on 29 May 2011
Hold Your Fire (or 'The Red Album' as I have fondly come to think of it over the years) is a rich, exciting record that, to a certain extent at least, finalised the experimental synthesizer period of Rush's career, in that the keyboards were used as a multi-layered textural device that was now a huge part of the Rush sound, although they had been using synthesizers as early as their classic 2112 album. Whilst it may not be as well produced as the exquisite Power Windows, this album holds some of their finest work - Time Stand Still, Prime Mover, Open Secrets and Mission. And yet, it is worth mentioning that there is not a single bad track to be found on Hold Your Fire, it is a very complete sounding piece of work. Some of it is uniquely experimental, the gentle sophistication of Tai Shan for instance, whilst the closing track sounds vast, exotic, almost overwhelming, the oceanic High Water.
There is some room for improvement within the sharp and 'thin' production treatment given, unlike the huge and full bodied sound of Power Windows (a personal favourite of mine) however, there is no denying the quality of the songs. It is probably best listened to on vinyl, for a richer, warmer, more 'red' sound, although the remaster can sound quite pristine on a decent sound system, add a touch of extra bass for punch if you have tone controls on your amplifier.
Neil Peart displays a somewhat more open and personal approach to the lyrics than usual (at least at this point in his writing career...) on songs that deal primarily with emotion, power and also with the passage of time. The best example of this approach can be found within the wonderful Open Secrets and for me, this song features one of Alex Lifeson's most emotive and evocative guitar solos. It reminds me of a wild, haunted wind, pining and lonely, blowing through the leaves of trees on a hot summer's night. Indeed the whole album invokes a sense of deep red within me, of an evening at the height of summer, when the sky is crimson, almost bloody in its look and feel, a dark red that will soon turn to black as the first chill of the evening descends from green, lush hills and the air is hot and sweet. Geddy Lee's pulsating bass work during Open Secrets is also a thing of rare, moving beauty.
Prime Mover is classic Rush, a complex framework of rhythms that stop and start, stop and start - 'the point of the needle, moving back and forth...' The music and lyrics are moving forward, in a fundamentally optimistic view and attitude that informs the listener that 'anything can happen.' This song is one of the reasons that I love Rush so much, it is at once outward looking and introspective, an echo of the sentiment within opening track Force Ten - 'Look in - look out - look around.' It is complex yet accessible, joyous in its statement of intent - '...thrill to be alive - the point of the journey, is not to arrive...'
Mission illustates perfectly just how accomplished Neil Peart had become at blending electronic percussion into his acoustic drumming, the middle section is nothing short of stunning, the mechanics of which can be seen in startling splendour on the Snakes and Arrows Live DVD, which for me holds the definative version of this song, also worth looking out for is Alex Lifeson's electric, searing solo during the end section, which simply shakes with emotion and you can see just how much he enjoys playing live. I read once that there is a version of Mission Rush recorded with Peter Collins that features a brass band, I really hope they release that version one day.
Time Stand Still is another standout track, warm and quietly haunting, with some beautiful backing vocals from Aimee Man that fit the mood of the song perfectly. Neil Peart's drum pattern during the chorus never fails to please me with its pin-point precision and constantly shifting rhythms. There are some subtle, contemplative lyrics during the song, contained within the verse -
'I turn my face to the sun,
Close my eyes,
Let my defences down -
All those wounds that I can't get unwound...'
Again, here is a track that is at once both introspective and outward looking -
'Time stand still -
I'm not looking back
But I want to look around me now.'
The final song that Rush wrote for the album is also the opening track, Force Ten. It starts with treated vocals and electronic drumming that sounds like a pneumatic drill before giving way to an urgent, busy bassline and driving snare drum pattern that carry us off into the journey of Hold Your Fire. It is a rich, rewarding experience that I find myself returning to, sometimes when there is a warm wind in the evening, the trees sway and late summer turns everything to a soft, bloody red and slowly, the first dark creeping tendrils of colour begin to float into the sky. By midnight the moon rides high over metallic cloud and the night sky holds its own circle of brilliant white fire.