BY DANNY R. PHILLIPS
Is it the height of pretense to make a concept album? To think that your fans will hang with a singular idea through, what most likely, will be a double or triple album? More often than not, what begins life as an ok idea devolves into a bloated piece of shit. In the case of Grant Hart’s latest The Argument, it absolutely is not.
At times, musicians, especially those of the legendary variety, believe themselves to be beyond reproach; that they can record anything and it is considered classic. Cases in point: The abomination that is Lulu from Lou Reed and Metallica, the wankery that is Tales of Topographic Oceans from Yes, My Chemical Romance’s exceedingly boring The Black Parade or the attempted murder of my favorite author, Edgar Allan Poe, by The Alan Parsons Project. Trust me, 99% of the time, concept albums are a BAD idea. Hart takes this one, based on close friend and Beat Generation luminary William S. Burroughs’ unpublished re-telling of Milton’s epic battle of God and Lucifer “Paradise Lost” (it was given to Hart by Burroughs’ personal secretary Jim Grauerholz following the writer’s death) and builds a momentous, sprawl superb album.
Hart, former drummer/songwriter with hardcore noise pop originators Husker Du, has released only three solo albums prior to The Argument, the most recent being 2009’s Hot Wax. However, in music as in everything else, it is quality not quantity. Bob Pollard, this goes for you too.
While most of Hart’s solo work does show a flash or two of the brilliance of his work with Husker, it never fully shone bright until The Argument. This album adds to the impressive cache of his work, solidifying him as the undoubtedly quality songwriter that Husker fans already knew him to be; Hart has long been one of alternative rock’s greatest songwriters and The Argument shows that this is not empty, idle praise, that he truly lives up to his legend.
Hart touches on all his influences and loves throughout the twenty songs, 74 minutes of The Argument. His affection for stripped down, the melodic gives us “Morningstar.” He breaks out the 1950’s Everly Brothers Texas Rock n Roll with “Letting Me Out,” there is the track that could have easily fit on a Husker Du record (“Glorious”), a beautifully stirring song to close out the record (“For Those Too High Aspiring”), and wait for it, 1920’s cabaret jazz of all things (“Underneath the Apple Tree”).
The Argument is not free of blemish. When drawing from a work as dense and massive as Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” the resulting product can too easily become dense and massive. While The Argument could have been a double album on par with the masterpiece Hart made with Husker Du called Zen Arcade, the scope of the idea may be lost on listeners living in the sound bite centered Age of ADHD.
While there are a few stumbles, Hart never falls flat here, never slows or becomes weary. No one is perfect but The Argument may be as close as Hart ever gets, this is his paradise.
DOWNLOAD: “Morningstar,” “For Those Too High Aspiring”