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Wishbone Ash - Argus CD (album) cover


Wishbone Ash


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4.24 | 711 ratings

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4 stars Io, Check This Out!

Er... I was considering Dont Get Shot by the Messenger, Hera Wishbone Ash, and Argus It as alternative headlines, but settled for the one above - you'll be thankful that I didn't think up any plays on the name Hermes, I expect. Enough of Greek myths already - I'll assume you know them or how to use Google to find out :o)

Argus was Album of the year, 1972 (According to Sounds magazine). Hmm. Makes me think they hadn't heard Nursery Cryme... but it's a cracking listen, nonetheless, and a more-than-worthy follow up to Pilgrimage. As an album, it's far more consistent, and the overarching lyrical theme is of picking yourself up, leaving old ways behind and starting afresh - alluding to the new world order theme of the Argus legend.

Musically, we've got a more crystallised sound than on previous offerings, nostalgic flavours, genre blending and somewhat long songs - particularly the instrumentals - that are typical of Progressive Rock wrapped up in fairly standard song formats. The formula is in place; The songs are familar verse chorus constructs with easy melodies, and the extended instrumental sections (bridge and coda) are refined improvisations erring on the side of strong melody, harmony and dramatic colouration taking place at an unhurried pace whatever the actual tempo of the piece.

But take a listen to the style with which Wishbone Ash put these simple elements together - this album is all about style, which it has in spades. And there's a LOT less twin-guitar duelling than many reviews of this album I've read would have you believe.

Time Was Immediately the message is put across; I've got to rearrange my life, I've got to rearrange my world. A clean folk-styled section introduces the piece, and the twin-barrelled vocals weave around the intertwining lines, spreading like ivy on the forest floor. For somehow, there are the flavours of wooded English countryside infusing the whole piece. John Tout (Renaissance keyboardman) supplies great organ atmopsherics.

Almost 3 minutes in, there is a sudden change in tempo and key, like a new piece has been unskillfully appended to what was, in fact an extended intro - and we're soon into guitar solo territory. As ever with Wishbone Ash, this is not a case of two chords being noodled over for hours... OK, so there ARE two chords, and it is quite long, but there is pathos and dynamic, returns to the vocal sections and added blues guitar interjections. Then there's the big change around 5:40 which leads to many more changes into minor keys, breakdowns and all manner of dramatic bits and pieces which keep the piece interesting for the whole of the 9:40 odd - even though no new ideas are presented for the last 3 minutes or so, which may turn a few off.

Sometime World is vaguely reminiscent of Pink Floyd - a common influence on Ash's early material - except for the attention-grabbing opening chords, which set the listener up for something altogether more dramatic than the gently-shifting soft chord progressions that follow. The instrumental sections are things of real beauty, surpassed only by the Floyd themselves and Camel - a couple of slightly kludgy chord changes being the only let-down.

All is forgiven by the change to the second instrumental around 2:30 though, with its round bass sound and CSNY/Yes styled vocal passages - altogether like a bluesier Yes in many ways. Or maybe Yes sounded like a less bluesy WA - who knows? The lead guitar (presumably Powell) certainly heats up in this one, with some passages bearing a passing resemblance to Lynyrd Skynrd's Freebird, of the following year, but the bass driving, almost Squire-like until the fade-out.

We might expect a gear-shift downwards at this point, but instead, the music picks up some more for the bouncy Blowin' Free, which features guitar solos between and even during the verses. An unexpected tempo change gives way to another CSNY styled section, so that this piece feels like an extension of Sometime World, and this in turn gives way to an almost complete breakdown before we return to the bouncy music, and more Skynyrd-style soloing.

One of my favourite moments in this album has always been flipping the vinyl over at this point, to be treated by the warm yet slightly aggressive sound of The King Will Come. After the wah- drenched fade-up, and the intensifying introduction, the bass features even more of that Squier - or possibly Entwhistle - growl, emphasising the regal strides, with tempo and dynamic changes a-plenty... just listen, OK!

Leaf and Stream is a great acoustic flavoured interlude, in which the English countryside is painted vividly in the lyrics, and the scene is set for the Warrior, seraching for something new. There are unmistakable flavours of early Genesis in here, and maybe the odd nod and wink to Floyd and Fleetwood Mac.

The Warrior is the high point of the album for me - all the music previously having set us up for this song, which is a powerful, clean-lined rocker, strident and mighty - the peak of Wishbone Ash's musical prowess and everything that is great about them. No new musical devices or styles here - but listen to how the ingredients are mixed together to form exactly the something new that the lyrics speak of searching for. Around 3 minutes into the song, the halfway point, begins the ultimate journey into Ash's music. Simply stunning stuff - the sort of music that raises neck hairs from half a mile away.

And then Throw Down The Sword does it again - and you have to listen to the album again. Here we finally get the twin guitar soloing that everyone goes on about - but Thin Lizzy or Iron Maiden it is not.

Marvellous album - truly classic rock at its best, that flirts mischeviously with Prog Rock, but never really attempts to enter into the hallowed portals, instead, preferring to set up hallowed portals all of its own. They didn't make many bands like Wishbone Ash, and there have been very few since. If you only own one of their albums, this is the one to own (buy!). And I'm sure it will tempt you further into their back catalogue (and check out what they're currently doing!).

Excellent addition to any ROCK collection, progressive or otherwise.

Don't miss out.

Certif1ed | 4/5 |


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