Review Summary: Rod Argent's zombie-walking into the 70s progressive rock scene.
Caught between the rise of the progressive rock scene that flooded into the 70s and the lack of immediate impact on sales of The Zombies' Odessey & Oracle
in 1968, English keyboard virtuoso Rod Argent felt it was the right time to jump off the old wagon, let it crash, and start anew. Progressive pop rock Argent was formed in 1969, just as The Zombies' last relevant release was starting to echo its success in the charts with extreme delay. It included Rod Argent and his former band's bass player, Chris White, who would just work as a producer and co-writer for the band's debut. The rhythm section was comprised of bassist Jim Rodford and drummer Robert Henrit (a few years before they would go on to join The Kinks). Prolific songwriter, singer and guitarist Russ Ballard completed the line-up that would record Argent's outstanding debut in 1970.
Argent's music, rooted in the psychedelic pop of The Zombies but veering towards a much heavier sound, was a shock for those who saw this new project as the logical follow-up to the late success of Odessey & Oracle
. Rod Argent's new adventure showed a stronger influence from American rock, far from the Beatles' tribute band sound that had blessed and cursed the Zombies across the years. The second track, "Liar", is a fine example, with its explosive chorus and playful guitar solos, was like nothing Rod Argent had done before, partly because of the fresh approach Ballard brought to the songs. The fantastic summer vibe of "Be free" and the sticky melody of the lyrically disturbing but otherwise sweet "Schoolgirl" are two tracks I would personally highlight going in Argent
on a first listen, probably due to the discernible influence of The Zombies in these two middle cuts. "Dance in the Smoke" follows up showing how Rod Argent and co. were trying to delve deeper into the progressive rock scene but unable to give up the psychedelic pop they grew up with. The mix is quite interesting though, with plenty of melody hooks and brilliant vocal harmonies gliding over rhythm patterns that never get too complicated but still let room for intense moments like the brief keyboard unwinding and impromptu jam at the end of the track.
's second half is a bit less fruitful, only saved by the smooth and slick atmosphere of "The Feeling is inside", and the irresistible charm of "Stepping Stone", where Russ Ballard his strengths as a front man, leading the vocals with impressive highs and mellow tones. The closer, "Bring you joy" is a rather inconsequential blues ballad that closes Argent's debut without fireworks, leaving a sour taste that contrasts greatly with the vibrant first half of the album. Although the band would go on to make six more studio albums and several live recordings, Argent's ever-growing presence and intention to make Argent a full-on progressive rock act eclipsed Ballard's writing, right until the latter left to pursue his solo affair. And may that be the real value of Argent
and its gentle blending of influences, a moment of transition into the new decade shared by talented songwriters that would sadly never happen again.