ARGENT: NEXUS (1974)
1) The Coming Of Kohoutek; 2) Once Around The Sun; 3) Infinite Wanderer; 4) Love; 5) Music From The Spheres; 6) Thunder And Lightning; 7) Keeper Of The Flame; 8) Man For All Reasons; 9) Gonna Meet My Maker.
The last Argent/Ballard studio collaboration is generally quite underrated, I think. It yielded no hit singles whatsoever, sank on the charts, directly preceded the loss of a key member and only rose as high as two stars on the All-Music Guide — most probably, rated according to its historical trajectory rather than actual song quality. It ain't no masterpiece, for sure, but it's hardly worse than In Deep — in some respects, it might even be better.
Band members are usually known to quit because of ego conflicts, yet it would be hard to suspect an ego conflict on Nexus: the balance here is tilted significantly towards Argent on Side A, then leans to the other side with the flip of the turntable. Lovers of Argent's brand of pompous hard rock will be placated with two heavy numbers, but Russ also shows his sentimental side on the minimastically titled ʽLoveʼ, and a new-found passion for Scottish martial music on ʽMan For All Reasonsʼ. In the meantime, Mr. «Hot Rod» Argent gets ever more and more progressive, with two long, complex, baroque-soaked suites (one of them fully instrumental) and yet another self-elevating anthem — after ʽI Am The Dance Of Agesʼ, comes ʽKeeper Of The Flameʼ.
All the usual caveats, reprimands, and honors alike apply to Nexus as well. ʽThe Coming Of Kohoutekʼ will be seen as a triumph of creativity and emotion by some, as a pretentious derivative bore by others. I think it deserves credit at least for the wide variety of tricks it pulls together. There are overwhelmingly pompous, «imperial» synthesizer parts, light atmospheric guitar jams à la mid-period Floyd, Bach-derived organ interludes, Chopin-esque piano rolls, and a couple aggressive synth / organ / guitar climaxes that The Comet of Kohoutek might have enjoyed, had it actual ears to hear. On the other hand, everything is a little too limp and restrained to properly reflect such a kick-ass-tral force. Enjoying is one thing, getting overwhelmed is another.
Therefore, I would say that the real highlight of the album is ʽMusic From The Spheresʼ, a composition that does not try to invoke the feeling of Absolute Might, but instead plays out like an extended fairy dance — a jazz/classical hybrid driven by Rod's high-pitched melody, always staying on the right end of the keyboard until the effect becomes almost hypnotic: the three-minute long coda brings a new meaning to the word «repetitive», but if you play it long enough in the dark, you might eventually start seeing little musical fireflies hopping under your nose. In the good tradition of ʽLothlorienʼ and particularly ʽBe Gladʼ, the song once again gives us Rod Argent as an illusionist-mesmerizer, his best emploi in his prog years.
Ballard, in the meantime, is dreaming of giving his muscular rockers a religious flavor — ʽThunder And Lightningʼ would hardly be out of place on a Manowar album, what with its GENUINE THUNDER INTRODUCTION, echoey electric current-imitating synths and guitars, and, of course, Mr. Ballard himself, screeching and bellowing like the great Thor himself. It would be utterly awful if the chorus weren't catchy, and the arrangement weren't so creative. As it is, «hilarious» is more like it. On the other hand, ʽGonna Meet My Makerʼ is slower, more stately, based on a simple and memorable blues riff of a ʽBorn Under A Bad Signʼ-threatening quality, but never seems to decide whether it really wants to be a commanding Old Testament-oriented blues-rocker, or an operatic performance — Ballard's vocals clearly veer towards the latter, and this, again, gives the whole thing a sort of pre-Meatloaf sheen that I find irritating.
Nevertheless, even the worst stuff is still interesting, in one way or another, and Nexus certainly does not feel like the end of the road — the band is literally bursting with ideas, good, bad, or otherwise. It's just that the audience for these ideas is steadily dwindling: in 1974, the commercial appeal of Nexus was close to zero (way before the punk revolution), and Ballard was no longer content to «waste his talents» by pandering to Rod's artistic ambitions. In fact, listening to ʽThunder And Lightningʼ, you can almost sense the man's potential dissatisfaction with how the band treated the song — instead of concentrating on its heaviness and «thunderous» attack, Argent keeps pushing wimpy synths, spoiling its hit potential. (Never mind the emerging subtlety — in the mid-1970s, subtlety did not translate well into fame and revenue).
I could be imagining things here, but facts are facts: Ballard quit soon after the recording of Nexus, making it the last «genuine» album by Argent as a band — the next few efforts would be completely dominated by Rod. Despite its ambiguity and occasional cheesiness, it still gets a thumbs up. Besides, it's always fun to encounter obscure records titled after Latin metaphorical terms. And they did it first! Gene Harris only released his own Nexus in 1975!