- by Bill Golembeski Rating:10 Release Date:1972-04-28 Label: Decca Records
The Rolling Stones sang, “It’s only rock ‘n’ roll.” Well, that’s true, but this album by Wishbone Ash is, quite simply, musical magic.
Now, the first two Ash records had moments of brilliance, with songs like “Errors of My Way,” “The Pilgrim,” “Jailbait,” “Valediction,” and, of course, “Phoenix.” But Argus is, from its introspective start to the dramatic finish, simply sublime (and very British) progressive guitar rock music.
Didn’t Elizabeth Barrett Browning say something about How do I love thee? So, with that in mind, allow me to count the wonders of this record.
“Time Was” begins the journey with Ted Turner’s acoustic guitar set against harmony vocals that beg for a recovery, a new way, and a hope to “rearrange my life.” And then, with the arrival of Steve Upton’s drums, the song takes flight into hard chords that punch like The Who; the vocals soar; Andy Powell’s guitar bites and teases, until it completely crisscrosses the known universe with William Turner brush strokes, and then that Flying Vee suddenly darts into a folk-rock dance that is, in its own Wishbone way, equal to any Richard Thompson electric Stonehenge solo.
“Sometime World” ups the mystical bet. Again, there’s a dreamy intro with Martin Turner’s angelic vocal. It is quite beautiful. Then things shimmer for a bit, until an absolutely gorgeous bass line propels the song into an orbit that inhabits some other “sometime world” in which Andy Powell’s guitar solo sings with folk and jazz and rock blended into rock ‘n’ roll thaumaturgy.1
Just an idea: The lyrics to these songs have a quasi-sibylline sense to them. And, on the official Quasi-Sibylline Sense Lyric Rating, Ash’s Argus is slightly above Uriah Heep’s Demon and Wizards, but just a tad below Yes’s Close to the Edge.
That said, “Blowin’ Free,” thankfully, brings this music back to the here and now of great boogie rock ‘n’ roll. One thing to say: the quiet guitar bit is Ted Turner at his best Peter Green soulful sound. The song really doesn’t fit the cosmic ethos of the record. But it’s nice reprise of the “Jailbait” bluesy roots of the band. To quote my friend, Kilda Defnut, “This one rocks.” She also thinks that Steely “Reeling in the Years” Dan should say a big, “Thank you.”
“The King Will Come” welcomes the Apocalypse with a wonderous wah-wah solo. That’s about as good as religion gets. Oh my! This one sings salvation and then punches and pulses with a melody that dances with the best devil in the sacred arena of 70’s rock. And a special mention goes to the early Wishbone vocals which often combined harmonies by Andy, Martin, and Ted. They were once compared to CSN&Y. I took that as a compliment.
By the way, the guy who airbrushed the UFO on the back cover of the Remastered & Revisited Argus should be consigned to one of the lower circles of Dante’s Inferno.
Ah, but “Leaf and Stream” is pure crystal spring water beauty. It’s autumnal beauty. It’s acoustic heaven. It’s a sweet memory that melts with age. This is Martin Turner alone on vocals singing the lovely lyrics written by drummer Steve Upton, which capture the absolute burbled beauty in nature for anyone who seeks the contemplation of any river’s thought. The continuing sense of loss permeates the tune, especially with the guitar duet that melts, just like the before-mentioned sweet memory.
And then, in the end, this record sings to the soul, the soul with clenched fist, and the soul with an open palm. “Warrior” is tough and is eager for a necessary fight. Andy Powell’s guitar again spins time back and forth, while Ted Turner caresses melodic and spooky blues. That chorus erupts as the anger swells and then subsides into muted passion.
What follows is the melodic defiant folk guitar melody that seamlessly ebbs, with the Cecil Sharp purity, and serves as a musical bridge that links (with yin and yang rock ‘n’ roll acuity) hostility to harmony.
The final epic, “Throw Down the Sword,” slows to a dramatic and majestic finale that could, perhaps, be the soundtrack to the Lord of the Rings ending in which Gandalf, Bilbo, Frodo, a bunch of Elves, and (according to family tradition) Samwise Gamgee sailed from The Grey Havens, because, you know, they all touched the Ring. Yeah, this music is that good, and it possesses the most beautiful of a gloriously guitar played sunset that ever touched the final grooves of a classic rock ‘n’ roll album.
Of course, it just has to be said: This record is a Phoenix that rises again and again through so many spinning years, to, like all great albums, rise once more and be, as Bob Dylan was known to sing, Forever Young.
1Thank you, Kilda Defunt, for this word. It’s a big one, but it means “the capability of a magician or saint to work magic or miracles.” Andy Powell has done that most of his professional life.