Power Windows, 1985
Rush traveled back across the pond in 1985 for Power Windows, their 11th studio album. Three studios shared duties on this LP; The Manor in Oxfordshire, SARM East Studios in London, and AIR studios on the Caribbean island of Montserrat. During the time of over-processed 80’s synthesizer music, Power Windows fit right in even with some of Rush’s hard rock roots poking through.
The album’s theme centered around “power”, with Peart’s poignant lyrics and Lee’s synth-bending compositions putting on display yet again, the trio’s talent and intelligence in music. Power Windows would chart at #10 in the U.S., #2 in Canada, and had a great showing in Europe as Rush extended their musical reach to greater global audiences. Interesting side note: This was Rush’s first album to be released directly to CD. Vinyl wasn’t available to consumers until 30 years after release. That didn’t interrupt sales however. Power Windows went gold and then platinum within four months of release.
Synthesizer-era Rush is a contentious subject among hard core fans. I’m personally a bigger fan of hard rock Rush, but these 80s albums have their bright spots. Let’s dig in and see what made this album so “powerful”…
Power Windows – Track 1: The Big Money
I wonder how Parker Brothers felt about the obvious parody of Monopoly in this video. Either way, The Big Money is a whimsical track about the power of the almighty dollar. MTV liked it (back when MTV played music videos) and The Big Money became part of their regular video rotation. Lifeson’s guitar work on this track is as slick as it gets.
It’s a good track, blending the popping reggae sound in with enough rock to work for most fans. This song has a lot of moving parts going on. It’s like one of those shows where if you go to the bathroom in the middle, you have to watch the whole thing all over again because you missed something. Rush’s opening songs on all their albums make a statement, and this one says “We still rock, even in the 80s when rock isn’t cool.”
Power Windows – Track 2: Grand Designs
I love the opening riffs to :20. Then I don’t know what else to say about Grand Designs. The lyrics are on-point, but the composition feels scattered to me, and not what I’ve come to expect from Rush. Bonus points for the quick Red Barchetta chords at 1:01, and the pinpoint accuracy of this choral stanza about the failings of being powerful:
So much poison in power / The principles get left out / So much mind on the matter / The spirit gets forgotten aboutGrand Designs, Rush: Power Windows
Power Windows – Track 3: Manhattan Project
Alright, before you pull out the slings and arrows, I like Manhattan Project, but I also don’t. I understand the Cold War reference and the lament of creating technology of such destructive capability, but this song is too peppy for it’s content.
“Normally Neil (Peart) writes from outside observations, whereas with ‘Manhattan Project’ he took facts, and put them together as an objective point of view about the power of technology and science, about how we use and have used it, and how it changes where we’re going.”Geddy Lee in 1985
The lyrics captured the sentiment beautifully. The music, while stylish, didn’t match the substance of the subject matter. I know Rush can do it. Look at Countdown on Signals. I like this song, but it was a missed opportunity to be so much more.
Power Windows – Track 4: Marathon
I found myself putting this song on repeat more often as it popped up on the ole’ iPod. Marathon evokes an odd mental picture for me. Each year, my town holds a Soap Box Derby and I work the race as the announcer and keep race statistics. I can see every lyric and feel every beat in this song on the faces of the kids as they go flying by my booth at the bottom of the West Lincoln Street hill on the first Saturday every May.
The backing angel-choir that joins the final chorus really drives home the glory of this song. If you’ve ever been down in a competition or a race, you know what it feels like to be faced with a win-or-go-home scenario. This track makes you want to hit that buzzer-beater, to get that empty-netter for the win. So put on this song, win it, kiss the girl and hoist the trophy!
Power Windows – Track 5: Territories
Lee describes this song as “dark, but optimistic.” I agree, but I also can’t find my way into this song and enjoy it. This is another one that I wish they would have made an instrumental. Neil Peart is a lyrical genius, and I give him credit for writing lyrics that challenge the status quo. This song does that for people who feel strongly about their home country. On this song’s message , Neil and I disagree.
This will be the only time I get political, so here it goes: The people of planet Earth will never erase borders of their respective countries until a disaster or threat that goes beyond a border is faced. Some could argue cyclical climate change is that foe, but I don’t think that’s enough to erase a border and 7 billion people to live as one. I’m talking about an Independence Day-style alien invasion type of threat. Until that happens, we’ll always fight over lines on a map. This track is, in my opinion, just okay.
Power Windows – Track 6: Middletown Dreams
My dark horse favorite on Power Windows. This ballad-y sounding piece captures the essence of restlessness for those who wish to be more than they are. This song feels like an experiment gone right. As if our fearless trio decided to apply their unique sound and really embrace the 80s.
It’s been hard to critique this album because there are several hit-and-miss songs. This one is a hit. The beginning is thin, I know, but once that first verse concludes, the new wave sound I wish Rush had throughout this album jumps through with a bang.
Power Windows – Track 7: Emotion Detector
This one hurts. Sometimes when this one rolls up on the play list, Emotion Detector reminds me Rush can make some clunky stuff. The lyrics are sharp and Lifeson’s guitar solo at 3:30 with Lee’s bass tearing it up in the background keep it afloat, but this song is a disposable 80s track that anyone from that era could have made.
Said it before and I’ll say it again: Not every song can be a hit and that’s alright. Again, the lyrics are striking but the music here does them no justice.
Power Windows – Track 8: Mystic Rhythms
It’s not often a band makes a song that is bigger than the band itself. Mystic Rhythms takes that title off of Power Windows. It made the regular rounds on MTV just like The Big Money, yet is so much better than the “Monopoly song”. This song went much, much deeper both musically and lyrically.
So yes, the video is…peculiar… to say the least. But if you can overlook that part and just hear the song, it’s a beautiful track about a global view of the mysterious things that connect us all, music chiefly among them. It’s difficult to understand how this beauty can follow Emotion Detector, and while using the same instruments and musicians, be so starkly different. The old phrase “one of these things is not like the other” comes to mind. Mystic Rhythms rocks, and closes out the album on a perfect note.
On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the best)…
I give Power Windows a 5 out of 10. Many fans loved this new-wave sound, and it’s not a bad album. But other than a couple tracks, it doesn’t stick out in my album collection as a favorite. Through whole album, the brightest spot is the new bass Geddy Lee wields here. He switched over to a Wal bass guitar and it shreds across all eight tracks. It’s some of the best bass riffs in Rush’s discography. Peart’s drums and lyrics are crisp throughout the album, too, and Lifeson’s Gibson always rocks, but Power Windows leaves out the power guitar and pushes the electronic and sonic sound too much for me.
Exceptions to that rule are Marathon and Mystic Rhythms. Both tracks are stellar in blending all three main instruments in with the synth sound required to survive on 80s radio, but the spirit of neither were captured in the other tracks. The only other one that gets close is Middletown Dreams. Many fans consider this to be their most underrated album, however I disagree. Until Caress of Steel hits platinum, it will always hold that honor. After that, we can fight about it! We’ve got one more album to review here, so let’s move on to 1987’s Hold Your Fire.