Since Grant Hart released his last solo album, 2009’s Hot Wax, two major books about his former band, Hüsker Dü, have been published: Andrew Earles’ Hüsker Dü: The Story Of The Noise-Pop Pioneers Who Launched Modern Rock and See A Little Light: The Trail Of Rage And Melody, a memoir by Hart’s erstwhile bandmate, Bob Mould. With all that history flying around, Hart may be thinking about his legacy. His role as co-leader of Hüsker Dü is as untouchable as it is unimpeachable; throughout the ’80s, he helped push the band into melodic, poetic, and even romantic realms that Mould never could have on his own. Since Hüsker Dü’s breakup in 1987, Hart has released albums only sporadically, both solo and with his defunct band Nova Mob. All have shown glimpses of his former glory, but none have come close to touching it. That is, until The Argument.
Sprawled across 20 songs, The Argument is a concept album as ambitious as Hüsker Dü’s 1984 opus Zen Arcade. Here, though, Hart taps into one of the most threadbare sources of material, John Milton’s Paradise Lost. But Hart tackles Milton’s tale of man’s tragic fall from grace with an inversely proportionate amount of triumph. Songs like “Morningstar” and “Underneath The Apple Tree” frame Satan as, alternately, a hypnotic Pied Piper of chantlike hooks and a sly, Rudy Vallée-esque crooner. Singing in character, Hart lends his eroded voice—a more cracked, more careworn, yet more versatile instrument than it once was—to the vast, theatrical scope of his narrative, never once losing an air of brittle intimacy. He shoots for the rafters, and he hits every seat. And unlike Zen Arcade, which tests even the most faithful fan with the 13-minute “Reoccurring Dreams,” The Argument concludes with the gorgeous, bittersweet, Donovan-like “For Those Too High Aspiring”—which harks back to Hüsker Dü’s Hart-sung version of Donovan’s “Sunshine Superman” from 1983, the first hint of the melodic direction and reverence to tradition the band would come to embrace.
For a 20-track album, The Argument doesn’t squander a note. Nuggets of distorted garage-pop bliss like “Glorious”—which could easily pass as a long-lost Hüsker Dü song, and a good one at that—flow organically into near-orchestral passages of static-addled atmosphere like “War In Heaven.” But ‘Glorious” isn’t the only nod to Hart’s old band; when it’s not paying homage to Buddy Holly, “Letting Me Out” echoes Hüsker Dü’s “Charity, Chastity, Prudence, And Hope,” while the mood-steeped “Is The Sky The Limit?” bears an uncanny resemblance to “Flexible Flyer.” Yet it feels like neither self-parody nor self-plagiarism. Instead, Hart owns every inch of his considerable songwriting skills, something he’s seemed hesitant to do as a solo artist. Until now. Considering the breadth and depth of his work with Hüsker Dü, Hart doesn’t need to secure his legacy; that’s already been done. But with The Argument, he’s substantially and staggeringly added to it.