Grant Hart is no stranger to the concept album. As a member of Hüsker Dü, Hart released Zen Arcade, which tells a semi-coherent tale of growing up, and is generally seen as hardcore punk’s own coming of age. Then, Hart’s post- Hüsker group Nova Mob released The Last Days of Pompeii, a collection of songs telling a story of Werhner von Braun and Nazi Germany. Now, on The Argument Hart takes on Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” via William Burroughs’ unpublished work “Lost Paradise.”
The Argument contains the trademarks of Hart’s solo work, including swirling organs and garage-rock guitars. And along with Hart’s always strong and catchy songwriting, The Argument includes a variety of song styles that help keep the album sounding fresh over its twenty tracks. “Letting Me Out” sounds like vintage Buddy Holly, with its chugging drums and echoed vocals. “I Am Death” is like a strange, at-times-spoken vaudevillian march, while “Underneath the Apple Tree” is like a 1920s vignette. “So Far From Heaven” has an easy doo-wop feel, and is the album’s catchiest and best song.
Hart doesn’t just visit those older styles of music, however. “It Isn’t Love,” with its grooving bass line, crashing chords, and complimenting organ, sounds like a modern update of David Bowie’s classic album Low; “(It Was a) Most Disturbing Dream” acts much in the same way. “Is the Sky the Limit” is a funeral march driven by spooky keyboard work, accentuated by Hart’s layered vocals.
One of Hart’s goals with The Argument was to have each song be able to stand on its own separate from the rest of the album. Hart was largely successful in this, the album both tells a story and has songs that don’t sound out of context when listened to alone. Hart often takes a long time between releases – this is Hart’s first release since 2009’s Hot Wax, and that was Hart’s first album since 1999’s Good News For Modern Man. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait four years for another album from Hart. The Argument is a continuation of Hart’s past successes with concept albums, and once again establishes him as one of America’s top – and arguably most overlooked – songwriters.
Rating: 4 out of 5