Popdose Flashback: Rush, “Presto”

It wasn’t their best album. It wasn’t even much like what people consider their best album. Yet the mighty Canadian power trio Rush found themselves on Atlantic Records with a producer known mostly for working with The Fixx and Tina Turner. It was in many ways a fresh start and, true to the band’s nature, they made the most of it.

Lyricist/drummer Neil Peart always had a knack for wordplay, but quite often that was the lyrical crux of the song, with no specific aim attached. On Presto, the seeds of his political nature were finally starting to bloom. “War Paint” fleshes out the angst of teenage life in a hostile adult world, a direct graduation from “Subdivisions.” The very specific “Red Tide” spurs on an ecology-mindedness the listener kind of knew was there but couldn’t precisely summarize. The kickoff “Show Don’t Tell” went to number #1 on the rock charts.

Perhaps it was producer Rupert Hine’s pop polish that made everything so much more palatable than their hard-rock roots, but this is exactly what you get – a great pop album. Alex Lifeson’s guitar is still powerful but not “tear-the-roof-off,” especially with the chorus pedal so often processing the sound. Geddy Lee still plays the bass like few can, but it’s lower in the mix, and the keyboards are higher. The album has the dubious distinction of holding one of the band’s worst songs, the craptacular “Scars,” but also contains two of their prettiest offerings. First, the title track, which illustrates a person’s desire to make everything better in the face of being completely unable to do so. The word “presto” is never uttered in the song, but the key lyric, “If I could wave my magic wand,” really crystallizes that harsh middle ground between intention and ability. It also touches a major Peart theme – no magician or rock star is going to make your miracle happen for you. You must wrestle with the responsibility of your own life.

The closing “Available Light” does what the band does best so often: close their albums with a hopeful anthem, although this is tempered a bit. “I want to look at life in the available light” indicates a desire to see reality, to see what’s really there, as pretty or ugly as that might be, without the artifice and propaganda. Aside from “Scars,” the songs are easy on the ears and sound at home in their 1989 surroundings. Much like some of their prog, um, counterparts such as Yes and a reconstituted ELP (with Cozy Powell), Rush was reconciling the new sound with old ideas. Unlike them, Rush never made it sound forced of calculated. This was a band becoming something different over time and there wasn’t anything wrong with that.

The most important thing Presto did was to prepare the way for what would be one of the band’s biggest hits, and most well-remembered popular accomplishments, Roll The Bones.

Presto peaked at #16 on the Billboard 200.




  • http://www.grayflannelsuit.net/ GrayFlannelSuit

    Presto was the first “new” Rush album I bought and I still love it it to this day. There's an interesting dichotomy present on the record, in that the band was still evolving and trying new sounds, but the fire of old was no longer burning as bright.

    Hine was an interesting choice for producer, but I think he managed to shine a unique light on Rush – the mellow but still complex and interesting side. But keeping him around for Roll the Bones was a mistake, as much of that album's good material sounds toothless in his hands.

  • http://www.popdose.com Ted

    I had a tough time warming up to this album because I felt the production quality of the recording was not good at all. There's a flatness to it — but maybe it's because the CD I have was a Japanese import. I never went out and bought the remastered version (maybe I should), so I don't know if my opinion of the album is mostly based on the recording, or the quality of the songs.

  • http://www.popdose.com DwDunphy

    The remasters aren't really that much of an improvement, honestly. I had both the original and remaster of Signals and, aside from an increased volume, there weren't many more improvements. I attribute that flatness to Hine being a pop producer and a conditioning to minimal dynamism for the safest radio route.

    Terry Brown and Peter Collins were, by far, the most understanding of the band's producers.

  • http://www.popdose.com Ted

    “Minimal dynamism” That pretty much sums up my opinion of the CD.

    I bought the Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab Gold CD of “Signals” because I thought I was going to get a better mastered version of the album — which at that point I only had the LP of “Signals.” And it was better than the regular CD version a friend of mine had.

    My regard for Terry Brown's production on many of Rush's albums is very high. However, on “Signals,” it seems he had a tough time with digital recording process because that album — while having some wonderful songs — is pretty unimpressive in terms of production. It's quite a stark contrast from the sonic treat of “Moving Pictures.”

  • Old_Davy

    I always thought the best thing about “Presto” was the cover. Although “Show Don't Tell” is classic Rush.

    I have never cared for Rupert Hine's production techniques and why Rush chose him kind of puzzled me.

  • http://www.popdose.com DwDunphy

    I suspect that their new label Atlantic had some pull in that department and they wanted more “Time Stand Still” and less “Jacob's Ladder.” Hine was a hitmaker in those days, and having the mantle of being the producer that “resurrected Tina Turner's career” sounds like money in the bank.

  • http://mostlymodernmedia.wordpress.com Beau

    One of their better post-Moving Pictures efforts. I even like “Scars.”

    “The Pass” is beautiful. I surprised a really gifted vocalist hasn't seen fit to give it a go.

    http://mostlymodernmedia.wordpress.com/2007/08/

  • Flaregun

    A travesty that RUN DMC and Madonna will make it into the Rock 'n Roll hall of fame before RUSH! – they rule!

  • http://www.popdose.com DwDunphy

    Look, I'll even give RUN DMC a pass on this one, but Madonna over Rush… I… I just don't know what's going on over there.

  • Malchus

    “Available Light' showed a new maturity in the Rush sound, especially with the inclusion of the piano (was that Hine playing piano?) I really loved this album when it came out, especially after the glossy HOLD YOUR FIRE, which was way too keyboard heavy. “The Pass” has to be one of their greatest songs.

    I agree with Ted that there is a production problem with this album, for sure. But it was still early in the days of CD's, so I cut them a little slack.

    Finally, Rush should be in the Rock Hall. When you look at their popularity, their continued growth as a band, their ability to still put out meaningful records, and finally, the influence they've had on so many bands.

  • Old_Davy

    You might be correct, but I would think that, by this time, Rush would have enough clout to have the final say over choice of producer.

    When the album came out, my Rush-head friend complained because it was produced by that “Pina Colada Song” guy. Wellllllll, not exactly, but I saw his point.

  • http://www.popdose.com DwDunphy

    Through all of this they were very much just three guys doing music. No eyeliner and pumps, no barechested flexing and stupid stuff… Meanwhile the barechested flexers are in the HofF already… At this point it might be a badge of honor NOT to have been chosen.

  • http://www.grayflannelsuit.net/ GrayFlannelSuit

    Have to disagree, I think the Signals remaster is considerably brighter than the original, particularly with Neal's drums.

  • http://www.grayflannelsuit.net/ GrayFlannelSuit

    I'm torn. I think the selection process for the HOF is a complete joke and sort of invalidates the entire institution. Still, it would be cool for Rush to at least be recognized. But considering who has all the pull there, ain't gonna happen.

  • http://www.grayflannelsuit.net/ GrayFlannelSuit

    Have to disagree, I think the Signals remaster is considerably brighter than the original, particularly with Neal's drums.

  • http://www.grayflannelsuit.net/ GrayFlannelSuit

    I'm torn. I think the selection process for the HOF is a complete joke and sort of invalidates the entire institution. Still, it would be cool for Rush to at least be recognized. But considering who has all the pull there, ain't gonna happen.

  • http://www.popdose.com DwDunphy

    Through all of this they were very much just three guys doing music. No eyeliner and pumps, no barechested flexing and stupid stuff… Meanwhile the barechested flexers are in the HofF already… At this point it might be a badge of honor NOT to have been chosen.

  • http://www.grayflannelsuit.net/ Chris Holmes

    Have to disagree, I think the Signals remaster is considerably brighter than the original, particularly with Neal's drums.

  • http://www.grayflannelsuit.net/ Chris Holmes

    I'm torn. I think the selection process for the HOF is a complete joke and sort of invalidates the entire institution. Still, it would be cool for Rush to at least be recognized. But considering who has all the pull there, ain't gonna happen.

  • http://www.mydailytech.com Connor McBrine-Ellis

    hand over fist is a great song!!! presto rocks