A review made by guest writer/reviewer John Eje Thelin:
I realize that this is my second guest review that is fairly critical (although I did give the first album a passing grade), and that it is far easier to write a negative review than a positive one. So I will make a concerted effort to have my third one be about a release that I actually like, even though precious little modern “prog” impresses me much.
What’s in a Name?
The term “nominative determinism” means that your name might play a role in determining aspects of your profession (such as someone named “Shoemaker” ending up working as a cobbler, for instance), or even your character. Sigmund Freud called it ”the compulsion of the name”.
Band names are similar in some respects, not least because they are most often deliberately chosen to give some sort of impression. After all, there would hardly be a jazz-pop band called Shitshow, or metal band called Cuddlekitty.
So in music, even more so than when it comes to people, a name holds a key to at least the goals of the band, to how they want to be perceived. When it comes to this band having chosen Argus as its moniker, it is almost certainly a reference to hard rockers Wishbone Ash‘s third album. It’s a decent choice, signaling at least the musical intentions, if not actual achievements, of this particular group.
However, there is one major problem with this decision; there are at least seven bands already called Argus, several of them with more than one album under their belts (and one of them from the 70s, so there’s absolutely no excuse for not having managed to google at least them).
Okay, so they didn’t do their research – or, if they did, they decided to ignore the results. All that notwithstanding, it’s still a band name that points to a lack of imagination and creativity – like a punk band calling themselves The Bollocks – and that nominative determinism shows up in spades.
But the first thing that strikes you when listening to the debut of this, the 8th of all Arguses, is that the production is shockingly weak for this day and age; this would be a decent effort on a Portastudio three decades ago, but there’s really no excuse for sounding like this when anyone can have a professional-level DAW on their laptop (the guitar is especially egregious, often sounding like it was recorded backwards through a megaphone).
To me, though, the major problem is that there’s very little melodic or harmonic sophistication here. Like much of what gets called prog today, it’s structured a bit like prog, but the content is mostly just regular rock (I don’t think there’s even an odd meter anywhere – I mean, come on, that’s covered on day one of Prog School).
In the end, there’s not a single moment anywhere on Tell Me! where the easy, obvious chords and melodies take a shift into something unexpected or exciting. Admittedly, the title track tries to be a little surprising by having an oddly out-of-place metal riff as the chorus – although it just ends up sounding like a punk song stumbling drunkenly into the studio.
To add insult to injury, the timing of the keyboard player is often off (and his sound palette dire), the drumming is flat and uninspired throughout, and the guitar solos are almost impressively pedestrian. At its best, this sounds like a cassette-only demo by a deservedly obscure 80s neo prog band.
Mostly, though, it just sounds like an entry at the local high school talent show circa 1987, where some hard rock dudes paired up with a guy who owns a Juno-106 and thinks Mark Kelly in that new band Marillion is the bee’s knees.
* (out of five) John Eje Thelin
- Crisis (9.34)
- Tell Me (7.01)
- What If (8.11)
- My Star (9.39)
- Sick Girl (7.38)
- The Wall (7.25)
You can read Iris’ review about Tell Me! here: