RUSH – HOLD YOUR FIRE: When Prog Goes Adult Contemporary

Rush’s ’80s era remains a topic of debate within the group’s fanbase, with several albums inspiring a variety of reactions within the community. That said, their work with producer Peter Collins during this time is arguably the most controversial within this run of albums. Hold Your Fire was the second studio album for this team and opinions remain divided on it decades later: some consider it another tech-drenched excursion into poppy sounds that veers too far into the middle of the road while others consider it a corrective to Power Windows that slims down the keyboards a tad and brings back a touch of the old prog. Schlockmania considers it to be the first of what you could call Rush’s “adult contemporary” trilogy.

The side one opener was the last song written for the album: “Force Ten” use weather metaphors to express the complexity of choosing how to operate in difficult times. It’s got a high-tech rollercoaster of a pop/rock arrangement that would have fit in on Power Windows. The three songs that follow suggest a glossy, rock-tinged venture in adult contemporary sounds. “Time Stand Still,” one of the band’s most popular songs in this era, is a poignant reflection on the impermanence of time and life that gives uptempo treatment to a ballad melody and also includes a rare cameo by an outside singer in Aimee Mann. “Open Secrets” goes directly into power ballad territory with a relationship theme and emotive guitar from Alex Lifeson but tackles it in a mature, adult fashion in both lyric and arrangement. “Second Nature” uses a ‘letter to someone else’ structure to reflect on the gap between wanting to change the world and confronting its harsh realities, wrapped in plush keyboard and orchestral timbres. “Prime Mover” closes the side with a little prog verve in its arrangement, which is full of riffs and keyboard-honed twists.

The second side begins with a dramatic synth flourish on “Lock And Key,” a meditation on controlling the inner beast with a fine-tuned pop melody and some subtle rhythmic twists from verse to verse. “Mission” is the best song on the album and one of Rush’s all-time finest moments, a prog-tinged ballad about the drive for creativity and the poignance of yearning for unrealized creative dreams. Peart effectively deploys flight and journey themes in the lyrics plus there’s a cool prog instrumental break to be savored. “Turn The Page” offers a thoughtful lyric about the need to keep a complex world at bay to get through life and an ambitious melody that blends slick production and keyboards with a morse-code bass riff and an arrangement that constantly shifts rhythms and keys. “Tai Shan” deals with a Chinese legend that Peart learned about on a journey to that country. It’s not that popular with fans or other band members these days but has a pleasingly exotic instrumental treatment. “High Water” effectively weds an aquatic-themed metaphor for life to a crafty arrangement driven by tuned percussion and flowing synths, ending things on a pleasing note.

Overall, Hold Your Fire is a softer, less dynamic affair than Power Windows in both sonic palette and songwriting. However, that’s not a bad thing and repeated listens reveal the complexity hidden in plain sight within the slick production. Time would reveal that it pointed towards the next chapter in Rush’s career: namely, taking their interest in arrangement and songcraft and growing into an adult contemporary variation on their classic progressive-influenced rock style. This approach would come to fruition on their two albums with Rupert Hine, Presto and Roll The Bones, but it began in earnest with this album.  You’ve got to be in the mood for mellow sounds with this album but its musicianship and sense of layering pay dividends to the patient ear. If you’re a fan and you’ve been shrugging this one off, it’s worth giving it another listen.

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