘80s, where the heavy rock was eschewed in favor of a keyboard-laden hybrid of New Wave and progressive rock. The opening synth notes of “Subdivisions” signaled (sorry) this change in direction, but while it wasn’t guitar-centric, it was still edgy thanks to the economy of all three members and the much more contemporary sound. Prog dinosaurs no more, this was a very daring move, yet as this heartbreaking song proved, in 1982 you didn’t need big loud guitars to win over a new, younger crowd. Featuring some of Peart’s most powerful lyrics (“Any escape might help to smooth the unattractive truth / But the suburbs have no charms to soothe the restless dreams of youth”) it remains one of Rush’s most-loved songs by their Gen-X aged fans.
(Grace Under Pressure, 1984)
Grace Under Pressure is one of the darkest albums in Rush’s discography, and “Red Sector A” is one of its bleakest moments, but also one of its most thrilling. Built around a pulsating sequencer track, Peart’s deliberate beats echo krautrock, alongside Police-style accents by Lifeson and dramatic keyboard stabs by Lee. A stunning exercise in minimalism, its Holocaust tale, inspired by the stories of Lee’s mother, herself a survivor at Bergen-Belsen, only heightens the song’s sense of dread and doom.
(Hold Your Fire, 1987)
From the darkness of “Red Sector A” to some pure, dazzling sunshine, “Time Stand Still” is Rush’s best pop moment, one of their many high points in the ‘80s. An impeccable display of hooks and dynamics, the lively arrangement is made all the more affable by guest vocalist Aimee Mann, who brings a welcome feminine quality to the music. It all builds up to the chorus, which is shimmering, joyous, and inescapable.
Released at the tail end of Rush’s ‘80s renaissance, Presto was an uneven album, but it yielded one of the band’s personal favorite songs, as well as one of the most beautiful moments in its entire discography. Peart’s lyrics tackle the theme of youth suicide with compassion, and his sentiment is echoed by a restrained arrangement that ebbs and flows gracefully. Peart has said that his eyes mist up whenever he plays this track, and when that chorus hits, he’s never the only one.
(Clockwork Angels, 2012)
It was fitting that in the year they were finally elected into the Hall of Fame, Rush reaffirmed their stature in rock history with their best album in nearly three decades. Built around a jangly riff that seems lifted from the Byrds, “The Wreckers” is one of many memorable moments from the ambitious concept album, in which so many of the band’s strengths—epic scope, accessibility, contemplative lyrics—coalesce into a five-minute piece that proves that even a progressive rock band in its late 50s still can create moments of genuine soul. While most inductees their age are usually coasting, making safe, predictable music as they drift towards senior citizenship, Lee, Lifeson, and Peart are doing it in style, riding yet another career high.
// Notes from the Road
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