Grace Under Pressure was the tenth studio release from the Canadian power trio Rush, released April 12, 1984. It had a darker sound, in keeping with its year of release. The dominant theme of the album is one of struggle, on the internal, personal, and social levels, and how people overcome or live through them. Band members have said in various sources that the group was in a state of flux at the time, and they came close to calling it quits after the release of this album. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, it is in my opinion one of their better recordings.

Grace Under Pressure was the first studio recording done without their long-time producer Terry Brown. The band was disappointed with the results of their previous album, Signals, released in 1982. They went with a new producer, Peter Henderson, who had earlier won a Grammy as an engineer on Supertramp's Breakfast In America, and later went on to produce albums by Paul McCartney. The album was recorded at Le Studio in Morin Heights, Quebec, as were their previous three studio albums: Permanent Waves, Moving Pictures, and Signals.

Grace Under Pressure was different from what Rush had recorded before. The songs are much darker than most of their previous work, and all are shorter than six minutes -- they finally moved away from the progressive rock epics they were known for in the early part of their career. The songs are to some extent evocative of the novel "1984," particularly on tracks such as "Red Sector A" (about a concentration camp) and "The Body Electric" (about an android escaping his oppressors). The band were also coping with the death of longtime studio engineer and friend Robbie Whelan in a motorcycle accident in 1983 (the subject of the song "Afterimage"), and were showing signs of wanting a break from one another as well. I think they were also reflecting some of the growing sentiment of the time that the present and future were not as bright as we were told to believe. This was clear in negative theme of "Between The Wheels", and the disturbing comparison of personal and national warfare in "Distant Early Warning" (particularly the biblical imagery in the cry of "Absalom, Absalom, Absalom!" at the end). The album also featured "The Enemy Within," part one in a trilogy called "Fear." This trilogy was begun on Moving Pictures with "Witch Hunt" (part 3), and continued on Signals with "The Weapon" (part 2) -- they were recorded in reverse order mainly because the songs were fleshed out by lyricist Neil Peart in that order.

Although Grace Under Pressure is one of Rush's darker releases, I think the music was some of their strongest. As sleeping wolf notes in his discography of the band, it is one of their early synthesizer-driven works, a trend which didn't quite gel until the much more upbeat Power Windows, released 18 months later. Geddy Lee's bass playing was still adventuresome ("Distant Early Warning"), but he changed basses from his classic Rickenbacker to the punchier, cleaner sounding Steinberger on some tracks. Alex's guitar was much brighter and further up in the mix, well above the keyboards at most times. The album art is also noteworthy; the cover is one of my favorites, featuring an alien, pastel-colored vista, with a lone observer looking out over a calm sea and fractured sky. The record sleeve also features a portrait of the band taken by the photographer Yousuf Karsh. The flip side of the sleeve shows an egg held in a c-clamp -- "grace under pressure" indeed. Although it had much lower sales relative to Moving Pictures, it was certified platinum in both the United States and Canada, and peaked at number 10 on the US Charts.

Grace Under Pressure was the first album where they took a larger leap into music video as well, making concept (rather than performance) videos for four of the eight songs: "Distant Early Warning", "Afterimage", "The Enemy Within", and "The Body Electric". The band released a video compilation -- "Through The Camera Eye" -- after this album, along with a live video from the Grace Under Pressure Tour filmed at the Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto on September 21, 1984. "Distant Early Warning" was the only song to go into even minor rotation on rock radio in the US. This song, and "Red Sector A" remained in their concert setlists for several years, but neither appeared on Rush's most recent live album, Different Stages. "Red Lenses" was played occasionally through the Power Windows tour, though usually not in its entirety.

Track list:

  1. Distant Early Warning
  2. Afterimage
  3. Red Sector A
  4. The Enemy Within (part one of "Fear")
  5. The Body Electric
  6. Kid Gloves
  7. Red Lenses
  8. Between The Wheels

Sources:
The Rush FAQ -- www.nimitz.net/rush/faq1ans.html (for charting information)
and, being a long-time fan.

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