4.5 out of 5 Stars!
Through the many years since Wishbone Ash first appeared on the music scene, my friends have continually and playfully (or sometimes, intensely and angrily, depending on their level of alcohol consumption) bantered over which of the studio albums in the group’s catalogue is its finest work of art. Back in the olden days (around the time of the band’s magnificent Live Dates album, one of the greatest live recordings of all time, in my opinion) my answer was always Argus, the group’s third release. And now, more than four decades later, even with more than twenty additional Wishbone Ash studio platters over which to debate, my response still remains the same, and unless miracles happen to alter my perspective, it likely always will.
Now, I’m in no way claiming that any Wishbone Ash album other than Argus is somehow undeserving of the “best studio album” spot, since I find the overall quality of several of the band’s other releases quite high. Indeed, I feel that the 1970 debut album, along with Pilgrimage, There’s the Rub, New England, and Just Testing, all contain generally top-level material, and I also find the majority of the group’s other early albums (prior to 1980) fairly entertaining. It’s just that, when hearing Argus even nowadays, intense memories of people and places and events instantly spring to mind. This album greatly contributed to the soundtrack of my early teen years, and the cherished recollections the music conjures will forever play an integral part regarding my feelings toward this particular platter (as well as for Live Dates).
But even putting aside my impassioned opinions and looking at this album objectively, Argus has a ton going for it. Not only is the songwriting quality consistent throughout the album, with the performances by each musician outstanding, but the band at this point in time (drummer Steve Upton, bassist Martin Turner, and guitarists Andy Powell and Ted Turner—the classic lineup) elected to incorporate an intriguing blend of everything from Blues, Country, Folk, and Prog-Rock into its often-catchy Hard Rock style. The band’s trademarked twin-guitar sound borders on rock ‘n’ roll perfection, while the song arrangements are often deceptively intricate and energetically charged. And best of all, the album contains a commendable balance of both heavy and light moments, with most of the seven tracks—”Throw Down the Sword,” “Blowin’ Free,” “Warrior,” “Time Was,” and “The King Will Come”—becoming long-standing concert favorites. And even the two additional tunes included—”Sometime World” and “Leaf and Stream”—have an undeniable charm that makes Argus, for me, not only a perfectly sequenced collection of tunes, but also a rich bounty of those exquisite memories I mentioned above.
But is the album an unblemished masterpiece? No, not quite, as I feel some of the vocals—never Wishbone Ash’s strongest asset, if the truth be told—could have been “tweaked and patched” to match the utter perfection of the guitars and rhythm section. Additionally, although Derek Lawrence’s production is highly commendable given the technology of the era, I would have liked the songs to have a tad more ambience, a “big hall” sound, which is why the tracks on Argus that also appear on Live Dates possessed an even greater allure for me in a concert setting.
Nevertheless, despite these slight flaws, Argus is a Hard Rock classic, and for the reasons stated above, will forever remain my favorite studio album from this extraordinary band.