Alan Clayson & The Argonauts
This Cannot Go On…
A new Argonauts release is quite an event in the life of your scribe. I am pleased to report that the current ensemble lineup have done themselves proud on this new selection box of Clayson compositions. The act’s performances are a blend of drama, whimsy, storytelling, jagged rhythms, reflection and more – sometimes within the same song. With the gear/hardware utilised by many a po-faced prog act, The Argonauts sail in different waters, with no unjustified props or stances of grandeur or – thank the Heavens ! – extended show-off instrumental breaks to detract from the compositions’ impact. After all this time, this crew hardly needs to prove its skills and can therefore concentrate on the dynamic required to enhance each number. Variety is guaranteed, perhaps because as a writer of note, Alan is exposed to all kinds of music and can often but not always find something of merit in what he experiences. The effect of a new Argonauts record is akin to happening upon an excellent collection of short stories – plenty to savour and think about but equally able to bring you a simple tale of love. Clayson’s erudition notwithstanding, he avoids the Elvis Costello swallowed-a-dictionary syndrome by being both wordsmith and musician. No song here is overloaded with words. What may strike the new listener is the Englishness of the band’s works but the self-consciousness that sometimes tainted XTC is not present here. To appreciate this crew, the mind should be opened and any expectations set aside.
Opening cut This Time Tomorrow keens on eerie Hammond, emphatic vocal with measured reverb, the stabbing beat to the fore. A dancing counterpoint synth – Andy Lovery – weaves through some verses, a brief chorus 3-Ds the lyric. A greasy sax from John Harries adds motifs. For all this business, the song is melodic and catchy.
The Refugees rides in on sax and a wild-eyed talespinner this turns out to be. The ensemble sound is characteristically thick and burnished but every detail is heard, not least the crisp snare. Clayson sings of blood and fire and countdowns. At 2:00 the sax battles apocalyptic waves of keys. Another song that will lend itself to lively performance. Rumination on the role of children just adds to the impact. An Orwellian ending, too. Fame And Fortune has a pretty melody and a story of a US jaunt by a jazz dreamer, Prohibition era unless I have this wrong. A tempo change is deftly handled.
Lone Cloud has a rather unsettling intro, a sort of jittery aural mist. Name another act that can sound like this. Distant echoes of shortlived psych essayists United States Of America strike me, here. The guitar artistry of Pete Cox is by now evident. He knows when to play out and when to hold back. No bravado, just what is right for the song, every time. Derrytown Lane is a brisk reminiscence, romantic and brief. Geronimo is I suspect a key track on this opus, flanged organ bouncing it all along and a strident melody dominant. If I Lost You hints at Macarthur Park in its frantic start and indeed the singing has urgency, stops here and there intrigue the listener. Some bottom end singing is used on the title lines. Young England has Yardbirds guitar chording and a quasi-martial tempo. Clayson can make this sort of construction work. Alan Barwise drums his way through this with a purposeful confidence. Paul Critchfield on bass could be auditioning for The Creation. (That’s a compliment)
The Local Mister Strange has John Otway adding Theremin. Doubtless the one he left near my gear for my backside to trigger when I opened for him once, the swine. Good that I have no dignity to puncture, you Home Counties Saboteur ! This is a psych gem imho…and from an artist known to blast his way through Arnold Layne on occasion.
Looking For A Monday commences with stabbing piano. Clayson sings of English places and stamp on buzz phrases. Too clued up to be bitter, Alan lets the song roll. Beautiful slide guitar appears from nowhere. Somewhere, the ghost of Oscar Wilde smiles approval. Teenage Runaway brings us a queasy Pat Boone tempo to start then a racing rock beat for the lyric. Johnny, in the narrative here seems to be a Legend In His Own Mind…..
Aetheria stomps into earshot and one of the best and best-arranged songs is here. The sound is dense and the changes pronounced. The group has its own vocabulary of dynamic twists and turns which does make for compelling live shows. I have no idea what the song is about. But that goes for me and Dylan’s My Back Pages and I like that. Angelette has a Continental tinge. A gorgeous bassline goes its own way and sounds perfect in this song. I Hear Voices rocks out with urgency and the lyric hints at paranoia. Or does it ? It’s gripping, either way. Last inclusion here is Landwaster going for a sort of fanfare start giving way to a fast and exciting piece, all aboard singing and energy in abundance, putting many a younger act to shame.
A band with a mission, for certain. Alan – this HAS to go on…..please ?