Grant Hart’s post-HÃ¼sker DÃ¼ career has been so sporadic over the past decade that it’s easy sometimes to forget how much he added to the progenitive alt rockers’ repertoire. If Bob Mould’s songs were testy at best and downright vitriolic at full force, Hart always approached songwriting with wide eyes and a brighter outlook more informed by the hippy dippy vibes of ’60s counterculture.
So it’s little surprise that The Argument, Hart’s follow-up to 2009’s Hot Wax and just his third solo record since 1999, is generously sprinkled with the singer’s sugary pop sensibilities. The wind chimes that open the record on “Out of Chaos” kick things off on a disarming note, one that’s heightened further by the flower child ruminations offered on “Morningstar” (“You are the morningstar,” Hart muses sweetly). Elsewhere there’s ”Glorious”, which wouldn’t have had much trouble finding friends on a record like Warehouse: Songs and Stories, and other songs that similarly bask in the sunlight.
But at 20 tracks and more than an hour long, The Argument is far too meaty to subside strictly on candy canes and gum drops. A concept record inspired by John Milton’s Paradise Lost and Hart’s friendship with William S. Burroughs, The Argument is a balanced exploration of good and evil. “I Am Death” is as indebted to ’60s pop as anything else on the album, but the song’s lyrics find Hart traversing through the darker side of life (“I am death/ I am ice/ I am old enough to chill you. I am fear/ In itself, that should be enough to kill you”). Other songs steer listeners down a sunny path only to veer into ugly stretches of shade. “Underneath the Apple Tree”, a tongue in cheek ode to 30s jazz guitar, sounds positively whimsical until Hart gets biblical and explores the nature of temptation.
Ambitious doesn’t begin to describe The Argument, but considering how relatively under the radar he’s been flying in recent years, it’s fun to see him reemerge with something big. It hits and misses, but it’s a memorable record from a songwriter worthy of the attention.
Essential Tracks: “I Am Death”, Morningstar”, “Glorious”