Presto (album)

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Presto
Rush Presto.jpg
Studio album by
ReleasedNovember 21, 1989
RecordedJune–August 1989
StudioLe Studio, Morin Heights, Quebec
McClear Place, Toronto, Ontario
Genre
Length52:11
LabelAnthem
Producer
Rush chronology
A Show of Hands
(1989)
Presto
(1989)
Roll the Bones
(1991)
Singles from Presto
  1. "Show Don't Tell"
    Released: 1989
  2. "The Pass"
    Released: 1990
  3. "Superconductor"
    Released: 1990
  4. "Presto"
    Released: 1990

Presto is the thirteenth studio album by Canadian rock band Rush. It was released on November 21, 1989 by Anthem Records and is their first album released internationally by Atlantic Records following the group's departure from Mercury. After the Hold Your Fire (1987) tour ended in 1988, the group reconvened in December 1988 to decide their next step and agreed to take six months off before starting on a new album. Presto marks another change in Rush's sound with the guitar taking a more dominant role in the writing and a reduction in synthesizers and a return towards more guitar driven arrangements.

Presto reached No. 7 in Canada and No. 16 in the US. Rush put out "Show Don't Tell", "The Pass", and "Superconductor" as singles from Presto; the former charted at No. 1 on the US Album Rock Tracks chart.[4] Rush supported the album with the Presto Tour from February to June 1990. Presto reached gold certification by the Recording Industry Association of America for selling 500,000 copies.[5] The album was remastered in 2004 and 2013, the latter as part of the 2013 box set, The Studio Albums 1989–2007.

Background[edit]

In May 1988, Rush wrapped up touring their previous album, Hold Your Fire (1987),[6] which was followed by their third live release A Show of Hands (1989) four months later.[7] The group then decided not to renew their contracts with their international distributor Mercury Records; Lifeson said they departed because the relationship had become stale by this point.[7] Peart later wrote that with the band, now "free of deadlines and obligations" for the first time in fifteen years, chose to take advantage of it by taking a six-month break.[8] In December 1988, the group gathered at Peart's house to discuss their next step and agreed to start a new studio album after the break.[8][9]

Writing[edit]

Work on Presto began with Rush renting a studio in the country to write and rehearse new material. They adopted their usual method of Lifeson and Lee working on the music while Peart works alone on the lyrics. Peart wrote: "At the end of the day I might wander into the studio, ice cubes clinking, and listen to what they'd been up to, and if I'd been lucky, show them something new."[8] Rush worked at the studio during the week and returned home on the weekends.[8]

Presto marks the beginning of Rush's transition from a sound dominated by synthesizers and toward more guitar-driven arrangements. When Lifeson and Lee discussed what musical direction to take, they agreed that the core of the band's sound, emotion, and energy had come from the guitar, something that they wanted to return to for Presto.[8] This resulted in a much more satisfying album for Lifeson.[7] Lifeson had felt constricted in his guitar playing since the band started to have synthesizers play a more dominant role in the songwriting and performance on Signals (1982), which had continued through the 1980s.[10] Lee explained that Rush wanted Presto to be "more of a singer's album, and I think you'll notice that the arrangements musically support the vocal[s] ... Neil's lyrics to me are a lot more heartfelt [...] This album was a real reaction against technology in a sense. I was getting sick and tired of working with computers and synthesizers [...] We made a pact to stay away from strings, pianos, and organs—to stay away from digital technology. In the end, we couldn't resist using them for colour."[11]

In a contrast to their previous albums Grace Under Pressure, Power Windows, and Hold Your Fire, the album does not contain an overall running lyrical theme or what Peart said as "heavy" lyrical messages and instead, adopted a more loose approach with each track making their own statement.[9] Peart used the word "response" to describe the lyrical content as a whole. "The idea that you don't go through life just looking at things. It doesn't matter if you've been all around the world - you may have seen it, but if you haven't felt it, you haven't been there."[12] Peart added: "There are many threads and a strong motif of looking at life today and trying to act inside it."[13]

After several songs had been worked out, the band felt it was the right time to present what they had to a co-producer. However, their initial choice, Peter Collins, who had worked on Power Windows (1985) and Hold Your Fire, reluctantly declined the offer to work on Presto as he wished to produce other bands. Though Rush felt confident enough to undertake production duties themselves, they still wanted someone they could trust and to provide an objective point of view to their ideas.[8] Among the various candidates was English producer, songwriter, and keyboardist Rupert Hine, whose experience with a variety of artists attracted the group. Peart recalled the time when they presented their ideas to Hine: "We were a little bemused [...] at the end of some of them he actually seemed to be laughing! We looked at each other, eyebrows raised as if to say: "He thinks our songs are funny?" But evidently it was a laugh of pleasure; he stayed 'til the end".[8] At Hine's suggestion, the group brought in Stephen W. Tayler as the assistant engineer. The sessions with Rush and Hine together were productive; initially, ten days were assigned for pre-production work with one track for each day, but it was complete after just one-and-a-half days.[7]

The album's title was an idea that Rush had considered to use for A Show of Hands, but when Peart had started writing for a song entitled "Presto" it was then used as the title.[14][9]

Recording[edit]

Presto was recorded from June to August 1989.[15] As part of their deal with Hine, the band agreed to record parts of Presto in London.[14] Presto was finished around four weeks ahead of schedule.[7]

When the album was complete, Rush sought after a new record deal and signed to Atlantic Records after executive Doug Morris had wanted to sign the group for a number of years and made an attractive offer.[7]

Songs[edit]

Side one[edit]

"Scars" features a complex drum pattern in which both acoustic and electronic drums are utilized. The pattern was derived from a tribal rhythm Neil Peart experienced while on a bicycle tour of Africa (later chronicled in his first book, The Masked Rider: Cycling in West Africa). He has gone on to incorporate this pattern into his live drum solos. The song also features the use of a sequencer in place of, and often mistaken for, a bass guitar.

"The Pass" concerns a friend of Peart's who joined him on a cycle ride and once discussed juvenile suicide, which inspired the lyrics for the song.[10] Peart named it the song he had worked the hardest on due to the delicate nature of the subject.[12] The song became a group favourite; Peart said picked the track as the reason to choose Presto as one album of theirs that they could re-record if they could.[16]

"Presto" was not performed live until 2010 for the Time Machine Tour. Lifeson said that the song is about "feeling more active in your heart than in your head, not having the answers to problems".[10]

Side two[edit]

"The Pass" and "War Paint" deal with youth issues such as suicide and trying to make oneself attractive to fit in a group or to appear beautiful. "Superconductor" details with the superficiality of mainstream music. That topic also appears in other songs such as "Grand Designs" from the Power Windows album. "Red Tide" has been seen as a commentary on climate change and the growing problem of global warming.[17]

In "Anagram (for Mongo)" every line contains one or more words that are formed by using letters in another word from that same line (e.g. "There is no safe seat at the feast"), and certain lines contain anagrammed words (e.g. "Miracles will have their claimers"). Its title was inspired by the character Mongo from Blazing Saddles.[14] Lifeson spoke about the lyrics: "It doesn't mean anything, it was just a fun thing, but there's some great twists in there."[10]

"Red Tide" is an environmental protest song.[10]

"Hand over Fist" was originally an instrumental that Rush had intended to include on Presto, but Peart continued to submit lyrical ideas to Lifeson and Lee; one in particular fit to the music well enough and the idea was scrapped.[14] In the album's tour book Peart used the symbolism that the hand game rock, paper, and scissors represents, which was made into a nursery rhyme and used as a lyrical chant in "Hand over Fist".[14]

Artwork[edit]

The album's sleeve was designed by Rush's longtime collaborator Hugh Syme. Its a black and white design that depicts a hill with a levitating magicians hat with a rabbit emerging from it. The field in the foreground has many rabbits.[7] Rush had devised its concept and presented it to Syme who then produced several ideas depicting what they suggested. Lifeson recalled the moment when they saw the design they went with: "We all started laughing hysterically, 'This is great, it's perfect!'"[7]

Release[edit]

Rush produced three music videos for Presto. "Show Don't tell", "The Pass" and "Superconductor.".[7]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
SourceRating
AllMusic4.5/5 stars[18]
Rolling Stone3/5 stars[19]
Classic Rock RevisitedB+[20]
Sea of Tranquility3.5/5 stars[21]

Gregory Heaney of AllMusic described the album as 'workmanlike' and removed from the creativity of their earlier works. However, he asserts that the songs are not terrible, just a sense that something is not quite clicking, perhaps due to the length of time it has been since the band wrote more traditional, guitar-based songs.[22] However, before such a review was posted on November 10, 2012, the site had listed a favorable 4.5 star (out of a possible 5) review of the album by Mackenzie Wilson, of which little trace remains. Wilson described the album as one that "intelligently leads Rush into the '90s without musical bleakness".[18]

Track listing[edit]

All lyrics written by Neil Peart; all music composed by Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson.

Side one
No.TitleLength
1."Show Don't Tell"5:01
2."Chain Lightning"4:33
3."The Pass"4:52
4."War Paint"5:24
5."Scars"4:07
6."Presto"5:45
Side two
No.TitleLength
7."Superconductor"4:47
8."Anagram (For Mongo)"4:00
9."Red Tide"4:29
10."Hand over Fist"4:11
11."Available Light"5:03

Personnel[edit]

Credits taken from the album's CD liner notes.[15]

Rush

Additional personnel

Production

  • Rush – production, arrangement
  • Rupert Hine – production, arrangement
  • Stephen W. Tayler – engineer, mixing
  • Simon Pressey – assistant recording engineer at Le Studio
  • Jaques Deveau – assistant recording engineer at Le Studio
  • Rick Anderson – assistant recording engineer at McClear Place
  • Matt Howe – assistant mixing engineer
  • Everett Ravenstein – assistant pre-production engineer
  • Bob Ludwig – mastering
  • Hugh Syme – art direction
  • Scarpati – photography
  • Andrew MacNaughtan – portraits

Charts[edit]

Year Chart Position
1989 Billboard 200 16[23]
UK Albums Chart 27[24]

Certifications[edit]

Country Organization Sales
U.S. RIAA Gold (500,000)
Canada CRIA Platinum (100,000)
UK BPI Silver (60,000)

Singles[edit]

Information
"Show Don't Tell"
  • Released: 1989
  • Written by: Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart
  • Produced by: Rupert Hine and Rush
  • Chart positions: #1 US Mainstream Rock
"Presto"
  • Released: 1990
  • Written by: Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart
  • Produced by: Rupert Hine and Rush
  • Chart positions: #14 US Mainstream Rock
"The Pass"
  • Released: 1990
  • Written by: Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart
  • Produced by: Rupert Hine and Rush
  • Chart positions: #15 US Mainstream Rock
"Superconductor"
  • Released: 1990
  • Written by: Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart
  • Produced by: Rupert Hine and Rush
  • Chart positions: #37 US Mainstream Rock

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Presto (1989)". Stereogum. Retrieved 30 July 2017.
  2. ^ "Rush: 'Presto' Album Review". Odissey.
  3. ^ "Presto – Rush". AllMusic.
  4. ^ [1] Archived July 8, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ "Music - What The Hell Happened To... 06.08.09: Rush - Presto". 411mania.com. 1990-06-27. Archived from the original on 2014-02-01. Retrieved 2014-08-20.
  6. ^ https://www.rush.com/tour/hold-your-fire/
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i Wilding, Phil (November 25, 1989). "The Meaning of Lifeson". Kerrang!. No. 266. Retrieved January 13, 2019.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Peart, Neil (1990). "Scissors, Paper, Stone by Neil Peart". Anthem Records. Retrieved 13 January 2019.
  9. ^ a b c Sharp, Keith (February 1990). "Something Up Their Sleeves". Music Express. Vol. 14 no. 144. Retrieved January 14, 2019.
  10. ^ a b c d e Elliot, Paul (December 9, 1989). "The Magic Circle". Sounds. Retrieved January 14, 2019.
  11. ^ Krewen, Nick. "Rush: Presto change-o" Canadian Musician 12.2
  12. ^ a b http://www.2112.net/powerwindows/transcripts/19900103canadianpress.htm
  13. ^ "Presto Change-O" - Canadian Musician, April 1990. 2112.net. Retrieved on 2014-05-12.
  14. ^ a b c d e Coburn, Bob (December 4, 1989). "Geddy Lee on Rockline for Presto". Rockline. Retrieved January 13, 2019.
  15. ^ a b Presto (Media notes). Atlantic Records. 1989. 7 82040-2.
  16. ^ Corus Radio - YouTube. Exploremusic.com. Retrieved on 2014-05-12.
  17. ^ Rush: Presto - Album Review. Cygnus-x1.net. Retrieved on 2014-05-12.
  18. ^ a b Wilson, Mackenzie. "Rush - Presto (Archived Entry from Allmusic.com)". Archive.org. Archived from the original on 2012-06-10. Retrieved 2017-09-06.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  19. ^ Bob Mack (1990-01-25). "Presto". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2011-08-16.
  20. ^ https://www.classicrockrevisited.com/show_review.php?id=1347
  21. ^ Pardo, Pete (2019). "Review: Rush: Presto – Sea of Tranquility – The Web Destination for Progressive Music!". seaoftranquility.org. Retrieved 28 February 2019. Pete Pardo
  22. ^ Heaney, Gregory. "Presto - Rush". Allmusic. Retrieved 2012-11-10.
  23. ^ "Presto chart position in the US". Billboard.
  24. ^ "Rush chart positions in the UK". The Official Charts Company.