Hold Your Fire, 1987
Rush fully embraced their new wave sound on their next album, 1987’s Hold Your Fire. And just like it’s predecessor, there were hits and misses. Something they did to change things up on this one is allow the guitar and bass to share the stage with the keyboards and synthesizers this time, giving Hold Your Fire a little more of that old Rush feel. Sadly, many of the songs here would not see much live play, relegating it to a lesser product in the Rush pantheon.
Songs like Force Ten, Time Stand Still, and Lock and Key remain standouts, but the rankings for this LP tell the tale of the tape. While gold status is a remarkable achievement for any album, Hold Your Fire hit gold two months in, but did not reach platinum and climbed as high as #13 on the Billboard charts in the United States. Canada and the U.K. gave it a little more love at #9 and #10 respectively, but Rush knew the sound they were brewing was growing thin. They would take that lesson into their next two albums, which we’ll review next time.
Author’s note: I realize my reviews have been hard on this era of Rush, but one thing needs to be crystal clear: Even at their most cringe-worthy, these experimental periods show musicianship and skill rarely seen in bands today. Never in history has a group been able to maintain a flexible attitude towards trends and bend music to their will, all while keeping a distinction solely their own. Rush never sacrificed their sound to please anyone but themselves. For that, I still blast my least favorite Rush songs when they rise through the playlist.
Hold Your Fire – Track 1: Force Ten
Kicking off album number twelve is the speedy rocker Force Ten. The sound is distinctly Rush, and they never fail to lead off an album with a track that draws you in. Force Ten does that and then some. Even though the synth parts are candy-coated 80s, they splash just enough to remind us of the era but don’t overpower the song.
This tune has a tight production, radio-quality sound and was written on the last day of pre-production to balance out the album with ten songs. At the time, that was the most number of tracks on any studio album they produced.
Hold Your Fire – Track 2: Time Stand Still
I love this song. As I watch my 16-year-old grow up, every word in this track speaks to me in a way every parent feels at some point about their kids growing up too fast, or any part of life where you just need it to slow down so you can enjoy it.
Make each impression / A little bit stronger / Freeze this motion / A little bit longer / The innocence slips away…
It simply gives me chills. The harmony blends wonderfully and the song is expertly balanced between modern and classic Rush. As a single, it shot to #3 on the Billboard singles chart and has their first-ever backing vocals from outside the trio.
“When we wrote that song, I just became obsessed with having a female vocalist come in and add a different nuance to it. We talked about a lot of different vocalists… Somebody suggested Aimee Mann, and we listened to her work. Her voice is absolutely beautiful and really possessed a lot of the qualities that we were after.”Geddy Lee to A.V. Club, 2015
Hold Your Fire – Track 3: Open Secrets
It has some redeeming qualities, but Open Secrets sounds too jazzy and not enough Rushy. High marks for the bass in here, but the jingle-jangle of synth all over the place is a turn-off. More high marks for the lyrics as well. Everyone carries some emotional scars and Peart drops some knowledge on us here:
“The things that we’re concealing / Will never let us grow / Time will do its healing / You’ve got to let it go
Amen, Neil. You’ve got to let it go.
Hold Your Fire – Track 4: Second Nature
If this was the first Rush song you ever heard, I’m sorry. You would call me a liar if I told you this was the same band that sang Tom Sawyer and Working Man. It’s not that it’s bad, it just doesn’t fit the modus operandi of our trio that were once drug smugglers in Passage to Bangkok.
I searched and couldn’t find it on any live performance set list. Not saying they didn’t perform it live. I’m sure they did somewhere and I’m sure there were waving lighters in the crowd and hugs all around afterward, but bleh. I can’t get into this one. It’s just not Rush.
Hold Your Fire – Track 5: Prime Mover
I don’t know what to do with Prime Mover. I want to say I don’t like it, but it’s hard to go there. It has the elements I want from Rush but not the execution. It has nerdy lyrics, Lifeson is dangling a Spirit of the Radio-esque riff in the background of the chorus, and an uplifting melody.
But it also feels like it jumps all over the place with the delivery. I’ll just have to remain on the fence here as it plays in the background while I decide. It’s been compared to Yes’ Owner of a Lonely Heart, and I didn’t like that song either. Prime Mover is a conundrum for me. Moving on.
Hold Your Fire – Track 6: Lock and Key
The opening is awkward and the video is strange, but Lock and Key delivers a good tune with that balanced blend again of classic and modern Rush. I think what I like most about this track is Alex’s love of the whammy bar, but if you study the lyrics, it paints a leak picture of humanity.
“It’s not a matter of mercy / It’s not a matter of laws / Plenty of people will kill you / For some fanatical cause / It’s not a matter of conscience / A search for probable cause / It’s just a matter of instinct / A matter of fatal flaws”
I have to think Neil was reading true crime novels around the time he wrote this. The song accuses humanity of being on the brink of snapping and killing each other at any moment. I suppose we’re all capable of becoming the subject of a Lifetime murder movie.
Hold Your Fire – Track 7: Mission
Another bright, if not sorta-corny highlight of the album. Mission gives an upbeat and optimistic spin on the human condition. I consider this somewhat of a ballad that I bet Queen could have done, or maybe Styx. But I’m glad they didn’t. Rush pulled this off well and you will find yourself singing along when you least expect it.
For comparison, Rush played this song live more than a major staple of their track selection, Fly by Night. How in the hell they decided that is beyond me, but Mission made the set list more than that classic.
Hold Your Fire – Track 8: Turn The Page
The opening has promise, but the rest of Turn The Page falls flat with a message of activism that doesn’t make much sense, even if it’s put to a beat. I’ll leave it to you to decide. It has some redeeming riffs, especially the guitar solo, but is mostly forgettable.
Hold Your Fire – Track 9: Tai Shan
So when a song is cut and produced, and the album goes out to the masses, you would think even your stinker tracks would get a little promotional love from the band. Not so with Tai Shan. Even the band didn’t like it.
“You’re supposed to be crappy when you make your first three or four records. But even in our middle period, we did this song called ‘Tai Shan,’ using a poem Peart wrote about climbing a mountain in China, and when I listen to that, it’s like ‘Bzzt.’ Error. We should have known better.”Geddy Lee to Blender, 2009
Credit where it’s due. This track expanded Rush’s sound past anything they had ever done, and it’s not terrible. I can imagine the mountain-climbing experience for Neil was grander in person than the musical translation that resulted from it. I can appreciate their attempt, but this one might be a hit in China, and China alone.
Hold Your Fire – Track 10: High Water
Rush’s ode to H2O. High Water tells the story of, well,… water and all it’s glorious forms. It’s odd, even by nerdy Rush standards, but it’s catchy enough for this Pisces to appreciate. The guitar work in the solos and bigger riffs are a pre-cursor to the 90s Rush sound: A little synth and a lot of clean-cut guitar and drums. As it should be.
Moving to the mountains of Tennessee from sea-level Florida, I think there is something to the theory of being near water and feeling like you’re home. Higher elevation didn’t sit well with me for the first couple years living over 1000 feet above sea level. Even now and then when I make it back near the ocean, it does feel like it was and always will be my home. Just like the song says.
On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the best)…
I give Hold Your Fire a 4 out of 10. For all it’s faults, a standout feature across this whole album is the change of Lee’s voice. He’s balanced, clear and nuanced on every song. Not that any song before this is bad vocally, but there is a difference here that signals a shift in Rush’s sound that would carry forward into the 90s and beyond.
The overall ranking should not diminish your thoughts on the album. Some fans argue this is still their most underrated work. Maybe so. As I’ve said before, there is no bad Rush. By their own admission though, this era was difficult for our musical trio of artists. Let’s call this the album where they cut off their own ear and still painted a couple masterpieces along the way.
What’s next in the Rush Review?
The Rush Review rolls on next time with two offerings from their discography that are dear to me. We’ll dig in to their last 80’s album, Presto, and their crossover into the 90’s with Roll the Bones. To keep up with the latest on Rush, visit their official site at Rush.com. Until next time, rock on!