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"God bring the day when we don't have to lay there chained"

Class D

Main Category: Art Rock
Also applicable: Lush Pop, Prog Rock
Starting Period: The Artsy/Rootsy Years
Also active in: The Interim Years




Disclaimer: this page is not written by from the point of view of an Argent fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Argent fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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Argent graduated out of the Zombies at the tail end of the Sixties; the band might have retained just one ex-Zombies member (Rod Argent, of course), but it certainly carried the band's spirit forward, much like Mountain were preserving the spirit of Cream in the early Seventies. Sharing the Zombies spirit, however, could not be separated from sharing the Zombies' main problem: that of finding a distinct and respectable niche in among other bands. Much as the Zombies before them, Argent were virtually ignored in the Seventies, despite having penned a solid bunch of classy, well-written tunes and achieving a tight and professional sound that did not make them loose face when compared to 'mainstream progressive rock' of the era. They did have a couple of serious chart successes (namely, with the honourable 'Hold Your Head Up' and the abominable 'God Gave Rock'n'Roll To You' - cripes, speaking about public taste again!), but these were temporary local successes rather than symbols of high public acclaim. And the situation became worse as the years went by: whereas the Zombies seem to finally be 'posthumously' given all the praise they deserve, Argent have faded away completely.

Now I'm not saying that Argent were just as good as the Zombies, not to mention better. Rod Argent had only revolutionized pop music once, when he began giving his first and best band material that elevated 'primitive pop single' to a complex, yet just as captivating and memorable, artsy composition. Since then, he'd hardly had any real progress or development in his playing or composing style. But he still managed to stand out from among the Seventies' proggers by playing 'no-bull' music - for a long time he didn't toy with synthesizers, sticking to his grand piano playing style, and while experimental geniuses like Keith Emerson or Rick Wakeman preferred to first guide all the classical influences they were to squeeze onto record through their own 'warped' imagination, sometimes actually coming close to butchering these influences instead of presenting them in a revolutionary light, Argent just laid these classical quotes and variations fresh and unadulterated for everyone to see.

Nevertheless, Argent arrived on the scene much later than the qualified 'proggers', and under those circumstances it's easy to see why they hardly ever managed to catch the public or critical eye; I myself am sometimes tempted to write off a large percent of their work as derivative and weak, lamely trying to live up to the day's trends. Still, it's fascinating to study and follow the band's history itself - starting from the clash of personalities (Argent vs. Ballard) and ending with the vast number of styles they tried to cover, some better than the others, some far, far worse.

Like I said, Argent were initially destined to be a logical continuation of the Zombies, and their first two albums are heavily recommended for any Zombie addicts out there, as the songwriting quality and the atmospherics, while probably not the equivalent of Odessey And Oracle, rank somewhere up there (keep in mind, though, that much of the Argent catalog has so far eluded CD release, so finding Ring Of Hands could be a problem). Both of the band's main members, Argent and guitar player Russ Ballard, seemed to compete in out-Zombieing one another, not to mention another ex-Zombie member, Chris White, who collaborated on most of Argent's songs (a thing he'd never seemed to do while in the Zombies, curiously enough), and the effect was stupendous.

Starting from the third album, however, the band took another route - actually, two different roots. The Zombie-imitating stuff wasn't really selling, much to the band's sorrow - and by 1972, both Argent and Ballard were keen on omitting their trademark style and veering off into new directions, already pioneered by other bands and artists. This is where the differentiation becomes clear. Argent voted for a more progressive approach, stretching out the tunes into lengthy suites with lengthy instrumental passages, and penning lyrics that threatened to outbombast Jon Anderson and Pete Sinfield. Ballard, on the other hand, voted for a more guitar based approach, venturing into hard rock and glam. Both approaches had their good results - check out such beautiful tunes as Argent's 'Candles On The River', for instance, or such powerful rifffests as Ballard's 'Gonna Meet My Maker' - but both had their downside as well. Argent often overdid the trick, with his instrumental sections lacking true inspiration ('Pure Love') or being plain confusing (some of the stuff on Nexus), while Ballard often veered towards true mediocrity or even demonstrated disgusting lapse of taste, like on the ridiculous gospel 'God Gave Rock And Roll To You' and the proto-disco stomper 'Thunder And Lightning'.

Anyway, the clash of personalities finally resulted in Ballard leaving the band - even if it was he who gave it their last hit. Argent still carried on, releasing a couple of albums on which he wasn't obstructed by no glam or heavy arena-rock tendencies (I know some fans who even call these last records the band's pinnacle), but by 1975 prog-rock was breathing its last breath, and they never sold much (and are still unavailable on CD! Dammit!). The band was finally down by 1976.

Finally, before I move on to the actual reviews, I'd like to say that, while the band never was on the cutting edge and never even had a dedicated cult following (their sound was way too accessible for them to enjoy any kind of 'underground' success), they are still well worth investing your money. Yeah, they followed trends rather than set them, but this isn't an absolute condemnation - David Bowie used to do the same, for instance, and do we find people blaming him? But they rarely fell head first into huge embarrassments; on these records, you won't find any pointless cock-rock posturing, for instance. And for those who hate overblown prog rock, Argent albums of 1969-73 might even be just the thing: accessible and catchy art-rock that's perfectly enjoyable from just about any standpoint. I mean, they are way too complicated as compared to, say, Badfinger (which probably makes their music more 'profound', doesn't it?), but the actual tunes are far more memorable than, say, prime Yes material (which probably makes their music less 'pretentious', doesn't it?).

Lineup: Rod Argent - keyboards, occ. vocals; Russ Ballard - guitars, vocals; Bob Henrit - drums; Jim Rodford - bass. Ballard quit in 1974, replaced by John Verity and John Grimaldi, both on guitars. Oh, by the way, after the band's collapse Henrit and Rodford were both recruited into the Kinks as that band's new rhythm section. Well, there have always been certain ties of affinity between the Kinks and the Zombies, haven't there?



Year Of Release: 1969

Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 12

Magnificent piano-pop (or should we say 'piano-pomp') in the Zombies vein, even if not as obviously tuneful.


Track listing: 1) Like Honey; 2) Liar; 3) Be Free; 4) Schoolgirl; 5) Dance In The Smoke; 6) Lonely Hard Road; 7) The Feeling's Inside; 8) Freefall; 9) Stepping Stone; 10) Bring You Joy.

The first Argent album sounds uncannily like the Zombies in their Odessey period - little surprise, considering that Rod Argent and Zombies ex-bassist Chris White (which acted as 'contributing' member to the new band) produced it and wrote seven songs out of ten; the other three are credited to Argent's 'second best' member, guitarist Russ Ballard. While the record has been severely underrated by the critics, I must frankly say that there ain't even a single bad cut on here - all the songs are short, crisp, melodic, and catchy as hell. Seriously, on a general level I can't even start to think of how to complain about this record; melody-wise, it's immaculate. I guess the main flaw of the record is that it is a bit too Zombie-sounding: the flowery, shining pop formula of Odessey is followed to a tee, except that the overall mood is a bit darker, most probably due to the presence of Ballard: an impressive guitarist, he was all too eager to display his gritty chops, but on this particular release Rod still manages to keep him in the background, not allowing any of the songs to turn into contemporary heavy metal fiestas, a thing that would occur from time to time in latter days. On the other hand, Ballard is a terrific singer - his range and ability to change key is impressive, and on some tracks he even manages to remind one of Colin Bluntstone, which pumps the Zombie nostalgia even further.

Like I said, these tunes are great - when critics say 'an okay, but forgettable album', I often begin to wonder if there actually exists an unwritten quota of 'great albums' per artist and whether that quota for Mr Argent is limited to one record. Aw, to heck with the critics. Amazingly, at this point Ballard also proves to be an impressive songwriter - his three contributions easily match Argent's own, although I can't really notice a special 'identity' in his songwriting: all of the three are firmly in the Zombies' style, well, maybe with the possible exception of 'Lonely Hard Road', an uptempo, upbeat keyboard-dominated rocker with distinct elements of soul about it. It's the only thing that's vaguely 'American' about the whole record, which is a reasonable explanation for the album missing the charts. Argent did easily gain some fan support in the States, but that was due more to the latterday success of the Zombies' 'Time Of The Season' as a hit single.

Ballard's 'Liar', meanwhile, was the closest the band ever got to a hit single itself in that epoch (before the relative breakthrough with 'Hold Your Head Up' two years later), although in my opinion it was a rather strange choice for a single: the song's structure is a bit too complicated, with frustratingly 'undanceable' changes in tempo. It is somewhat bouncy and poignant, though, in a weird, quiet way, with Ballard mumbling the generic unfaithful love lyrics in a half-sung, half-spoken, plaintive tone and ideally counterpointing them with the energetic 'LIAR! LIAR!' of the chorus. But I think that the wonderful 'Schoolgirl' would have made a far more convincing single. In case you're wondering (and you should), it's a classic, solid pop number built according to the general laws of 'mounting of tension', crowned by a scream of desperation climaxing in a head-spinning falsetto - 'I must have been a fool not to fall for you!!.... when you were a scho-o-o-lg-i-i-rl...' Colin Bluntstone couldn't really have pulled that off. He wasn't that kind of kid.

As for Argent himself, his melodies may not be as immediately captivating as those he used to write in the Zombies' heyday. But hey, one would be surprised in the opposite case, and anyway there's no need to worry: diehard Zombies fans will easily get their kicks out of this material. Even when Rod goes for a lengthy, pompous, anthemic chant with an optimistic, heavenly, Yes-ish atmosphere ('Dance In The Smoke'; and no, don't worry, the lyrics are decent), which contains several not very inspiring instrumental passages, he fully redeems for it with a magnificent people-get-together-do-it-as-one chorus which will take a second to get into your head and a lifetime to get out of it. And that precious Zombies' romanticism that makes you want to cry is preserved in such convincing pop epics as 'Be Free' and the closing pure piano ballad 'Bring You Joy'. That last one verges on gospel and features an incredible vocal performance; it's also obviously influenced by classical music (well, to a certain extent everything on here is, but here it's all too obvious), with elements of classical romances thrown in for good measure. It's as powerful and climactic an ending to the record as may be.

Argent also goes for some more 'roughness' in the sound, just to 'de-sweeten' the pie a bit, on such numbers as the mini-multipart suite 'Like Honey' and the pop meets hard rock composition 'Stepping Stone' (not to be confused with the Monkees song, even if the chorus and the message are pretty similar). And his main achievement on the album... all right, before I go on, I'll disclaim this a bit - I'm having a very hard time trying to figure out the best song on here, as the record is so frigging consistent. One moment it's 'Schoolgirl' and the other it's 'Bring You Joy'. Well, currently you've caught me on 'The Feeling's Inside' - another excellent example of how the newly-formed band could easily hook the listener in by an incredibly intelligent construction of the tension in the song. The harmonies, the powerful organ, Bob Henrit's mastodontic drumming, and the tricky little subtleties of the mix make the number a true pop masterpiece.

Shoot. The easiest twelve I've ever given out, no doubt about that. Count it a weak thirteen, if you wish. I mean, it's just a collection of harmless love ditties after all, isn't it? Not the highest genre in the world. But it effectively drains out the genre, and it's one of the strongest collections of harmless love ditties in existence. Highly recommended to everyone - not just Zombie fanatics. Especially if there's a little place for pure, unadulterated romance in your heart (okay, I'm not really sure if 'unadulterated romance' is a normal word combination. But I like it. Just think of the possible connotations!)



Year Of Release: 1971

Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 10

Far less distinctive - with its nod to roots-rock and McCartnyesque pop, Rod Argent is losing the Zombie ties...

Best song: REJOICE

Track listing: 1) Celebration; 2) Sweet Mary; 3) Cast Your Spell Uranus; 4) Lothlorien; 5) Chained; 6) Rejoice; 7) Pleasure; 8) Sleep Won't Help Me; 9) Where Are We Going Wrong; [BONUS TRACK:] 10) He's A Dynamo.

Somewhat disappointing. They're rapidly advancing past the Zombie-derived style of Argent, and while the end result isn't bad by any means, there are very few of these shimmering little moments that make you go aaaaah!, like on 'Feeling's Inside' or 'Schoolgirl'. And there's hardly anything immediately likeable on the album, either - I had to sit through it the required three times before it even began clicking on me.

On Ring Of Hands, the tendency of the Ballard/Rod Argent split, the one that would ultimately result in their parting ways and the ruin of the band, is taking first form: Ballard is rapidly advancing towards a harder-rocking screamish style, while Rod is going for lengthy keyboard-dominated suites. But even when he's not, and even when he is producing cute pop melodies, it seems like the dudes have deliberately taken a twist into sleazy McCartney-styled pop rather than stayed in the vein of their elder baroque-tinged stately pop. There's very few organ on Ring Of Hands, in fact, as compared to Argent, and a lot of 'lightweight' piano, so that many songs bring on memories of McCartney indeed. But the melodies are nowhere as near to brilliant as prime McCartney pop, and the comparison is really more harmful than anything.

That said, there ain't a single bad song on the album (gee, how many times have I written this cliche in a review? Translated into real language, it means: 'I don't wanna puke, but I'll probably put it on in about ten years time next time'). Anyway, the Ballard rockers are probably the least easy-going numbers, especially 'Cast Your Spell Uranus', just because it's so silly and overblown and 'mystical'. Ever heard Uriah Heep? I could definitely draw a link or two. Or with Rush, maybe... nah, that's taking the murk too far. The organ solos are great, though, but can't stand the chorus. 'CAST YOUR SPELL URANUS CAST YOUR SPELL ON ME'. It sounds bad in theory, it's worse in practics. And 'Where Are We Going Wrong' is smooth and professional, but the title is somewhat telling; the band is definitely going wrong on the song, since it goes, well, nowhere in particular.

Not that Argent's prog suite 'Lothlorien' goes anywhere. It's the first time they tackle a mystical theme (Tolkien this time - Lothlorien is the fair elfland in 'Lord Of The Rings'), and it's the first time they fail. The song goes on for eight minutes and just plain bores me, with pretty, but generic and noodlish organ/piano solos that are all forma and no substance at all. This is definitely not what I'd expect from a vintage prog-rock composition.

So I mostly find pleasure in the McCartneyesque numbers. 'Rejoice' is the favourite one, with a gorgeous Argent falsetto and some of those tricky chord changes that made the Zombies material magical. Paul would have been proud of the magnificent prolongated vocal notes on that one and the gentle tingling of the piano. But the McCartneyism of 'Pleasure' is already a little overdone: Argent overstretches on the vocals and comes out whiny instead of gorgeous, almost as if he were outbeatling himself. Yet one gets used to it, and taken together with Argent's energetic soloing, way more precise and hard-hitting than the endless formulaic drone of 'Lothlorien', it's definitely an album highlight.

Meanwhile, 'Sleep Won't Help Me' is a really weird number, where the falsetto vocals alternate from a moody Easternish shaking chant to an ultra-sweet lullabyish refrain; the opening 'Celebration' is one of the best examples of why Argent had been nicknamed 'imperial rock' back then - lush piano playing, upbeat harmonies and a great energetic chorus; and Ballard's 'Chained' is a worthy successor to the magnificent 'Schoolgirl', being conceived in more or less the same form (I'm particularly referring to the contrast between the main part and the 'solution' of the chorus - that part where Ballard sings 'God bring the day.. God bring the day... God bring the day when we won't have to lay there.... CHAAAAAAINED!' is very close to the 'when you were a SCHOOLGIIIIIRL' part). All the three are solid, enjoyable pop numbers, if nothing about them is breathtaking.

That said, I'd like to concentrate a wee bit on 'Sweet Mary', the controversial single from the album which for some strange reason was banned on the radio in the US - apparently, for containing the lines about 'taking me higher'. Stupid radio programmers, it was 1971, for Chrissake. Ah well. It's rather strange anyway, because it's a simple blues number, and Argent hadn't been playing the blues since God knows when. I don't really understand why so much fuss had been going on around the song. It's kinda dull, actually, and the only little curio about it is that it blends together two different melodies, both of which completely generic. Stay away from the blues, boys.

That said, I'd like to concentrate a wee bit on 'He's A Dynamo', the bonus track to the album on the CD reissue. It's a good rocker, but you'll see more about it in the next review, because it's taken off of the following album, All Together Now. Which is allright by me, since the CD re-issue of the following album thus has the pleasure to offer you another bonus track - 'It's Only Money Part 2', taken from the band's fourth album, In Deep. Isn't that a brilliant principle? Instead of the dull and useless stupid habit of selecting rare, single and demo tracks as bonuses, to make such blistering 'previews' of the next album? Next thing you know, the record companies will certainly take their lesson from Scheherazade and put 1/3 of album A onto the end of the album A-1, then cut that third off the album A and replace it with 1/3 of the album A+1, etc., etc., the mathematics is kinda simple and the customer attraction will be enormous. Just don't tell 'em I gave out the idea, or they'll seriously take the cue.



Year Of Release: 1972
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 11

Let me just tell you this - if you're a 'limited-tasted' guy, you'll hate exactly one half of this and love exactly the other one. And vice versa.


Track listing: 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.

It is no surprise that Argent's first two albums have often been praised in certain 'underground' circles as some of the best keyboard-oriented art rock around - I guess that, after all, the band did take some lessons from Procol Harum, which is no surprise considering that Procol Harum themselves modelled their sound on Rod Argent's first and arguably best band, the Ogres, er, wait, the Zombies, of course. Except that Rod favoured electric piano which the Procol people never did, and the two bands' sonic landscapes are actually quite different.

However, on their third and probably most well-known album, All Together Now, the band definitely goes for a mass-accessible, simplistic sound - not exactly a 'pop' one, rather a 'roots rock' one. Elements of unadulterated rock'n'roll and pure boogie-woogie abound, and it's as if Rod Argent and company went for a straightforward commercialization of their sound. Not that this stuff isn't really enjoyable; there ain't a single song on the album I could call 'bad', and I simply can't help getting excited about many of them. The biggest problem is that nothing on here is really original: after all, who needs yet another early Seventies' 'soft-hard-rock' band churning out metallic riffs and backing them with skilful organ and piano backgrounds?

In this respect, the biggest surprise of the album is perhaps the overall feel that you get from it after the last seconds of the 'Finale' that closes the album's magnum opus, the thirteen-minute suite 'Pure Love'. Rather than trying to combine 'prog' with 'rock'n'roll', Argent seem to say to us: 'Sorry, dude, these two genres are hardly compatible, and that's what you're going to have to assume'. Thus, five out of the seven tracks are straightforward rock'n'roll, and the other two are ultra-pretentious, bombastic prog. And this may well be the unique feature of All Together Now: whether this sounds like a good or a misguided idea to you is another matter. I must say, though, that it is a bit of a shock when the generic metal riff of 'Be My Lover Be My Friend' suddenly breaks out from your speakers to replace the universalist, mystical feel of 'I Am The Dance Of Ages', or when the slightly corny boogie-woogie of 'He's A Dynamo' fades out giving way to the majestic church organ of 'Pure Love'. But it's a shock that you eventually get used to, and when it passes, the situation gets back to normal. That is, you'll just be left with a moderately good, but not great, album.

But who cares? The melodies are good! After all, it's Rod Argent we're mostly speaking of. Like I said, this is the band's most successful album, and this is certainly due to the massive commercial success of the single 'Hold Your Head Up', a solid, riffy tune whose main attractions are the gruff, almost war-march-style bassline (copped by the band from Pink Floyd's 'Let There Be More Light', so it seems) and, of course, the solemn chorus which you'll always be remembering in your sleep - 'hold your head up whoaaaah hold your head up whoaaaah hold your head up...' Plus, Rod does a great job on the organ, and what else do you need? This is not the Zombies, so don't expect any cool harmonies or anything like that. Just a good song with a passable melody.

The boogie stylizations range from unconvincing ('He's A Dynamo' with overblown, gimmicky vocals by Ballard) to very pretty - I never really noticed the charms of "Keep On Rollin'" until I gave up trying to discover what the hell could make this song special. Nothing can, but Argent plays up a little jazzy storm on his trusty piano, and the invigorating potential of the number is quite solid.

More impressive are the heavier tunes, especially the rip-roarin' 'Tragedy', written by Ballard: it's the gruffest, darkest piece of music on the whole album, and the way the song builds up to its powerful climax at the end of each verse is outstanding, with a paranoid, nagging distorted riff underpinning the song and scary backing vocals all over the place. And that echo on the chorus, wow, now that's cool - try listening to this in headphones at maximum volume. As for 'Be My Lover Be My Friend', it's somewhat more generic, but I adore the guitarwork on that one, with a simple, but curiously effective riff - hell, it may be simple, but it's original, at least, I've never heard it before. What the hell, these guys had a lot of drive, and it's simply useless to argue with the fact. The rhythm section pounds away like absolute hell, and the adrenaline level is high - enough for me to take a 'positive attitude' or whatever.

As for the two 'progressive' cuts, they're both okay. 'I Am The Dance Of Ages' is so bombastic it's darn funny, and I personally love Ballard's enthusiastic vocals as he tells us about all the eternal sanctuary things he really is. And 'Pure Love'? Thirteen minutes of excess or thirteen minutes of greatness? Thirteen minutes of enjoyment, rather - I could have it easily cut by half, but that's just me. The opening organ solo is excessive, but the guitar-heavy 'Prelude' is great, and the vocal sections on 'Pure Love' itself is tolerable. And I think I've just run out of inspiration - oops, what a pitiful thing for the first review of the new year 2000. As a special bonus, I compensate the lack of inspiration by an ounce of good mood; in a worse situation, there's no way I would have given the album more than a 10, adrenaline or no adrenaline. As it is, an eleven it is, complete with the recommendation 'Buy It Wherever You See It (But Don't Even Think Of Paying For It)'.



Year Of Release: 1973
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 9

Some major embarrassments here, but overall this continues the line of ALL TOGETHER NOW.


Track listing: 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.

Among Argent fans and critics, In Deep is the most despisable Argent album of all time. Some reviewers just call it a bunch of self-parodies and cliches, capitalizing on the moderate success of All Together Now but mainly bringing out its worst sides rather than the best. Such an approach seems to be an exaggeration, but so far, I have to agree that this is the worst Argent album I've heard up to this point. This doesn't mean that it's bad or unlistenable, but there are two main overall flaws: (a) none of the material on here, except, arguably, for 'Candles On The River', ranks up with their best; (b) some of the material on here is, undeniably, among their worst. Some is even nauseating.

You know what I'm talking about - the dreadful pseudo-gospel anthem 'God Gave Rock And Roll To You'. This is possibly the cheapest piece of trash ever written by Mr Ballard. And it's not even the fact that he definitely stole the melody from a million other gospel tunes (the most recent of these being Billy Preston's 'That's The Way God Planned It') that irritates my spleen so much. It's the fact that this is cheap, cheap and banal to the core. A band that was hailed as a friendly, intellectual bunch of chaps writing gorgeous pop and moderate, 'normal' rock tunes, suddenly puts itself up on a sleazy pedestal and puts out a populist, second-hand gospel anthem celebrating the fact that 'God gave rock'n'roll to you, put it in the soul of everyone'? Blah. And this is the number that sets the overall tone for the record, too. Well, that did cost it one point which I took special care to dock off, and not even the quiet mid-section with the pleasant acoustic track or Rod's trademark organ swirls can save it.

Another lapse of taste, although it's not as blatant as 'God Gave...', is the child-spiritual 'Christmas For The Free', a kind of song that would indeed work as a tongue-in-cheek sendup for a 'Christmas Record' like the ones the Beatles used to make specially for fans. It's highlighted by wonderful McCartneyesque harmonies from Rod himself, but that's exactly the rub: it's way too similar to some of the worst pap Paul had created, like 'Warm And Beautiful'.

Fortunately, that's about it. Well, I suppose fans might also be angry at the mock-ballroom drunken sendup 'Rosie', but I find its being placed at the very end of the album a wise move, and a sort of 'shock cure' for the opening bombastic blasts of 'God Gave...'. It's just as generic as the two tunes described above, but as far as the tune is funny and unpretentious, I don't really mind. It's the combination 'generic and bombastic' that really puts me out, you know, when people act all serious and puffed-up as if speaking the ultimate truth, but are in reality just repeating things which somebody else said in a far more efficient (and innovative) way before them. 'Rosie' is none of that, just a short comic piece, even if the perspective of Ballard screaming 'Roo-o-o-o-o-sie' at the top of his lungs isn't the nicest aural pleasure in the world.

Ballard is also responsible for one of the album's lengthier compositions, the two-part 'It's Only Money' which I have mixed feelings about. In any case, it's one of his better hard-rock compositions, and it manages to include enough different riffs and catchy choruses so as not to become boring throughout its nine minutes. The funniest thing arrives at the start of the second part, when he unashamedly rips off the riff of 'Money (That's What I Want)' (well, only the first part of the riff, to be honest, but he does repeat it in its entirety at 2:35 into part 2 - catch that moment and sue 'im!). But in general, every riff in the suite is good; I could care less about the generic anti-monetarism lyrics, but the guitar and organ parts are good.

The rest is Argent's show - he lets Ballard open the album and close it, but the 'meaty stuff' is dominated by his ambitions. 'Losing Hold' is not too interesting, a mid-tempo power ballad with satisfying vocal harmonies, something which keeps reminding me of some of Queen's bombastic passages. But the two lengthy suites, 'Be Glad' and especially 'Candles On The River', are enough to redeem the album. The first one brilliantly combines Rod's backing piano track which almost seems to be coming out of some classical concerto with Ballard's high-pitched, screaming vocals which almost seem to be swept out of a stadium; later on, Argent takes over with a lovely piano solo before leading the band into an overdriven war march before going back to the solo before incorporating a lovely medieval-sounding middle-eight before... well, before just being all over the place with more and more instrumental passages that almost manage to sound like Yes, only more memorable and less blatantly self-indulgent.

The honour of being the best track on the album, however, falls to 'Candles On The River', a very high watermark of Argent's progressive sound. The band manages to get it just right on that one, with a depressed, disturbing kind of sound highlighted by Argent's all-penetrating organ chords dominating the song and the beautiful, if a bit too bombastic, vocal harmonies conveying an atmosphere of despair and pessimism. Rod also gets to shine with a wonderful organ solo which might just be one of the best organ solos I've ever heard - he seems to be examining every single key, revelling in the sounds that he extracts, sometimes smacking just one chord, sometimes playing lightning-speed passages that will send your head in a whirl. From time to time Ballard challenges him with his professional guitar sound, and the only thing I lament is that the two hadn't really fuelled up a mighty duel between the two instruments. Whatever you might think about it, the song stands as absolute proof that Argent was not just a good, but an outstanding keyboard player and could pretty well hold his ground against such giants of the time as Rick Wakeman and Keith Emerson themselves, not to mention any prog keyboardists of lesser stature.

Of course, two lovely mini-suites and one lengthy 'variation on a Bradford/Gordy theme' are not enough to make up a blistering album. In Deep suffers from many faults, and should never be considered a starting point with the band; yet simply dismissing it as a major misstep or a self-parody would not be a correct decision, because it might lead one to really overlook some of the brilliant stuff on here. I mean, just because 'God Gave Rock'n'Roll To You' sucks so much, would it be enough for one to disregard the breathtaking soloing technique of 'Candles On The River'?

And keep in mind that from then on, the band's (I mean, Rod's) progressive ambitions only kept growing, so that should tell you something.



Year Of Release: 1974
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 10

P-p-p-p-rogressive rock. A rare example when a great pop band is transformed into an okayish prog band. Usually it's kinda vice versa.


Track listing: 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.

Argent's continuous shift from pop to prog values might have been one of the weirdest decisions of the entire decade (Seventies, I mean). By 1974, progressive rock as a genre was truly living its last creative days and moving towards bloated self-parodies like Tales From Topographic Oceans; and yet, Argent seemed to show no trace of abandoning their ambitions. On the contrary, Nexus was their most pretentious and prog-oriented tune collection as of yet. What could one expect of a record that began with three pompous instrumentals and included songs with titles like 'Music Of The Spheres' and 'Keeper Of The Flame'? Typical lyrics (taken from the latter): 'See me, hear me [subconscious Tommy quote? - G. S.]; this is what I am when we're together; for we are born alone, seen to stumble, pass the early days in pain and pleasure...' Okay, so it isn't Jon Anderson or something, and the song messages are actually understandable - many of them have a lot to do with the Lord and various apocalyptic and messianistic imagery; but it's not that Argent and White had a lot of new, interesting things to say with their lyrics. Ripping off Graeme Edge was kinda naive; I wish they'd listen to more Peter Gabriel or Keith Reid instead.

It is therefore not surprising that Nexus was Argent's last record with Ballard at the wheel. His four contributions to the album are very distinctly different from the ex-Zombie pals' efforts; that's not to say that they are generally better, though. He does have something truly great to offer - the gorgeous ballad 'Love', all built on a wonderful, deliciously warm falsetto, uplifting (but never intruding) orchestration and a gentle flute party. But the universalist anthem 'A Man For All Reasons', based on a naggin' marching rhythm and lacking any serious hooks, is utterly forgettable. And on the other two tracks Ballard's hard rock inclinations finally break through - resulting in one solid song and one shitty metallic rocker. 'Gonna Meet My Maker' is a huge, unstoppable monster - Ballard comes up with a majestic, powerful riff and sings his heart out in an ode that's truly confessional and sincere, even if a bit childishly naive (after all, lyrics like 'Gonna meet my Maker/Then ask the question why/Why some are left alone/And why the innocent die' would ideally fit Phil Collins).

But, on the other hand, 'Thunder And Lightning' is the one song I can say I actively hate on the album: I don't even understand who the hell these guys are imitating (Uriah Heep, maybe? Guess Queensryche has its beginnings somewhere here, as well), but the combination of cold robotic synths a la Kraftwerk, generic metal bass lines and Ballard's God-awful screams is enough to make me puke. I mean, Ballard is a wonderful singer, but somehow, when he starts screaming and raving he starts looking as your average metallic cock-rocker, you know, a poorboy parody on AC/DC's Brian Johnson or sumpthin. Blah. I do admit that the chorus of the song is extremely well constructed, but apart from the echoey 'thunder... thunder... lightning... lightning... striking... striking... again and again and again and again...' that is indeed a great idea, there's nothing to be recommended about the song.

Like I said, all of this stuff doesn't really fit in with the general pattern of the record. Now I'll be the last to say that the progressive sound of Nexus is just a rip-off of 'classic' prog bands. It's closer in style to early King Crimson and classic ELP, I guess, but it has its own identity. The music is mostly based on keyboards: Rod has finally equipped himself with all the newest technological gadgets, adding a barrage of synthesizers to the pianos, organs and Mellotrons he already had in store, and there's really few space left for Ballard's guitar. The main accent here is on 'power': to accumulate as much bombast and pomposity as possible, so the album will cause a serious allergy for all prog-haters. But as horrible as that may sound, I have to say that I don't find any of these melodies offensive at all. Since Rod is by no means a multiple-instrument-flasher, he can't really show off his technological prowess a la Emerson or Wakeman; instead, he prefers to come up with some simpler, but effective passages. Unfortunately, his ability to find a good hook of the prog-type can by no means match his earlier ability to find a good hook of the pop-type; all too surprising and disturbing, seeing as the Zombies were one of the most classically-influenced pop bands of their time. So as a result, really few of the tunes are at all memorable - apart from a brief snippet now and then, probably borrowed from some classical composition, I can't really remember anything about the three lead-in instrumentals after they're over, and while the main melody of 'Music From The Spheres' is lovely, at over eight minutes time the song obviously drags for too long.

It's a pleasant kind of drag, though, especially when it comes to the overwhelming drum/synth assault on the first segment of 'The Coming Of Kohoutek' and isolated moments when Ballard gets the chance to insert a nifty little riff or play a simple, effective solo: nothing special on here, but nothing nauseating, either. Yes, these guys could be pretentious, but at least this type of 'cosmic rock' is tons less self-indulgent and far more understandable and accessible than whatever Yes were doing at the time. And then there's 'Keeper Of The Flame' which, despite its lyrics being overblown and childishly naive at the same time, is actually a very solid and emotional piece of music, arguably the most grandiose cut in Argent's entire career, with a stunning sturm-und-drang coda where the band gels together perfectly and moves towards a sheer moment of ecstasy.

So, in retrospect, the worst thing about these cuts is that you should never listen to them in headphones; I made the foolish mistake of listening to 'Music From The Spheres' in that way, and, true to the song's name, Argent produces the song so that the main organ riffs are vibrating from one ear to another, giving you a terrible headache in the process. I hate that; if you're using stereophonic effects, spare your listeners' ears at least.

As far as I know, the album still isn't in print in the States; a pity, because progressive rock lovers could really appreciate the stuff. Like I said - derivative, yes, but there's no need to laugh it off: Rod was such a professional that Nexus is far more of a serious, respectable effort, than it is usually thought to be. Although, come to think of it, people just rarely know what exactly to think about it: the All-Music Guide, for instance, put this record under the category of 'heavy metal'. Can you believe that? Heavy metal, indeed! Apart from 'Thunder And Lightning' (and even that one with serious terminology limitations, too), this album is as close to heavy metal as Porgy And Bess. Let's hope it ain't a tendency, as I read somewhere else somebody's assertion that the Who's Quadrophenia was as close to heavy metal as the Who would ever get...



Year Of Release: 1974
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 11

Pretty punchy for wannabe progsters - and when they rock, they rock! (They kinda flop when they roll, though. Or so it seems).


Track listing: 1) The Coming Of Kohoutek; 2) It's Only Money (Part 1); 3) It's Only Money (Part 2); 4) God Gave Rock And Roll To You; 5) Thunder And Lightning; 6) Music From The Spheres; 7) I Don't Believe In Miracles; 8) I Am The Dance Of Ages; 9) Keep On Rollin'; 10) Hold Your Head Up; 11) Time Of The Season.

This record (not to be confused with the much later archive release In Concert, which actually gathers material from a slightly earlier era) was released already after Ballard quit the band, but fortunately, the performances do feature Ballard, so we get to hear the classic Argent line-up live in all their glory. The setlist is far from ideal, though: obviously, this was the Nexus tour, and so the majority of the material comes from (a) Nexus and (b) All Together Now, as their most popular record and the one that yielded the major hit single. Me, I'd certainly prefer them to go back to 1969, but you can't always get what you want.

Nevertheless, it's still a very good record. Unlike most of their prog colleagues, Argent on stage were not about recreating carbon copies of the originals; it is clear from the performances that the spirit of spontaneity is valued above all else, and so where some of the songs lose in cleanness and precision, they compensate for it in energy, gall, and raw excitement. Yep, I said "raw excitement" indeed. Ballard and Rod Argent might have shared the pomposity of the times, but they sure had the rock'n'roll drive in their hearts, and one need only take a brief listen to the fascinating take on 'Keep On Rollin' which, may I say it, annihilates the studio version (good as it was in the first place), just because here we have these two great guys who can rip the boogie heart out of their piano and that special classy Chuck Berry lick out of their guitar just as well as they're aping Beethoven in other spots on the album. The instrumental section works magic on that one - I mean, if you're listening to something like ELP's 'Are You Ready Eddy' you definitely might experience some sort of uncomfortable feeling because you're not really sure if these guys should be doing that kind of stuff. But Argent definitely should be.

That said, these guys' main occupation at the time was still to play heavyweight stuff like 'The Coming Of Kohoutek' - which actually opens this album as well, and is pretty decent when compared to the studio version. They improvise a lot, using the main themes as setting points for them to take off, and the devotion and dedication are unquestionable - it's a different thing that ten minutes is still a bit too draggy. And when you get lengthy number after lengthy number, with 'Music From The Spheres' and 'I Am The Dance Of Ages' also used as polygons for extensive progressive jamming, it can certainly get monotonous. What usually saves the impression for me is the quality of Argent/Ballard interplay; these guys were really getting on well in the live setting, and there's enough piano [organ]/guitar duets throughout to keep things interesting.

The singles are extended as well, particularly 'Hold Your Head Up', which is more or less tripled in length through additional organ and Moog solos and attempts at constructing mini-crescendos, maybe as a way to convince the audience that the difference between short hit singles and long prog jams is merely an illusion. I'm not awed and amazed at what I hear in this extension, but the 'whoah!' after each repetition of the chorus is cool enough to forgive any extra extensions. Whatever. Oh, and if you can believe it, the version of 'Thunder And Lightning' captured on here is miles better than the Nexus original, maybe because they don't put all those fookin' echo effects on the vocals and Ballard doesn't sound like a parody on the God of Hellfire anymore.

Minor surprises are minor surprises: there's a pretty, but not very memorable, Ballard ballad called 'I Don't Believe In Miracles' which I don't believe was ever part of any Argent LP - no guitar, just piano and Mellotron and something a bit country-rockish in style. And for the actual encore, the band settles on 'Time Of The Season', which can't hope to beat the classic single (this time because there is no fookin' echo effect on the song - it loses a lot of its original mystery as a result) but is still an interesting "self-interpretation".

Overall, though, I really don't care much what are the exact songs on here: I get my kicks out of bits and pieces of that inspired jamming. Rod and Russ are in perfect form, as I already said, and I just love the sounds, and the edge, coming out of their instruments. Listen, for instance, to Rod totally jumping in overdrive in the mid-section of 'Music From The Spheres', punching those keys like there was no tomorrow; Keith Emerson wouldn't be disappointed upon hearing these crazy passages. Or how smoothly he moves from quiet/relaxed to kick-that-prog-ass on his Moog in the middle of 'I Am The Dance Of Ages'. Or the brilliant interplay with Ballard on 'It's Only Money (Part 2)'.

Basically, it all amounts to the fact that I'm much more forgiving of a generally good live album than a generally decent studio one - a good live experience can easily upgrade a mediocre song to a mind-blowing performance of a lifetime, and this almost happens with several of the songs on Encore. It's not without its problems, but where Argent's studio albums of the Seventies can't really hope to compete against their better-known rivals, this live album I'd certainly take as equal or superior to most live progressive records I've heard. It's got style, spirit, and spontaneity, and that's pretty damn swell!



Year Of Release: 1975
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 10

Repeated listens won't hurt here - the atmosphere may be as familiar as anything, but the melodies are cute anyway.


Track listing: 1) Circus; 2) Highwire; 3) Clown; 4) Trapeze; 5) Shine On Sunshine; 6) The Ring; 7) The Jester.

The first of the two Ballard-less albums, for which as much as two guitarists (John Grimaldi and John Verity) were required. Maybe the fact that he had to be replaced by two players could be flattering for Russ, but on the other side, at least we don't have any more danger of the guy going ahead and penning another 'God Gave Rock'n'Roll To You'. Yet on another side, though, both of those guitarists kinda lack personality... they're just there and that's that. They're playing decent solos and decent guitar riffs from time to time, but it's clear they weren't really supposed to be much more than sidemen, contributing their sonic effects merely to provide a counterpoint for Argent's Hammond organ, piano, Fender Rhodes, Hohner electric piano, Moog, Mellotron, and vocals (okay, John Verity also sings, but it's not like I notice that a hell of a lot of times).

Curiously, though, it's not a bad album. Granted, I had low expectations: a traditionally-grounded prog album, recorded at the end of prog's truly creative epoch, in 1975, right after one of the two key band members left, never creating even a ripple of excitement in the musical press and eventually leading to the band's demise, and moreover, it hasn't even been issued on CD yet (the edition I have is a special Russian "LP-R"!). And it's a concept album about a circus, too, and just look at all those song titles. Looks like everything is against the record, and indeed I was mightily disappointed on first listen.

However, in this case, one listen isn't enough. There's absolutely nothing groundbreaking about the record (well, neither was there anything groundbreaking about Argent in general), but it's got quite a bunch of well-versed musical ideas going on. Actually, the "circus concept" is rather moot; the lyrics throughout do have to do with clowns, trapezes, and jesters, but they don't matter much - essentially, it's an "instrumental album with vocals", where the vocals don't matter much. The songs range from mid-long to long with prominent instrumental sections, and they're diverse, showcasing all kinds of influences this time, from classical to jazz to funk to ragtime even. Who cares about the vocals?

With one exception, of course. It hurts me to realize that due to this album being so obscure, a magnificent, mind-blowing ballad such as 'Shine On Sunshine' remains unknown to the general public. As far as I'm concerned, the song is up there with the best of the best of the Zombies/early Argent sentimental material, even if it's not really Zombies style. It sounds more like Argent took the unpredictable mind-blowing melodic solutions of McCartney, all the gorgeousness of Beach Boys vocal harmonies, and all the friendliness and humanity of Stevie Wonder's voice, and merged the three together to produce this little beauty, totally unrelated to the album's "concept" and, in fact, not feeling truly at home with the rest of the songs, but boy am I glad it's up there still. Any "dream-pop" lover should include it in his poppy dream to track this one down some sunny day.

I mean, it's such a beautiful song the rest of the album almost sounds like a footnote to me. And yet there it is, and despite the many moments of boredom and generic prog jamming, every song has something mildly distinctive about it. Perhaps the best way to go around it is to actually see all the diverse approaches to the material: no two songs sound like each other. First, you have the short symph-rock intro in the title track, heavily leaning on moody Mellotron effects, phasing and other "shot-of-majesty" type of tricks. Then the nine-minute epic 'Highwire' is more like "folk-prog", with rootsy rhythms complemented by bombastic piano solos and ethereal vocal harmonies (and more Mellotron); about five of these nine minutes do nothing new for me, but I do like the main melody, played on doubletracked guitars. 'Clown' is more like a traditional piano-based ballad, not so much 'lush pop' of 'Shine On Sunshine' as just a soft, soothing dreamy tune the likes of which could have been written by ELO (that's a compliment).

Then the second side is dominated by the prolongated 'Trapeze', which shifts the musical attention away to funk and fusion, showcasing Rod on jazzy organ and giving Verity and Grimaldi the chance to crank up those wah-wah pedals. Again, is the length justified? It's not really a spontaneous improvisation, so probably not. But on the other hand, the boys do have a good groove going on, and at least the homework is done well - the guitars are gritty and the organ is exciting rather than boring. And the production rules, too, with none of the instruments subdued by the other. Finally, after 'Sunshine' and a short gimmicky sound collage ('The Ring'), 'The Jester' concludes the album on a somewhat more lightweight, sardonic note (as befits the title, I'd say), with a fast bouncy rhythm and Argent throwing in some of those head-spinning ragtime piano passages in the mix, as if to challenge his prog buddy, Mr Emerson (as well as a terrific rockabilly solo from one of the guitarists). A really groovy conclusion.

All of this merely goes to show that it wasn't so theoretically impossible to release more good prog material as late in the decade as 1975 - Circus gives not a single indication of ongoing and upcoming shifts in the musical paradigm of the time, being extremely conservative in shape, and yet it's as enjoyable as any other "good" (not particularly great) album. The important thing, of course, is that the rock paradigm is subject to the classic European demand of "constant changing in order to remain challenging", and if rock music got stuck in Circus-like albums, it'd go against the grain, if you know what I mean. That's why I'm holding up this friggin' LP-R instead of a nicely remastered CD edition currently nicely rising on the pop charts. But man oh man, is 'Shine On Sunshine' a mah-velous little ditty.


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