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ALBUM REVIEW: 'The Argument' by Grant Hart

"The Argument" by Grant Hart
Domino Records
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5 Rustys

ALBUM REVIEW: Grant Hart - The Argument (Domino Records) 2013 (reviewed on August 5, 2013)

You know you are in for something heavy, weird and distinctly Grant Hart-ish when you discover the aforementioned former Husker Du drummer decides to tackle a musical project of biblical proportions: John Milton's epic poem Paradise Lost, which is essentially Milton's take on the "Fall of Man" as described in the Old Testament, with God sending Lucifer and his dark angelic minions into the fiery pit.

But the twist here, and take it for what its worth - this Paradise Lost incorporates a reworking as envisioned by the late writer William S. Burroughs, in the form of Lost Paradise. I rather like that.

Of course it's not exactly lightweight material that your Morning Zoo Crew would be spinning during drive time, but then that's a damn good thing.

El Diablo. There he is again. Yep, ever since blues legend Robert Johnson's encounter with the Devil at the Crossroads, musicians, particularly those in rock n' roll, have looked to the Prince of Darkness for inspiration. After all, The Rolling Stones have made a nice fortune of doing just that.

But with The Argument, Hart shows us Lucifer warts and all. His diabolical ways and spirited and tempestuous encounters with God and Man. I'm just surprised no musician that I'm aware of has taken on this project before.

Right off the bat this 20-song opus reminds me of Damon Albarn's (Blur, Gorillaz) excellent solo album and opera, released last year, Dr Dee, about Elizabethan conjuror and magician John Dee. The approach made by both Albarn and Hart is both ambitious and cerebral.

It would seem that some of the better musicians of the 1980's and 90's are brushing up on their history, and that, to this listener, is a good thing.

Now, Hart (subject of last year's documentary Every Everything) is often viewed as the most misunderstood and, perhaps, divisive former member of Husker Du. Is he a mad genius? Is he someone that won't be fully appreciated in his own time? What of his Bowie-esque vocal style? Grant Hart has always been a bit of a riddle and that's part of what makes him and his music so interesting.

And his former Husker Du bandmates? Bob Mould has carved out a very successful solo career (and with the power-pop trio Sugar) over more than two decades now and mustachioed Husker Du bassist Greg Norton has been a restauranteur who has recently returned to music. So, that legendary, trailblazing punk trio has allowed all three to follow their dreams.

And sometimes the results have not always been successful. I won't focus on Mould or Norton, but with Hart, well, he can be an acquired taste. His work with Nova Mob (take another listen to that band's underrated The Last Days of Pompeii from 1991) was of interest and his growth as a vocalist, guitarist, drummer and songwriter has been a pleasure to observe.

With an intro somewhat reminiscent of the beginning of "All of My Senses" on his 1989 solo releae Intolerance, Hart offers up the appropriately chaotic "Out of Chaos."

"Morningstar" is reminiscent of some of his former band's latter period (think their 1987 swan song Warehouse: Songs and Stories) and that's a good comparison.

"I will Never See My Home" is absolutely chilling in its bittersweet beauty. Hart sounds absolutely amazing and the musical accompaniment is stellar in a David Lynchian sort of way. Wow!

"I Am Death" has a certain heaviness that matches the title and subject matter, while later, on the dirge-like title track, temptation proves too much for the first human beings.

"Sin" - with its seven deadly sins - swings in its own way - the sort of song a rockabilly trio would dive right into.

Listening to the spare, breathless Buddy Holly-styled rock n' roll of "Letting Me Out" is a joy, while Lucifer, wanting to get back at God for being thrown into his hellish prison, wonders what he can do on "Is the Sky The Limit?"

Using drummer friend Eron Woods from the jazzy Nick Haas Trio, based in Hart's home in Minneapolis, the languid-yet-sneaky indie-rock of "So Far From Heaven," complete with Hart offering up a whimsical whistling solo as he tells of Lucifer's journey.

The musical styles vary, in a way that helps to advance what is a compelling tale. Just listen to the battlefield sound effects and zither/xylophone sounds on the instrumental "War in Heaven." And the percussive "It Isn't Love" has Hart at his most rockin,' Bowie-est.

The saintly, pop melodies of "Glorious" could easily land Hart's tune on a hip, Christian rock station - in an alternate universe.

The 20's/30's-styled Dixieland jazz of "Underneath the Apple Tree" (in the world of pop music, think 1968's "D.W. Washburn" by The Monkees), is probably my favorite track here. It's so utterly different from the rest of the material here. Hart's musical versatility is stunning.

Sings Hart over this three-minute gem: "I'll be the most forgiving you'll ever find / Zarathustra, Allah, and Buddha combined / They call me Prince of Peace / they're halfway right …"

Indeed, Hart gives the Devil his due over much of The Argument, at least until we get to the part about Paradise and Adam and Eve as recounted in the biblical myth and the 60's pop-styled track "Shine, Shine, Shine." Love the organ on this one.

Was Eve having a Fellini-esque dream as sung about on the chunky rock of "Most Disturbing Dream"? Perhaps. But really, it's more likely Eve was having very human dreams and desires. Can you blame her?

God doesn't take kindly to Adam and Eve's disobedience, banishing them from the Garden of Eden, no thanks to that slithering villain who tempted them to eat the fruit and gain true knowledge.

And as an afterword of sorts, the alt-folk "For Those Too High Aspiring," Hart glumly reminds us that death is inevitable and pointedly reminds humanity that "you cannot beat the status quo." Guess you can't blame a guy for trying, eh?

If anything, Hart's vision is spot on. Could The Argument have been a stronger, cleaner and tighter album? Sure. But in its imperfections and limitations there is a raw beauty at work.

Just as we have learned that the intensely creative Damon Albarn is embarking on the second portion of an original and visionary career, so is Grant Hart. After all, he admits as much in his liner notes where he thanks his "friends and familiars" for pulling him "from smoldering ruins and helped build my New Pandemonium."

I like the sound of that. I bet the Devil does too!

GRADE: 5 Rusties

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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