, July 24th, 2013 11:51
It's long been said that the Devil has the best tunes and, as evidenced by this, the latest solo album from the former Hüsker Dü drummer and co-songwriter, Grant Hart, this adage is grounded in fact. A concept album based on John Milton's epic Paradise Lost via a reworking by William S. Burroughs may sound like the kind of work dreamt up by Pete Townshend, an artist seemingly incapable of writing a song without tying it to some grandiose conceit, but in the hands of Grant Hart, The Argument proves to be one of the most intriguing records of the year thus far.
As one of Hüsker Dü's principal two songwriters, Hart's compositions always veered into more melodic territory than those of Bob Mould, but it's his former bandmate that has made more of an impact in the wake of that band's messy demise. But regardless of their differing writing styles, the pair obviously motivated each other in highly competitive stakes that saw the band release not one but two double albums in their lifetime, as well as a release and touring schedule that made many of their contemporaries – and indeed today's bands – baulk. Mould has certainly made his presence felt over the years and the 20th anniversary release of Sugar's monumental Copper Blue clearly had an effect on his superb Silver Age album last year.
As evidenced by the ten year gap between the release of 1999's Good New For Modern Man and Hot Wax, Hart, on the other hand, has been somewhat less prolific with his output. But here, any qualms about how much or how often he releases are pretty much wiped away in one stroke thanks to 20 tracks spread over an hour – in other words, he's back in double album territory. And what an epic it is, as he uses numerous musical styles including rock ('Morningstar'), Buddy Holly-esque rock & roll ('Letting Me Out'), post-rock ('Awake, Arise!), nods to Hüsker Dü ('Glorious') and, most improbably, 30s jazz ('Underneath The Apple Tree') to tell the epic story. While not all of it works – how could it over such a sprawl? – Hart's ambitions as an interpreter of someone else's source material are to be applauded.
Even if you're not familiar with the story of Lucifer's banishment from Heaven into Hell following his celestial rebellion against God and his subsequent poisoning of Man by tempting Adam and Eve to eat the fruit from the Tree Of Knowledge Of Good And Evil, Hart keeps the narrative sufficiently interesting throughout. Though the album's sonic ambitions occasionally fail to scale the lofty heights demanded by the story – budgetary constraints are evident throughout - one can't help being sucked into the album thanks to Hart's spirited delivery and belief in what he's doing.
The Argument may not be the best place for novices to acquaint themselves with the work of Grant Hart but for long-term observers it proves to be a welcome return from a singular if erratic talent.