Don’t ask me, I’m just improvising (Presto)

On this very day thirty years ago, November 21st, 1989, Rush’s album “Presto” was released – and to this very day, it is my favorite Rush album. It wasn’t my first Rush album – that was “Power Windows”.

The mix is very transparent and the craft and skill of each musician can be appreciated easily, especially via headphones. This is one part of why it is my favorite album: you can follow Geddy’s individual basslines and synth pads, Neil’s drum work, and Alex’s terrific guitar lines – a return to Rush’s roots as a guitar rock band, after a synthesizer-heavy phase on the previous four albums.

At times, the guitars still stay in the background, just a veil of pearly notes that glitter between the bass, synth and drums where one might not immediately recognize and appreciate them for their finesse – but then they return to the center of attention in heavy rhythm sections and soaring soli.

By today’s sound standards though, the mastering is comparably flat and thin – it was the time of amplifiers with a “loudness” button and everyone had it on all the time, of course. I find the album much more enjoyable when adding some bass and treble, or appling the typical, somewhat old-school “rock” preset U or V shaped curve with a graphic equalizer. 🙂

(today’s audio playback devices often do not even have individual tone controls – the 2.1 monitors that I’m using only have volume and sub level controls, for example; in general, modern mixes tend to be much louder, and heavier on the bass too.)

The bigger part of why this is my favorite Rush album is emotion. Both with regards to the lyrics and the music, I find “Presto” to be one of the most emotional Rush albums. Maybe it simply has to do with time – I was 18 when it was released, and I guess it’s safe to say that this is a somewhat tumultuous time in people’s lives? :}

The lyrics, sometimes just bits and pieces of them, all contain some piercing truth, pieces of rebellion, desperation, love, worry – everything that fits into the growing self-awareness of growing up and becoming an “adult”, whatever that means. Maybe that’s just me though, because as I said, the album was there for me at the right time.

It’s hard to put this in words but when I looked at albums from 1989, saw “Presto” and chose to play it again, after what felt like a surprisingly long time, I could immediately sing along and recite the lyrics from memory (even the humorous word play and meandering of “Anagram”). It had a tremendous impact, then and now.

I do not want to diminish the beauty of the other song in any way (I love them all), but with regards to the lyrics, the “song of songs” on this album is the name-giving “Presto”:

If I could wave my magic wand…

I am made from the dust of the stars
And the oceans flow in my veins
Here I hide in the heart of the city
Like a stranger coming out of the rain

The evening plane rises up from the runway
Over constellations of light
I look down into a million houses
And wonder what you’re doing tonight

If I could wave my magic wand
I’d make everything all right

I’m not one to believe in magic
But I sometimes have a second sight
I’m not one with a sense of proportion
When my heart still changes overnight

I had a dream of a winter garden
A midnight rendezvous
Silver, blue, and frozen silence
What a fool I was for you

I had a dream of the open water
I was swimming away out to sea
So deep I could never touch bottom
What a fool I used to be

If I could wave my magic wand
I’d set everybody free

I’m not one to believe in magic
Though my memory has a second sight
I’m not one to go pointing my finger
When I radiate more heat than light

Don’t ask me, I’m just improvising
My illusion of careless flight
Can’t you see my temperature’s rising
I radiate more heat than light

Don’t ask me I’m just sympathizing
My illusion’s a harmless flight
Can’t you see my temperature’s rising
I radiate more heat than light

I’m not one to believe in magic
But I sometimes have a second sight
I’m not one with a sense of proportion
When my heart still changes overnight

I’m not one to believe in magic
(If I could wave my magic wand…)
Though my memory has a second sight
(I’d make everything all right)
I’m not one to go pointing my finger
(If I could wave my magic wand…)
When I radiate more heat than light
(I’d set everybody free!)
I’m not one to believe in magic
(If I could wave my magic wand…)

I’m not one to believe in magic

Thoughts? Let me hear them.

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