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Music / Grace Under Pressure

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Grace Under Pressure is the tenth studio album by Rush,released in 1984 through Anthem Records in Canada, Vertigo Records in the UK, and Mercury Records internationally. A very dark concept album, discussing the Cold War, The Holocaust, and death. It continues the more new wave sound Signals introduced while adding more funk and ska elements into the band's sound. While Signals was more keyboard driven with the guitar in the background, it is the other way around on this album, with the guitar in the foreground while the keyboards are more in the background.

The first album since their debut not to be produced by their longtime producer Terry Brown, the album's production was extremely stressful, leading the band to almost break up at one point. Originally, U2 producer Steve Lillywhite was supposed to produce the album, but he bailed at the last second. Effectively, the album was produced by the band themselves, with help from Supertramp producer Peter Henderson.

This installment in the discography is regarded by many fans to be the most underrated album the band has done. Also, until Moving Pictures was performed in its entirety on the 2010 Time Machine tour, this was the only Rush album to be played in its entirety live on a tour (albeit out of order and not every song was played on every night), being played on the album's 1984 tour. Said tour was documented on their 1985 concert film titled Grace Under Pressure Tour.


Side One

  1. "Distant Early Warning"
  2. "Afterimage"
  3. "Red Sector A"
  4. "The Enemy Within (Part I of Fear)"

Side Two

  1. "The Body Electric"
  2. "Kid Gloves"
  3. "Red Lenses"
  4. "Between the Wheels"

Principal Members:

  • Geddy Lee - lead vocals, bass, synthesizer
  • Alex Lifeson – guitar, synthesizer
  • Neil Peart - drums, percussion

Between The Tropes

  • As the Good Book Says...: "Distant Early Warning" references King David's "Absalom! Absalom! Absalom" lament at the death of his son Absalom, even though Absalom had rebelled against him. (This also doubles as a reference to William Faulkner's novel Absalom, Absalom!. Given Peart's predilection for inserting literary references into his lyrics, it's quite likely that both references were intentional.)
  • Atomic Hate: "Distant Early Warning" references the line of radar stations that would have warned of a Soviet attack.
  • Awful Truth: "Distant Early Warning":
    Who can face the knowledge that the truth is not the truth?
  • Book Ends: "Distant Early Warning" and "Between the Wheels" both deal with the subjects of fear and time. "Distant Early Warning" discusses fears about the future, especially on behalf of one's offspring. "Between the Wheels" deals with how our memories, regrets, and traumas can paralyse us and prevent us from accomplishing our goals, making it essentially the other side of the same coin.
  • Cold War: Lots of the songs, “Distant Early Warning”, “Red Lenses”, and “Between the Wheels” in particular.
  • Concept Album: Discusses war and death. There are also several motifs that run through several songs, such as colours (for instance, the phrase "black and white" shows up in "Distant Early Warning" and "Red Lenses"; and "red" shows up in both of those, plus "Red Sector A"), fear, and time (see Book Ends above).
  • Darker and Edgier: Until Vapor Trails, this was easily the darkest album the did at this point. Talking about the Cold War, The Holocaust, and “Afterimage”, written as a tribute to friend of the band who died in a car accident. Jesus.
  • Dual-Meaning Chorus: The first half of "Kid Gloves" is about how the callousness of society teaches children "that it's cool to be so tough," which is the final line of the first chorus. The second half of the song turns this on its head, examining the toll this takes on everyone involved - "that it's tough to be so cool." Apart from the inversion of the final line and the alteration of the fourth line to match the rhyme scheme, only one other word in the entire second chorus is different. (Also worth noting is that the first verse begins with "A world of difference," while the second begins with "A world of indifference.")
  • Epic Rocking: Averted for Rush standards; no song reaches the six-minute point.
  • Green Aesop: The destruction of the environment is one of many issues addressed in "Distant Early Warning" (see above). The song's implication is that even if many of those who suffer as a result of future environmental degradation will have contributed to the problem, the effects will still be a tragedy.
  • Grief Song: “Afterimage".
  • The Holocaust: “Red Sector A” is inspired by it, though the lyrics are deliberately kept vague enough that they can refer to any prison camp scenario.
  • Hurricane of Puns: "Red Lenses" uses a series of idioms and puns related to various colours, particularly red, as a metaphor for the Red Scare. There are also planet puns: a reference to Mars (i.e., the red planet), and the phrase "the mercury is rising", usually associated with astrology, in reference to a rising temperature (because a thermometer contains mercury). Even the title relates to the colour motifs; a person with red-tinted contact lenses would, naturally, see red everywhere.
  • Lighter and Softer: “Kid Gloves” is easily the most upbeat song on this album.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: "Red Sector A". A catchy, danceable song. Inspired by The Holocaust.
    • Quite a few of the songs are rather upbeat but have dark subject matter. "Afterimage" is another example - it's also catchy and pretty reggae-influenced at times, but as mentioned above, it's a Grief Song for a friend who'd died in a car accident. "Distant Early Warning" is named for the early detection system against a nuclear strike that was partially based in Canada, but again, you wouldn't figure out the song's dark subject matter just from listening to the music. Musically, "Between the Wheels" is probably the darkest song here, but most of the other songs are pretty upbeat, as long as you don't listen to the lyrics.
  • One-Word Title: “Afterimage”
  • POW Camp: “Red Sector A” is about a concentration camp during World War II.
    • It was directly inspired by the stories Geddy's mother had told him. Geddy's parents were Holocaust survivors who actually met in Auschwitz and were married in a refugee camp in Poland. His father died due to concentration camp-related heart problems, while his mother passed away in the summer of 2021 at the age of 95.
    • The song is inspired by the Holocaust, but it's deliberately left ambiguous enough that it can apply to any prison camp scenario. As Peart has commented, there is sadly no shortage of historical examples of these.
  • Red Scare: A fairly large portion of the album deals with this, but "Red Lenses" in particular.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The kid riding the missile in "Distant Early Warning", to Dr. Strangelove. The band plays on a set designed like the war room in the movie as well.
    • "Distant Early Warning" has the line "no singing in the acid rain."
    • The chorus of "Between the Wheels" contains allusions both to the Star-Spangled Banner (the national anthem of the United States of America) and to the Great Depression-era standard "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?", by Jay Gorney and E. Y. "Yip" Harburg (from the stage show Americana; since covered by many other artists). The penultimate line of the chorus is written "another war – another waste land –" in the official lyrics, suggesting a possible reference to The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot ("wasteland" is usually written as a single word), and the final line, "another lost generation," is a reference to the generation that came of age during World War I, a term coined by Gertrude Stein and popularised by Ernest Hemingway in his 1926 novel The Sun Also Rises.
  • Society Is to Blame: "Kid Gloves". The essential takeaway of this song is that people are taught by example to be jerks to each other because they see people being jerks to each other all around them from their childhoods onward, which results in misery for everyone involved.