Rush Album Countdown: #11 – #9

I suppose I better get cracking on the rest of this countdown if I’m going to make it in time for the May 1 release of Snakes & Arrows. Today we crack the Top 10, which I guess is a pretty big deal huh? But before we get there let’s recap the results thus far:

Part 1 (#17 – #15)Rush, Hold Your FireRoll the Bones
Part 2 (#14 – #12) —  Test for Echo, Vapor Trails, Fly by Night

Everything on the list so far represents albums that are all very good but uneven. To put it another way, even a mediocre Rush album is better than most other bands’ stuff. With that in mind, let us push onward!

Rush - Caress of Steel album cover#11 – Caress of Steel (1975)

Caress of Steel is where Rush really started to push the limits of their musical abilities. While the results are not consistently great, this is a crucial album and provided a taste of the greatness to come. First of all, is there any Rush fan who is tired of hearing “Bastille Day” even after 800 listens? Not me.

“Lakeside Park” is another instant classic, and a great example of how even mellow Rush had a sense of freshness and urgency back in the day. And while some may view “I Think I’m Going Bald” as a throwaway track, it is a great example of the sense of humor that non-fans don’t think the band has.

So what of the remaining tracks, “The Necromancer” and “The Fountain of Lamneth”? Personally, I love “The Necromancer” in all its geeky prog glory. The fierceness of the “Under the Shadow” section segues beautifully into “Return of the Prince.” So what about Lamneth?

Well, the major strike against this suite is the lack of flow from one section to the next. Whereas Genesis made an extended suite like “Supper’s Ready” work brilliantly, Rush falls short here. There are high points, like “No One at the Bridge” and “Bacchus Plateau,” but some days I just want to get right to those. “Didacts and Narpets” is unessential, but it is only a minute long. “Panacea” is pleasant enough, but it sort of floats away into nothing. Only the first and last pieces of the suite are really related thematically, but the problem is they’re not very strong pieces.

Despite the misses, Caress of Steel has always been a personal favorite so it sits at #11.

Rush  - Power Windows album cover#10 – Power Windows (1985)

Following up the very grim Grace Under Pressure, Power Windows was like opening the curtains in a dark room. Of course the first thing that stands out is the subtle use of SYNTHESIZERS.

For better or worse, this album sounds very much like an album that came out in 1985. So why a Top 10 placement? Well for one thing, this was the last real step forward Rush took in terms of sound and style for quite some time. That progression basically stopped when Hold Your Fire was released. For another, some of my favorite Rush songs are here — “Grand Designs,” “Territories,” and “Middletown Dreams” are all-time greats as far as I’m concerned.

Another key to the effectiveness of Power Windows is its brevity. Arriving when it did — before the CD had completely asserted its dominance as a musical medium — the album clocks in at just under 45 minutes. That means all killer, no filler for the last time in Rush’s career. The band still sounds excited and energized about making music here.

Rush - Presto (1989) album cover

#9 – Presto (1989)

Presto, I must admit, has always been a favorite of mine despite what long-time fans think. It was the first “new” Rush album I bought after becoming a fan, which is crucial, but there’s more than that.

First of all, the wall of synth sound was turned way down in favor of a leaner and more muscular arrangement. Another plus is one of Neil Peart’s strongest set of lyrics ever — he was definitely at the top of his game here. Musically, there’s also a lot to love. “Show Don’t Tell” follows the Rush tradition of strong album openers, and has a groove that won’t quit. Who doesn’t love the Geddy Lee bass workout during the bridge?

Geddy cites “The Pass” one of his favorite Rush songs, and I can’t really argue. I also really dig the title track and the moody closer, “Available Light.” There is a lot of variety here, so they’ve got that going for them, which is nice.

Rupert Hine’s production makes Presto feel more personal and accessible than most Rush of this time. While Neil’s drum sound may lack the power of earlier albums, his playing sounds more relaxed while still being complex. Alex Lifeson provides more texture and support than lead work — which is a detriment on later albums — and it sounds great here.

I know a lot of fans aren’t big on Presto, as they see it as too mellow or too “adult,” but I think it’s probably the most underrated album in Rush’s discography.

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