Genre: Progressive rock
20 years ago, Rush released their 13th studio album, Presto. To commemorate this anniversary I'm going to give my take on this album.
Presto marks a transition point for Rush. As they gradually drift away from the synth-driven songs and back towards the guitar-centric music, Rush took the next logical musical step. The synth period of Rush felt much like a series of chapters in their history. Moving Pictures, Signals, Grace Under Pressure, and Power Windows made up the first four chapters, and the 5th is Hold Your Fire. Yet, Presto still feels connected to this era; making it a sort of epilogue, and the final "chapter" of Rush's synth era. While Grace Under Pressure felt almost too synth driven, Presto follows Hold Your Fire display of well-balanced production. Lifeson still adds his guitar spurts and Peart continues to experiment with the electronic drums, but overall Presto was a final settling point for their synth era.
Another aspect that Rush continues with in Presto is the thematic album. Starting with Power Windows, Rush's albums have all been thematically written, however loosely some may seem. While Power Windows and Hold Your Fire overtly clung to the themes of power and instinct, respectively, Presto displays it differently. It uses the cover of magic and the supernatural as a setting of sorts to conduct it's business. Beneath that, Presto is mostly written about culture and harmony, oftentimes using the cover of supernatural to diguise that theme (like in Chain Lightning and Presto). This method of thematic writing is also used on Roll the Bones and Counterparts to disguise their particular themes.
Onto the album itself. Presto opens with Show Don't Tell. It works fine as an opening track. It's catchy enough to capture the attention of the listener, but it doesn't do much else to impress. Chain Lightning shows Neil Peart's growth as a lyricist with some nice, introspective lyrics. The Pass, which Rush has mentioned is among their favourites, is a great break piece. Neil's recent experiences in Africa play into several songs like The Pass, and the following piece, War Paint. The group singing at the end of the song "Boys and girls together. Paint the mirror black." is a great moment on the album and I can picture a group of African children singing along to this when Peart visited them.
Scars picks up the pace of the album. The drum line in Scars is quite remarkable. It's unlike anything Neil Peart has ever come up with, and its often played in his live drum solos. Based of a conga pattern he heard in Africa, Peart plays a very flowing pattern on the electric toms, and it sounds wicked. The lyrics speak of Peart' experiences with people and places he has encountered in his life and the feeling he gets when he thinks of them. Presto is another highlight of the album. Alex Lifeson gets a lot more to do on this song. His solo and riff lines shine here, and remind the listener that Alex still does play for Rush.
Superconductor is a bit weaker of a song. It has a good bass line, but it's unremarkable and is followed up by another unimpressive song, Anagram (For Mongo). Again, we have a neat idea, but it lacks any great bits. Both songs do examine an individuals takes on culture and humanity from different perspectives. Red Tide is a great piece from Geddy Lee's vocals. Actually the whole of Presto feels very much like a singer's album. The music is structured in way that the vocals shine. Many will consider this a controversial choice. Presto ends up being mixed just like Hold Your Fire, but the instruments are lower in the mix while the vocals are the well-heard track. Fortunately, the vocals lines are all pretty good.
Hand Over Fist explores the theme of friendship and loyalty. Counterparts will explore the idea of human relationships as it's principal theme in the coming years for Rush, so Hand Over Fist is a great introduction to Peart's take on the human race. Available Light works well in context with Peart's experiences as a closing track. It gives the feel of a goodbye to a magical place (in Neil's case, Africa), and there's a heavy emotion tied to the track. Hold Your Fire had a weaker display in its last 2 tracks, so it's refreshing to hear a strong finish from Rush.
Off of the theme of togetherness and culture, Presto gives off a very cheerful feel. Geddy gives spirited vocal performances in most of the songs here, and conveys the lyrical emotion well through his voice.
Presto seem to be fairly disliked by the Rush fanbase. I'm not sure whether it has anything to do with the equally divided opinion on most of the synth records or if it is something about the actual album itself. I don't find the album bad, but I do see the weakness in it: there are few remarkable moments to it. There are no 2112-sized epics. Instead you have a series of 4-6 minute songs following a similar structure. They haven't abandoned the progressive side, though. There are plenty of odd time signatures and they continue to push the borders of their sound, so you can't say they've settled too close to what's worked in the past. Presto is a very consistent album, however. All of the songs are adequate. None are spectacular and, by comparison, none are overshadowed. For fans expecting another Hemispheres, they will likely be disappointed. Listeners who are patient will find a spirited, albeit unspectacular Rush album.
War Paint - It builds really well, and features a very cool group singing session.
Scars - A very mystical vocal line. Peart's drum line is unlike anything else.
Available Light - A strong finish and an emotional piece.
Show Don't Tell - An OK opener, but it not particularly memorable.
Superconductor - Cool beat and lyrics, but ultimately is forgettable.
Anagram (For Mongo) - Cool beat and lyrics, but ultimately is forgettable.
Chain Lightning - Something a bit different from them. Reminiscent of The Body Electric.
The Pass - Slower song, but still a very enjoyable listen.
Presto - Strange lyrics hide Peart's underlying message. Good chorus.
Red Tide - Geddy puts forth a good vocal performance here.
Hand Over Fist - Nice lyrics about human relations. Catchy chorus, too.