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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Argent: Counterpoints


1) On My Feet Again; 2) I Can't Remember, But Yes; 3) Time; 4) Waiting For The Yellow One; 5) It's Fallen Off; 6) Be Strong; 7) Rock & Roll Show; 8) Butterfly; 9) Road Back Home.

The band moved to RCA for their next album, but the new deal never helped: not only was Cou­n­terpoints to become their epitaph, but, so far, it is the only Argent album that has consistently avoided a CD re-issue. So bear with me — I had to listen to it as a mediocre vinyl rip, plagued with skips and crackles, and whether that circumstance has in any way colored my judgement, you won't ever know until you hear it for yourself... but, on the other hand, I cannot honestly recommend the record, especially considering that it requires hunting for, so here we are, locked in a vicious circle over an album that doesn't deserve getting locked upon.

Generally, Counterpoints expands upon the «fusion» inklings of Circus, with a lot of the focus taken away from Rod's keyboard-directed landscapes and placed upon the band's rhythmic drive and frenzied jazz guitar soloing. Why they thought this could ever become the right road to fol­low is beyond me: Argent's primary source of inspiration had always been classical motives, not hard bop, and by the mid-Seventies, fusion was so well established that they could never even begin to hope to make a dent in the market. Who wants to see Argent turn into Weather Report? Probably the same people who'd expect Horowitz to start playing ʽBlue Monkʼ.

The album starts out with a weak promise: ʽOn My Feet Againʼ is an optimistic pop rocker with a pretty McCartney-like sentimental prelude. It is not sharp or powerful enough, on its own, to con­vince us that the band is on its feet again, but it does introduce the possibility. And then, starting with the second track and almost all the way to the end, we learn that «back on their feet» means «competing with Jeff Beck and Alan Holdsworth, because that is what all the creative people in the business should be betting their dollars on». Well, technically, the songs are passable, but I cannot say that they add anything interesting to the set of technical and mood tricks already im­plemented by masters of the genre. Grimaldi's and Verity's speedy guitar runs sometimes reach actual ignition, but there's a good reason for most people not associating the jazz-rock fusiom movement with the «Grimaldi/Verity duet» — they are copycats, not true creators. Fun fact: on some of the tracks, due to drummer Bob Henrit's unexpected illness, Phil Collins himself is sit­ting in: no wonder a few of the tracks have a «Brand X» feel to them. (My strongest guess is the instrumental ʽIt's Fallen Offʼ, which you could indeed sneak on a Brand X album without anyone taking serious notice). But it isn't a big consolation.

And thus, after twenty five minutes of passable, mildly listenable, generally unmemorable fid­dling about (including at least one «mini-epic», called ʽTimeʼ because there were too few songs called ʽTimeʼ written by 1975, and at least one limp, unconvincing «anti-rocker» called ʽRock & Roll Showʼ), we get to ʽRoad Back Homeʼ, a soulful ballad on which Rod's own honey voice does everything in its power to seduce you into thinking that nothing has really changed — that Argent are still a band that values traditional melodicity and sweet vocal modulation over jazzy-schmazzy finger-flashing and tricky percussion figures.

But the seduction is not working. Even ʽRoad Back Homeʼ itself is still built on a bass foundation that we'd rather be hearing from Jaco Pastorius, and besides, one ballad don't remedy no jazz-fusion show. Counterpoints is true enough to its title — it's an album that makes no points, only counterpoints; the only album in Argent's catalog that has very little reason to exist. If it had even one master­piece of a ballad, of the same caliber as ʽShine On Sunshineʼ, things might have been different. But it hasn't. (Actually, there is one more ballad: ʽWaiting For The Yellow Oneʼ con­ti­nues Rod's heliophilia subject, with intricate vocal overdubs but little in the way of hooks).

Predictably, the album did not sell at all, which led to the band's dissipation — according to some sources, Rod simply dumped the rest of the guys, tired of it all (some of the members, like bassist Jim Rod­ford and drummer Bob Henrit, went on to work with late-period Kinks). Too bad: I do not regard Counterpoints as a «loss-of-steam» for the band, rather as just an unhappy, thumbs down-worthy, move in a completely inappropriate direction. But sometimes, once you start mo­ving the wrong way, you just end up stuck there. It's a brain thing. Difficult to understand.

1 comment:

  1. Really? I think it's a wonderful creative album. My best friend Chris used to play the cassette in his van when we went off on climbing trips in the 80s. To this day I can still sing the songs and remember guitar runs. Butterfly is a standout...along with The Road Back Home.