Written on January 4, 2010
On Presto, Rush’s 13th studio release, they start to move away from the heavy synthesized sound that defined many of their 80’s albums, and they transition toward a more traditional modern rock sound characterized by tougher guitar work from Lifeson, precise and punctilious drum fills from Peart, and more bass lines from Lee than we’ve heard in almost a decade.
The band’s change of direction is immediately evident on “Show Don’t Tell,” the album’s first track, where the opening sequence of guitar and drums is formidably heavy and complex, and although Lifeson is playing one pattern on guitar while Peart is playing a different pattern on drums, their instruments still sound like they are in perfect harmony. “Chain Lightening,” the album’s second track, also starts with very aggressive guitar and drum work. So, this fuller and less synthesized sound for the album is certainly set right away, but it is not limited to the heavy songs. “The Pass,” and “Available Light” are lighter toned songs, but they still have a very full sound. Plus, Lee’s vocals perfectly personify Peart’s lyrics on each of these songs, making them emotionally resonating as well. I think both “Chain Lightening” and “Available Light” are criminally overlooked, so here are audio clips for those songs, along with “Show Don’t Tell.”
My favorite two songs from the album are the “Presto,” and “Red Tide.” “Presto” is the real champion of the album. Most of the song features Lee singing over very simple and light guitar work from Lifeson, but as the song develops— Peart builds up the tension with a quickening drumbeat that eventually climaxes and changes the pace of the song completely, with much heavier guitar work from Lifeson and two verses of phenomenal vocals from Lee.
Then there’s “Red Tide,” which is the most energetic song on the album. Like “Presto,” “Red Tide” also features increasing momentum throughout the song, ultimately building up to the best vocal bridge of the album, where Lee nails the lines of “too late for debate, too bad to ignore/ quiet rebellion leads to open war/ bring a sea-change to the factory floor/ as the red tide covers the shore.” This lyrical verse is the highlight of the song, and it still excites me every time I hear it. “Red Tide” (like “Chain Lightening” and “Available Light”) is also underrated and overlooked, and not one of those three songs has ever been played live.
Lastly, I’ll comment that the lyrics and vocals on all the songs are excellent, and Lee has remarked that “Presto” is written as a singer’s album. “Superconductor” has one of the best lyrical verses of the album, and the lyrics make for an interesting juxtaposition to the Shakespeare inspired lyrics that Peart used in “Limelight” from Rush’s 1981 album Moving Pictures. Here are the two lyrical verses to compare.
“Superconductor”: “The role becomes the actor/ she’s addicted to applause/ the stage a world/ because she never leaves it.”
“Limelight”: “All the world’s indeed a stage/ and we are merely player’s/ performers, and portrayers/ each another’s audience/ outside the gilded cage.”
Presto is an important album for Rush. As mentioned, it brought a tougher and fuller sound back to their music, and it showed them transitioning away from their 80’s synth driven style. Plus, at the time, these changes showed their fans that they are an ever-evolving band, and just as importantly– it showed Rush that their fans would forever evolve with them.
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