ARGENT: IN DEEP (1973)
1) God Gave Rock And Roll To You; 2) It's Only Money (part 1); 3) It's Only Money (part 2); 4) Losing Hold; 5) Be Glad; 6) Christmas For The Free; 7) Candles On The River; 8) Rosie.
Strange album cover, if you ask me. Of course, it's Hipgnosis and all, but I know what is my first reaction: «Oh, hello, Mr. Argent. Going... down?» And indeed, the figure on the front sleeve is captured in a fairly uncomfortable position — matching the music, which, by now, is also beginning to feel somewhat strained. Or, perhaps, not so much «strained» as «misplaced» — just as the band was finally getting a grip on the progressive stylistics, the stylistics itself was slowly getting on the nerves of the musical community. In Deep never went as deep as the notorious prog-rockers were going in 1973, and thus, was doubly doomed: too lightweight, primitive, and even «regressive» for defenders of the faith, yet too pompous, long-winded, and unfocused for the modest, undemanding pop consumers.
It charted, at least. But at what cost? Since their previous hit record was ʽHold Your Head Upʼ, it was assumed that the follow-up should also be anthemic — and ʽGod Gave Rock And Roll To Youʼ becomes the most blatantly Bick-flicking power vehicle in the band's career. Admittedly, it is nowhere near as cheesy as the KISS cover two decades later, because it wasn't really conceived or executed in the «glam» idiom. It's got plenty of tasteful organ work, an elegant bass line, a pretty baroque chime-filled interlude, and bits of genuinely beautiful harmony arrangements. Still, most people will not fall for all these flourishes — they'll go straight ahead to the Monster Riff and the tribal incantation of "GOD GAVE ROCK'N'ROLL TO YOU, PUT IT IN THE SOUL OF EVERYONE!" At this point, I'd rather save my tears (and lighter fuel) for a different purpose — I always thought it was Chuck Berry who gave me rock'n'roll, and I do not exactly recollect seeing a holy aureole around it when it was given. Honestly, I rarely take this crap from Freddie Mercury — why should I take it from Russ Ballard?
There is far more grit and actual rock'n'roll in the two-part blues-rock suite ʽIt's Only Moneyʼ, occupying the bulk of Side A and giving the impression that Ballard is now dominating all the songwriting. The first part in particular is quite heavy, riff-based, slightly funky, pierced with flashy bullying guitar and organ solos, whereas the second is a little more laid back, veering towards rowdy, but well-meaning pub-rock. But there is a standard problem — Argent is not a hard rock band, and its «brutal» mode simply cannot stand competition even with the likes of contemporary Budgie, let alone the mega-popular heavy metal monsters.
The bad news is that the Argent/White team is also starting to lose steam. Of the two contributed ballads, ʽLosing Holdʼ is a rather sterile power thing that tries to get by on the strength of a «massive» coda, in which a tiny recorder painfully tries to outsing a simplistic, but loud wall-of-sound — nice, but a better mix couldn't hurt. ʽChristmas For The Freeʼ is relatively more listenable and beautifully sung, yet it is such a blatant take on the «McCartney piano ballad» style that it is almost impossible not to throw it on the same shelf with ʽLet It Beʼ and ʽMaybe I'm Amazedʼ — which it conveniently misses, landing instead on the same shelf with second-rate Elton John compositions. (But the vocals are gorgeous, I guarantee).
Then there are the two complex epics — ʽBe Gladʼ and ʽCandles On The Riverʼ. They are probably the main reason to care about the album at all, although ʽCandlesʼ also suffers from excessive heaviness and too much pathos in the vocals; I place most of my personal trust in the piano-dominated ʽBe Gladʼ, with its merry martial rhythms, classical/boogie piano interludes where Argent keeps switching from Mozart to Fats Domino as naturally as if the two were graduates of the same music college. This is a genuinely inspiring piece, fully deserving an eight-minute running time. But there is no explaining why nothing else on the album really sounds like it — probably the misguided result of trying to get a more «commercial» gloss.
Unlike most listeners, I think that the barroom rock of Ballard's ʽRosieʼ forms a suitably «deflating» conclusion to the album — if one takes it that way, as a light, relaxating slide from the stuffiness of ʽCandlesʼ, rather than one more of the band's questionable «sure we can rock'n'roll with the simple people» statements. But it certainly does not remedy the general feeling: flashes of brilliance aside, In Deep generally feels lost in space (or, rather, in deep waters). I would still award it an ever weakening thumbs up, since there is only one significant lapse of taste, and the actual songs range from incidental greatness (ʽBe Gladʼ) to listenable above-mediocrity (most of the rest). But the curve is clearly past its peak, and descending at an alarming rate.
Check "In Deep" (MP3) on Amazon