New producer Rupert Hine brought a sonic clarity to `Presto' at the expense of dynamic range. Electric piano is used in place of synths. On bass, Geddy focuses on the mid-range of the instrument at the expense of the bottom end. Alex is pushed ever higher as the bass and piano, and Peart's drums, intrude on his space.
To me, this is a great album for the car stereo. Many of the audio limitations are not as apparent on a standard car stereo as they are on a decent home stereo. Also, I really got into this album driving back and forth to work back when I lived in London and commuted to St. Thomas, so it always reminds me of the road.
Some general comments about the sound of this album, particularly in the original, non-remastered release: The drums have no kick and they sound kind of wet or, at times, clattery. The guitar sound is very wiry. The bass pedals purr instead of roar. All the instruments seem to have a limited dynamic range.
I have done back to back comparisons between the original release and the remastered versions that appear on `Retrospective III', and they are distinctly better, but by no means perfect.
I like the intro to "Show Don't Tell". The tribal drum bit, then what sounds to me like the musical equivalent of someone falling down the stairs. Alex teases a lot of different, but wiry, sounds out of his Signature guitar. This song features some outstanding playing. I think the reason that it never became popular with Rush fans or with the general public is that the lyrics seem a bit too obvious.
The snare drum on "Chain Lightning sounds great! I love the minor key of this song, and I love the way that the drums and guitar seem to flash like lightning. Lyrically, I love the tie in of the astronomical and atmospheric effects with the communication of ideas and energy.
The more I hear it, the more that I think that "The Pass" is gorgeous. For some reason, I used to hate the bass line and riff--now I really like it, but think that it was played on the wrong bass. If you listen to this same song from `Rush in Rio' you will note an overall improvement in the bass sound. To me, this song has a real Peter Gabriel feel to it in places--maybe it's the synths. Alex's guitar solo is fantastic! It is very imaginative and emotive.
"War Paint" is a good song with simple music and great lyrics.
"Scars" is funky and cool. I like the atmosphere that they create. This song has a better dynamic range than the other songs on the album. This is one of my favourites from both the album and the tour. I have always thought that this would have made a great single.
The title track, "Presto", is one of those songs that really grows on you. Rush have been pushing this song in a subtle way for a long time. It's inclusion on the `Retrospective III' disc is a testament that they are still behind it. They could have chosen many other more obvious tracks for the latest retrospective. There is no doubt that this is a great song. It has a nice use of acoustic guitars, great lyrics, amazing singing, and a beautiful arrangement.
The use of cowbell on "Superconductor" always makes me laugh! This song is pretty straightforward pop-metal. This song may have done better as a single if they had not done that horrible music video. Elements of this song remind me of Genesis from this same era, but a little harder.
"Anagram" features both a very cool tune and some fun wordplay in the lyrics. This song would have fit well on their `Roll the Bones' album. I find the lyrics really stimulating for the imagination.
"Red Tide" features a fantastic arrangement with a great sound. The lyrics are a bit obvious at times, but they say things that should be said--this is another protest song like "Second Nature" from `Hold Your Fire'.
"Hand Over Fist" is an interesting song. It is fun to listen to all the changes and tricks.
Everything comes together on "Available Light". It combines powerful words and some of Geddy's best singing ever. The arrangement and playing are first rate. This song features an exciting mixture of textures. You haven't really heard Rush until you have heard this song.