Friday, January 11, 2019

Rush 14: Hold Your Fire

After a dozen years and albums developing their sound, Rush had found something of a formula in the mid-‘80s, along with consistent commercial success. Hold Your Fire was very much in the mold of Power Windows, from its general sound and embrace of technology, and while that may have been fine for the kids who snapped it up, the bigger picture tells a different story.
“Force Ten” is a dynamic opener, the wind metaphor taking over and driving most of the feel, Geddy Lee’s bass chords and vocals particularly top-notch. It’s proof that they could write a catchy chorus now and then, underscored by the excellent construction of the next tune. “Time Stand Still” has one of their trademark circular riffs over a sneaky time signature, but what most people remember about the track is that it features the voice of Aimee Mann, then still of ‘Til Tuesday. Her contribution was so key they had to incorporate her face into the onstage visuals.
And from there it gets a little generic, even for them. The arrangements are tight, the playing distinct and expert, and even Geddy’s voice sounds warmer than ever, but the songs don’t leap from the speakers. “Open Secrets” actually approaches the topic of communication between romantic partners but they might as well still be talking about trees or snow dogs given the instrumental approach. Bizarrely, “Second Nature” uses a quieter, soulful approach (for them) to address the topic of the environment, and “Prime Mover” does that quiet-loud-quiet-loud thing through most of the song, which again is catchy, but sounds a lot like the songs on the last album.
“I don’t wanna face the killer instinct,” Geddy wails after an ominous intro, and the theme of “Lock And Key” is set. The music is more interesting than the lyrics. We can’t say the same for “Mission”, which was one of their most accessible songs at the time, and one that now seems to be a prime candidate for a hair metal power ballad. “Turn The Page” has aged better, despite what sound like canned horns, and frankly a lot better than the Bob Seger song of the same name, but not as easy to dance to. The band themselves have disowned “Tai Shan” since its release, and for good reason. It’s one thing to write a song influenced by a trip to China, but using Southeast Asian melodies in the era of The Karate Kid is cringeworthy. And using that damn whistle synth patch a year after everyone else did was just sloppy research. “High Water” is a good closer, even if it is a little too derivative of “Mystic Rhythms” and ends abruptly.
Hold Your Fire was the band’s longest studio album to date, and while ten tracks certainly gave value for the money, maybe they shouldn’t have. Still, it’s a competent album, and not “bad” in the least; it’s just not very exciting. They had gotten comfortable, and were letting the machines do their experimenting for them.
Rush Hold Your Fire (1987)—3

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