Highlights: Morningstar, Is The Sky The Limit, So Far From Heaven, Shine, Shine, Shine, Glorious, For Those Too High Aspiring
On the question of Hüsker Dü: I’m a Grant Hart man. That’s not to say Bob Mould didn’t write a number of terrific songs for the band, but Hart’s songs just hit me harder. And post breakup – not even an album as acclaimed as Copper Blue could convince me Bob has an edge over Grant as a songwriter. Last year’s Silver Age was okay, but it so hopelessly pales in comparison with this songwriting master-class from Grant Hart.
But with all due respect – The Argument shouldn’t have worked. A sprawling, overblown concept album based on Milton’s Paradise Lost? 20 songs, each done in a different style? All the way up to Heaven and all the way down to Hell? A less than great songwriter would have flunked it. Grant Hart succeeds on all counts.
By track 8, you get a clear idea the man can do no wrong, and that’s considering the fact that stylistically he does it all, from Nuggets-like garage rock (“It Was A Most Disturbing Dream”) to power pop (“Glorious”) to old-time jazz (“Underneath The Apple Tree”) – mind that I’ve just mentioned a rather short stretch of 3 songs on side two. Naturally for a concept album this long, some tracks work better than others, but work they all do: Grant knows his way around a strong pop hook or an exciting groove (even if this groove is all a song has to offer, like the hellish instrumental “War In Heaven” or the sweet but uneventful “Golden Chain”). While Grant’s voice pretty much retains its distinctly Bowie-esque quality all the way through, the instrumentation is diverse: there’s a song here that is based on the swirling sound of the accordion and there’s a song here that’s elevated to an absolutely heavenly level by the harmonica.
Speaking of the actual concept, the whole thing is both impressive and rather daft. Brilliant and far-fetched. But then Grant Hart is merely a popsmith, so you might as well forget all about the fallen angels and apple trees and concentrate on the tunes. By all means, The Argument has some of this year’s best.