Rush - Hold Your Fire
While their popularity certainly sustained throughout the 80's, it isn't simply a personal opinion of mine when I say the band's heavily-synthesized "progression" was growing more and more thin. A band of Rush's caliber can, and have, always maintained a due respect and admiration for the practiced perfection of their live work, and for consistent songwriting. What goes into making albums like Signals, Power Windows and Hold Your Fire (which we'll get to shortly, I promise) lackluster in comparison to their older works? It isn't anything they forgot to do, or weren't able to. It's simply a tired direction that had already been done to far enough lengths previously. Where Power Windows maybe should have been this "synth era" at it's finality, I imagine Hold Your Fire was the last bit of it they just had to get out of their collective systems.
The real bugger about this record, like some before it, is how dominant Geddy Lee is and how it seemingly pushes the talents of Alex Lifeson to an afterthought. This may or may not have been a collaborative direction, or just an inevitability of the songwriting process, or some minor in-house disputes and blah blah blah. In the end, it makes for a product that one can immediately tell is lacking. While Geddy's skills with composition and multi-tasking were improving alongside Neil's variety of percussive stylings and lyrical approaches, Alex's solos seemed to be more meandering and lifeless. Afterthoughts. There's that word again!
Some of the album's singles are certainly catchy, easy to digest and not without that hint of that classic "we're good in any time signature!" flair. "Force Ten" has a light industrial tinge to it, and is one of the few songs were Alex's axe is respectable and in focus. "Time Stand Still" is...still...kinda seen as a misstep for the band. It's about as pop-centric you'll hear them, and the decision to include guest vocals (courtesy of Aimee Mann) is no small part in the derision. But, for my money, the lyrical content and a strong vocal performance from Geddy make it worth remembering. Oddly enough for a band who made their initial mark with up-tempo rockers, it is typically the softer moments of Hold Your Fire that shine the brightest. "Second Nature" is a very touching song lyrically, and flows very well front beginning to end. "Prime Mover" and "Lock and Key" are both excellent as well, the former a little less dependant on synths to drive it's musical points home, the latter a darker and more ominous investigation of our violent and primal instincts. "Mission" has been a long-time carryover for the band in their live setlists, but I never really cared for it. Nice but underwhelming. The rest of the album is pretty much summed up the same way.
While it would be awhile before Rush crafted an album I could truly get into wholly, Hold Your Fire, like a couple of records before it, contains just enough to keep it from being a waste of time/money. I probably mention this in ever review I do of the band, but their musicianship is never in doubt, and that can often enough overwhelm the distracting qualities of alienating synths, poppy songwriting and the almost criminal underuse of a solid guitarist. Thankfully, at long last, Hold Your Fire would mark the end of the synth era for Rush. Probably the best thing I can say about this album.
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