Arc "... at this" 1971
I've been wanting to sing the praises of this album for some time.
Arc was, more or less, Skip Bifferty minus singer Graham Bell. Skip Bifferty left behind one obscure self-titled album of tough psychedelic pop rock that ranks, in my mind, with the best "sons of Pepper" like the Zombies' "Odyssey and Oracle", Family's "Music in a Doll's House" and the Stones' "Their Satanic Majesties Request". While the rest of Skip Bifferty were busy being Arc, Graham Bell was singing lead for Brian Davidson's Every Which Way, who left behind one obscure self-titled album of Trafficesque progressive groove rock. Eventually, Bell and Arc were reunited in the appropriately named Bell+Arc, who left behind one obscure self-titled album of gospel/soul-influenced progressive rock.
Confused? You won't be after this episode of Soap!
Anyway, Arc were clearly the most original of the bunch, for though they only left behind one album, and it is obscure, they did actually go to the trouble of giving it a title: "Arc...At This". Judging by the cover, I'm guessing this is some sort of British football reference.
I've seen this album referred to as "bluesy" or "blues-influenced", but don't worry, there's na'ry a twelve bar progression to be found. It's just that these guys still enjoy a good pentatonic scale rather than, oh, imitating Bartok or something. In other words, these guys haven't forgotten the last syllable of the phrase "progressive rock".
Now, let's get one caveat out of the way: The first track, "Let Your Love Run Through", has positively godawful lyrics that, in the context of this album, may as well be Warrant singing about cherry pie - except that Warrant didn't sound pretentious doing so. "Unleash your passion and let your love light flow", indeed.
But, having aired my one pet peeve, I must acknowledge that the music of "Let Your Love Run Through" is a fine slice of proggy hard rock, the rest of the music on the album is as good or better, and none of their lyrics noticeably offend me from track two onwards.
Like the Mandrake Memorial, this is a guitar-keys-bass-drums band where there is a good balance and symmetry between the two lead instruments, with neither completely dominating the proceedings nor being relegated to obscurity in the mix. It's a tough, muscular sound, hard but never dumb, topped with vocals confident and distinctive enough to make you wonder why they needed Graham Bell before and after this album.
And the songs? Some boast a tight pop structure, others are a little more complex, all are excellent. "Four Times Eight" and "Sophie's Cat" are pure classic British whimsy, "It's Gonna Rain" and "Perfectly Happy Man" unleash some very likeable rockist melodrama, "An Ear Ago" and "You're in the Garden" showcase a gentler, folkier side to the band, and "Great Lager Street" and "Hello Hello Monday" are two more wonderful songs that I can't think of any specific to say about at this time.
Trying to compare Arc to another band has me equally at a loss for words. I really can't think of any specific artist that Arc bears more than a passing resemblance to, not even the friends and relations I chronicled earlier. They are simply Arc, and from where I'm standing, that's enough.DL