ARGENT: THE BBC SESSIONS (1970-1973; 1997)
1) Rejoice; 2) Where Are We Going Wrong?; 3) Cast Your Spell Uranus; 4) Tragedy; 5) Keep On Rolling; 6) Hold Your Head Up; 7) Liar; 8) Rejoice; 9) Keep On Rolling; 10) Tragedy; 11) It's Only Money (part 1); 12) It's Only Money (part 2); 13) God Gave Rock'n' Roll To You.
Coincidentally, I am writing about this CD exactly one day after reviewing The BBC Sessions by the Beatles — and what I said about that easily applies to this: the «BBC live album» is a genre in itself, an interesting curiosity that is neither here nor there, most often falling in the cracks between a properly engineered studio creation and a «genuine» live album, equally lacking the supposed perfection of the former and the supposed raw excitement of the latter.
Granted, in the case of Argent the difference between a proper live album, like Encore, and a «BBC album» is not as well pronounced as in the case of the Beatles or the Who: with Rod favoring the «progressive» formula, the basic idea was to simply play live with the same level of technicality, detail, and finesse, as in the studio. But even so, Encore showed some room for rearrangements, improvisation, and kick-ass rock'n'roll. We had Russ Ballard throw in a raunchy, distorted boogie-woogie guitar solo on ʽKeep On Rollinʼ, for instance — no signs of which appear on either of the two versions of this song recorded for the BBC.
And they did not vary the approach in between the sessions, either: the two versions of ʽTragedyʼ, the band's most dedicated attempt to do something in the «Epic Funk» style, are pretty much interchangeable, which begs for the obvious question — and certain alternate semi-official releases from the archives show that Argent did do other songs live at the BBC (at least ʽBe My Lover, Be My Friendʼ, ʽSweet Maryʼ, as well as Nexus-era material appear on these releases), so, apparently, someone at the BBC must have been a big fan of Ballard's funk and Rod's honky-tonk.
The most interesting selection here is a performance of ʽLiarʼ, probably the only selection from Argent that ended up on a live record. It is a bit louder here, with a bigger drum sound and a brawnier vocal and instrumental part from Russ, including a little screaming and a little wah-wah guitar solo. Possibly influenced by the 1970 Three Dog Night cover — which took the song's hooks, dropped the song's humble subtlety and made it accessible and acceptable by a more general audience at the expense of you-know-what. So it's interesting to see Argent give a nod to their competitors, but a little humiliating as well.
On the positive side, I was never a big fan of Argent's production style on the studio albums — constantly laden with echos, sometimes poorly mixed, etc., and some of these BBC arrangements do sound clearer and sharper than their studio counterparts: the opening funk rhythms on ʽTragedyʼ, for instance, hit much harder here than on All Together Now, where they seem rather muffled. Serious fans of the band will definitely want to hear the songs this way and decide for themselves, which particular approach to the sound suits the refined Argent fan better.
But on the whole, the package will be neither fully satisfactory for completists (who would probably rather see a larger, maybe a 2-CD, release with all the missing songs included), nor necessary for non-completists. An un-enthusiastic thumbs up here.