It’s not very often one comes across a highly melodic power pop record chock full of solid radio-ready material that’s this solid from beginning to end. Recess Serenade, the sophomore release from the Argument, is a rare treat indeed. With clean production courtesy of Ted Comerford (mixed by Paul David Hager and Mitch Easter), these songs all succeed, mixing a number of familiar elements into something refreshing and new.
Keyboardist Scott Simons (who prides himself as the only Jew in West Virginia) is the creative force behind this foursome. He’s supported in vocal harmonies by guitarist Matt Warder, bassist Brent Bunner and drummer Chris Russell. These guys know their music history and excel in delivering tight rock/pop songs with lots of sunny harmonies (it’s no wonder they’ve won several “best band” competitions). A real group of superb musicians putting out well-produced tuneful pastiches that trade on clever lyrics and have a host of hooks abounding — it’s a wondrous thing.
Musically, Simons and company recall a number of others, both old and new — there are hints of Queen, Jellyfish, The Tories, Fountains of Wayne, Ben Folds Five, Weezer, Bleu, and then some (pretty much the standard comparison references one finds these days).
The CD opens with “Song One” (appropriately enough), a charming and realistic recounting of getting his first guitar and subsequently writing that first song for his eighth-grade love, letting his heart “roll right off my sleeve, and onto an empty sheet of looseleaf”. It’s completely on target (if memory serves), and ends with a twist that is honest and perfect.
While those prone to auto accidents on Long Island write tunes about moving out, Simons and the Argument offer “Movin’ In”, a coming to terms with the inevitable realization that she’s about to share the territory: “She’s thrown out your best magazines / Your CD’s doubled in size / Laid out in stacks of 15, completely alphabetized / And you swear it’s just for now (not quite) / Picture frames and candles say otherwise”. The music here is reminiscent of the sort of radio hits you’d hear from Foreigner/Toto/Asia and that ilk way back when (and that’s not a bad thing).
The Argument go all Jellyfish in “Speak My Mind”, a love song with a rather unique viewpoint — that from a cat to its owner. Musically, there are lush multi-part harmonies and a great Brian May-type harmonic guitar lead. The lyrics are full of clever feline insights from one tired of being taken for granted: “I could just sleep all day, Just to stay up at night and keep you awake / If I could speak my mind / I’d go out on a limb / And say with a sigh ‘I’m the only one who sees you when you think you’re by yourself'”.
“Soaked” is more like something you’d typically hear on the radio (probably why it’s had some limited radio play, as well as being added to an XM channel’s playlist). It’s a pleasant mid-tempo examination of being inundated with thoughts of a certain someone — soaked, in fact.
Simons and company take aim at the hype and marketing that pollute our daily lives in “Everyone’s Selling Something”. Everyone is someone’s key demographic somewhere: “A horizon of billboards, a landscape of signs / Complete with bright colors and crafty sales pitch lines / On the side of each building on every inch of this town / Logos and dollar signs are all that count”. There are some catchy “Casio” tones that work well as song accents.
One of my favorites is the infectious “Call In Sick”, wherein a romantic interlude is suggested in lieu of work: “Pull the blinds and don’t take any calls, the machine can get them all / Today we don’t exist / You can fake a cold, I’ll fake a cough and we’ll call the whole day off / I doubt that we’ll be missed”.
Also great is the anthem to frustration “Act My Age”. Sounding like something Bleu might have written (ironically Simons and Bleu have. written material together), the singer is reluctant to get his act together; faced with real life, he’d rather return to younger days when you could call for a “do-over”.
“Practice Smiling” looks at a problematic relationship, one partner too busy for the other: “Just tell me how long I should keep waiting up for you? / I know you’re tired but you’ve got some catching up to do / So what did you expect? A ticker tape parade? / I’ll stand behind you ’cause I don’t want to get in the way / It’s alright, I’m fine, just keep pushing me aside”. The track features more great harmonies behind Simons’ distinctive vocals and fine guitar and bass work as well.
“Incognito” is another clever track, of a man keeping a low profile (chased by even more great harmonies). “My Dumb Luck” is a piano-driven ballad about a guy who has had great luck up to now, but wonders if his streak is about to end in a big collapse. Here, Simons lets loose with vocals that are big and emotional.
With songs this good and engaging, the Argument certainly deserve a wider audience and commercial success, but thus far it has eluded them. In spite of all that, Recess Serenade is a quality collection — ten songs that will have you singing along, wishing Simons and the Argument a chance to live out their rock star dreams.