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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Argent: All Together Now


1) Hold Your Head Up; 2) Keep On Rollin'; 3) Tragedy; 4) I Am The Dance Of Ages; 5) Be My Lover, Be My Friend; 6) He's A Dynamo; 7) Pure Love.

After two years of commercial unluck, Argent finally hit Gold (no pun intended) with ʽHold Your Head Upʼ — one of only two songs, I think (the other one is the far flatter anthem ʽGod Gave Rock'n'Roll To Youʼ), that have been carefully shrink-wrapped for classic rock radio. Don't think too much of it: the success was a fluke, and it had everything to do with the rather crude, but ef­fective hook power of the chorus — apparently, there is a way to repeat the line "hold your head up, whoah, hold your head up, whoah" several times in a row so cleverly that it grabs your entire attention. It may have something to do with the faint falsetto echoing overdub of "up!" in the background as well, or with the stern guitar/organ interplay, but I think it's just the basic slogan­eering that does the job.

Of course, the song in total is more than that — it's got an optimistic verse melody as well, a fine stomping bassline, and a long, reliably tasteful organ solo from Rod (the latter, however, was mos­tly edited out of the single version, I believe). But hit power never comes from organ solos, and, as a result, the success of ʽHold Your Head Upʼ inevitably pushed the band even further into the world of arena-oriented bombast, which could hardly have been Rod's original intention.

For now, though, the band's third album only marginally departs from the style established on Ring Of Hands: a balanced mix of «hard-art-rock», supported with Ballard's meaty riffs, and «light-progressive» paintings, dominated by Argent's keyboard playing. Only one track, ʽKeep On Rollinʼ, departs from the general rule — a side excourse into the world of piano boogie, sort of like a nice, heartfelt tribute to the likes of Amos Milbourne and Fats Domino. Its only draw­back is that a song like this demands total recklessness, whereas Rod would hardly ever «stoop» to bashing away the piano keys à la Jerry Lee Lewis, and this is why people will still be listening to ʽGreat Balls Of Fireʼ by the time ʽKeep On Rollinʼ descends to the bottom of the archives.

Ballard contributes two of the heavy rockers, one of which is done in «pub» style (ʽHe's A Dyna­moʼ), and the other one takes a stab at acid funk (ʽTragedyʼ). The former is rather dispensable, but ʽTragedyʼ, I think, manages to hit something, especially when it comes to the «flying vocals» of the chorus — the only thing it lacks is a properly roaring acid guitar solo; Rod's trademark or­gan does not kick the proper amount of ass required for such a groove. The third «heavy» num­ber, however, is contributed by the Argent/White team, and it may be the best of the lot: ʽBe My Lo­ver, Be My Friendʼ quickly sets up a genuine «monster groove» — its soul-based vocal melodies are not particularly seductive, but the joint guitar/drum attack spells out seriousness of intentions, and there is a brilliant five-note guitar flourish after each chorus that adds a light psychedelic touch as well.

Meanwhile, the tradition of ʽLothlorienʼ is preserved and strengthened by allotting most of the second side for ʽPure Loveʼ, a track that consists of (a) Rod «noodling» on the organ for five mi­nutes, paraphrasing as many quotations from Bach and Elizabethan music as can be done within five minutes; (b) two minutes of disoriented band jamming in «rootsy-tootsy» mode; (c) seven minutes of a long, slow, «sleazy» blues-rock composition, graced by powerhouse drumming and blazing guitar solos. Rather boring, if you need my honest opinion, and that applies to the first part of the suite as well — Rod Argent is a fine keyboard player, but his solos work much better within the contexts of particular songs rather than on their own. Somebody like Keith Emerson can at least entertain the listener with sheer virtuosity, but in most cases, a classically-based solo piano / organ tune should probably be played a classical pianist / organist.

Thus, altogether, the album is no big deal. Just for the sakes of ʽHold Your Head Upʼ and no big gaffes other than the final suite, I'd give it a weak thumbs up — but it has to be understood that the Zombies link has been sawn through, with no tra­ces of the elegant baroque-pop of old in sight; and the new directions are, at most, okay when they are backed up with solid hooks (be it vocal, as on ʽHold Your Head Upʼ, or instrumental, as on ʽBe My Loverʼ), and, at worst, quite pointless (the whole ʽPure Loveʼ suite). From here begins the swift decline of the briefly mighty Argent — a band that bravely sacrificed its steady position on a small island of a well-established style by diving head first into the ocean of limitless mu­si­cal possibilities. And sinking right down to the bottom, more or less.

Check "All Together Now" (CD) on Amazon

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