REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/26/2008
1989 marked a new beginning of sorts for the Canadian trio Rush. For one thing, Geddy Lee and company began a relationship with a new record label,
Creatively, Rush was coming off one of their more uninspired discs, Hold Your Fire. One might have thought that switching record labels would have resulted in a different energy level for Rush. Presto, the band’s 13th studio release (and, not counting best-ofs, their 16th overall), showed the group still stuck in the Hold Your Fire mindframe, but beginning to snap out of it.
Now, when I first listened to this disc in college the week it came out, I found myself asking, “What the hell are they doing?!?” But time has proven that this disc has some tracks that have stood up well to the test of time, even if listeners (namely, myself) couldn’t appreciate what they were doing at the time.
Listen, for example, to “Superconductor,” which seems to have laid the groundwork for some of the music that the band would record on Roll The Bones and Counterparts. A touch of “The Big Money” with a more powerful beat, this is a track that gets a rhythm going and refuses to let you go until the final note has sounded. Likewise, “Available Light” isn’t the easiest song to get into, but hearing Lee hitting the high notes in the chorus makes the trip all worthwhile.
But wait, there’s more. “War Paint” is one of those numerous Rush songs that I’d call a diamond in the rough -- one that I can wish they would dust off and play in concert again, but we’ll probably never hear it in the live setting. Damn shame, really, since I think Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart could cause the insulation in some of these outdoor sheds to come loose with this one. “Chain Lightning” is a little rougher around the edges, but also proves itself to be worth the listener’s time and effort -- but don’t expect to appreciate this one until you’ve listened to it a few times.
So far, you’d think that Rush had moved forward on Presto, but with every step forward came a step in the wrong direction. The lead-off single, “Show Don’t Tell,” might not have been the ideal selection, as it really didn’t have the kind of hooks that people were expecting from a first effort. (In fact, I wouldn’t have opened the disc with this track, either, for the same reasons.) Likewise, “Scars” and “Hand Over Fist” are pleasant enough, but unremarkable among the vast Rush discography.
Then there are the tracks that, for better or worse, simply become background music. “Anagram (For Mongo),” “Red Tide,” and the title track all just have precious little to keep the listener hanging on every note, keeping pace with the mediocre material on Hold Your Fire. This is especially disappointing with “Anagram (For Mongo),” what with its sly reference to Mel Brooks as a title.
One track which, I will admit, has grown on me over the years is “The Pass,” a track which in 1989 I would have written off as being too slow, much like other Hold Your Fire material, but which has proven to be one of the more powerful songs that Rush has recorded. Sometimes, power doesn’t equal speed or volume.
So where does this leave Presto in the vast history of Rush? It is indeed a step ahead of their previous studio effort, but in terms of this whole disc being magical -- well, let’s just say it’s a few rabbits short of a full hat. Still, worth checking out, as long as you’ve got the time and patience to apply to this one.