Justify Your Shitty Taste: Rush’s “Hold Your Fire”

Almost every band has that album: you know, the critically and/or commercially reviled dud in an otherwise passable-to-radical back catalogue. Occasionally, a Decibel staffer or special guest will take to the Decibel site to bitch and moan at length as to why everybody’s full of shit and said dud is, in fact, The Shit. This time around, Greg Pratt defends Rush’s Hold Your Fire.

So, by 1987, everyone’s favorite (or, should I say, favourite) trio of Canuck nerds were mullets-deep in a several-album run of synth-heavy and decidedly un-prog albums that, although they were no Moving Pictures or A Farewell to Kings, had their own charms. But they were resolutely of the times, and by the time Hold Your Fire came around, Rush had thrown their arms up in the air and said, screw it, this is who we are. And who they were was a very mellow band.

This album is so relaxed, and so mellow, and so vibed-out it’s sort of somewhere between rockin’ yoga music and my mom’s approximation of what heavy metal sounds like. But the thing is, it totally rules.

Take opener “Force Ten.” Rush always have kick-ass, balls-to-the-wall openers. Uh, I wouldn’t necessarily call that song either of those things, but I still like it. This is as ballsy as Hold Your Fire gets:

And, I mean, yeah, that popping bass makes me have an allergic reaction and there’s barely a song worth remembering here, but what makes it special, and what makes Hold Your Fire special, and totally worth justifying, is the atmosphere. This whole album could consist of whatever combination of synth tones and bass notes (is there guitar on this album? Not sure) get laid down in the chorus of “Time Stand Still” on a loop for 40 minutes and the end result would be the same, which says something about an inverse relationship between when Rush try to write an impressive song and their ability to create a relaxing, soothing vibe, but hold on, did I say “Time Stand Still”?

Alright, notable for the first time Rush music made anyone think of girls, this song is also awesome because it’s awesome, the band crafting the best ’80s Rush chorus of all ’80s Rush choruses (and it’ll be stuck in your head for the next year now, sorry), the song a glorious victory of all things… well, what is this, soft rock? I think so, and it reminds me of getting little stickers in bags of Hostess chips in the ’80s with those sound pops and effects and good grief I love this song.

Moving on, not that we have any reason to not just listen to “Time Stand Still” all day, “Open Secrets” again finds Geddy Lee popping and funking with the bass, while Alex Lifeson—hey! He is here!—delivers some cool, very ’80s riffing. But, again, let’s talk about the chord changes, the endless, relentless keyboards and synths creating a wall of noise that may not exactly be Merzbow but is at least, like, Don Henley. And while Venereology was kinda cool, “The Boys of Summer” is empirically excellent. Now, where was I? Right, this:

“Second Nature” is another soft rock tune to fall asleep to, this one laying down an incisive analytic jab at modern-day capitalism, or something, set to the backdrop of more tinkers and totters and keyboard plinks that just sound totally great, and serve as a convenient wakeup call to Lifeson who… nope, he doesn’t wake up.

“Prime Mover” actually rocks moderately hard, relatively speaking. And it’s got the album’s second-most-amazing chorus, an absolutely brilliant, moving, slow-burn crescendo (the point of the journey is not to arrive, indeed). Another fantastic song, one that again showcases the album’s overarching mood and vibe, which—like a lot of Rush of this era—is not necessarily a happy one, but this chorus throws all that aside and just enjoys life for a minute. Excellent. Justifiable. Justified.

A glimpse of the video of A glimpse of the video of “Time Stand Still.”

And on it goes, man, every song a delight to listen to, to digest, to serve as a vehicle to just take the listener away: “Lock and Key” has a keyboard line and a chorus to die for, not to mention one of the greatest ’80s chord changes that Frehley’s Comet didn’t write; “Mission” is more moody, synth-heavy goodness, with another inspire-the-masses chorus; “Turn the Page” might be the album’s most aggressive moment, which is really not saying a lot, but being Decibel, we had to figure out where that moment was. There it is.

Like you, I’m going to pretend “Tai Shan” doesn’t exist. Oops:

And it all ends off with “High Water,” which, well, it’s a bit of a weak closer, but it limps across the finish line just fine, the listener left with the feeling that, for all its misgivings, Rush of this era was a pretty fantastic, and unique, thing indeed. Hold Your Fire is completely justifiable not as metal but as mood music, the band crafting an album that, in all seriousness, is a fantastic document of much that was good about ’80s hard rock. Er, rock. Er, soft rock. Er, just go listen to “Time Stand Still” again.