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Gentle Giant - The Power And The Glory  CD (album) cover

THE POWER AND THE GLORY

Gentle Giant

 

Eclectic Prog

4.26 | 998 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Pnoom!
4 stars MINOR UPDATES 05/08/07

Gentle Giant in all their glory.

So far as I am concerned, the greatest aspect of life is time. There are several reasons why I feel this way, but I will limit myself to the one reason that relates to the album in question. With time comes change. Change is inevitable, and one particular change is change in taste. My tastes have changed recently, especially within the realm of music, and this has lead to me being able to detect beauty where I previously found only ugliness. And so it has been with this album. In the time that has passed since I first bought this album, my tastes have changed almost entirely, from basic symphonic prog to more challenging sub-genres like RIO/Avant-prog and Krautrock, and also Gentle Giant (whose classification goes beyond any one sub-genre).

When I first bought this album, I mostly liked symphonic prog. At that time, symphonic prog was the most challenging music I had ever heard, and my delicate ears couldn't yet handle the amazing world of Gentle Giant. Sure, I liked Octopus and In a Glass House, but this album was in a class of its own in terms of how challenging it was. And I just couldn't tolerate it. No more. Since that time, my tastes have moved ever further from symphonic prog (though I still love it, especially when the Italians do it) and into newer, more challenging areas of prog.

The only really good way to describe Gentle Giant is to say that they are one of a kind. Of the four Gentle Giant albums I own (from Octopus through Free Hand), I cannot pinpoint two that sound alike. Each of the four is a different beast, and each is wonderful. Octopus is a fun album, putting more emphasis on vocal harmonies than on music (though the music is still excellent). In a Glass House focuses on pushing complexity to its limit (and then some), with the vocals taking a backseat. Free Hand veers towards hard rock, though still some of the most complex hard rock you'll ever find. Of these, Free Hand is excellent, In a Glass House is even more excellent, and Octopus is nearly a masterpiece. The Power and the Glory, however, puts all these albums to shame. It is simply on a different level. The vocals rival those of Octopus (including some throwback vocal harmonies), but it is the music that truly lifts this album. The music is a strange blend of Gentle Giant and RIO, and it works perfectly.

I'm not sure why, but most Gentle Giant fans pinpoint three concept albums from their discography (Three Friends, The Power and the Glory, and Interview). I view In a Glass House as a concept album about escape, making the Power and the Glory the third of four concept albums. The Power and The Glory is a satire of the Watergate scandal, using this as a springboard to condemn all abuse of power. This album features what is probably the band's greatest lyrical work, So Sincere. Every line contradicts the line preceding it in marvelous fashion as our abusive leader assures us that all he says is "so sincere." On the musical end of the spectrum, this is a keyboard-dominated album, but each instrument is given due time to shine, and shine they all do. This is, at least among the four I know (though I recently bought but haven't heard two more), Gentle Giant's greatest work, a masterpiece through and through.

The Power and the Glory opens with Proclamation, which may well be my favorite on the album. It begins with some delightful keyboards work and vocals, followed by a semi- chorus. This cycle then repeats, except with new vocal harmonies that are, quite "simply," stunning. Another keyboard section follows, leading into chanting of, "Hail to power and to glory's name." The opening section is repeated with slightly different music, now in more of a RIO vein. On the whole this is a hybrid of Gentle Giant and RIO, not completely RIO, but with considerable similarities. It can be crazy and off-putting, but only in the best of ways. As I've said, it may be my favorite on the album, but .

I may have spoken too soon. So Sincere comes on next, and it is just as good as if not better than Proclamation. While Proclamation was Gentle Giant done in a RIO style, this is RIO done in Gentle Giant style. Trying to describe this track is nearly impossible, as it is one of the craziest songs I know. Keyboards again play a large role, and while the vocals don't utilize harmonies, they are still quite effective. The lyrics, of course, are Gentle Giant's very best. The best I can do to give you a feel for what the music is really like is to say that if you tried to dance to it, even the most experienced progger doctor would think you were having a seizure. The guitar solo is, and there's no other accurate way to put it, blistering.

Unfortunately, the next two songs, while still excellent, are also the weakest two. Aspirations is a slower song with gorgeous vocals, but it never really builds. Not all good songs have to build, but the way this song goes about not building is quite annoying. Several times during the song it approaches a point where it feels like it should build, only to revert back to its old ways. I probably sound too harsh, however, because I truly do enjoy this track. A lot.

Playing the Game is a notch up from Aspirations. The opening keyboard melody is, admittedly, somewhat silly, but the rest of the song that comes in on top is anything but. It is upbeat, and the bass work is simply exquisite. The vocals are wonderfully done, and the lyrics perfectly convey a politician manipulating the system to serve his own ends. The best part, however, comes in after around three minutes, with keyboards that reach out and grab you. There are slight RIO influences here, and the buildup is wonderful, what you always wanted Aspirations to do. We're now halfway through the album, and the second half, like the first quarter, is sure to blow your mind.

Cogs in Cogs competes with Proclamation and So Sincere for the title of best song on the album. Cogs in Cogs is full of boundless energy in a way I've only ever seen Gentle Giant muster, and, like So Sincere, this song is nearly indescribable. The vocal harmonies in the middle section are exquisite, and the solo vocals in the opening and closing sections are equally as good. It's short, barely breaking three minutes, but it single-handedly proves that songs can be progressive no matter the length.

No God's a Man not only has one of the best song titles I know, but it is also a truly excellent song, another competitor for my favorite on this album full of favorites. It opens innocently enough with soft keyboards and guitar plucking, but don't let yourself be fooled, not even by the beautiful melody that comes in soon after. While not a RIO/avant track, No God's A Man packs just as much of a punch as those that are RIO/avant. The vocal harmonies are some of my favorite of the Giant's, and this song wouldn't feel out of place on Octopus (though it fits much better here, of course). The guitar solo is another winner, and once it ends (all too quickly), the music reaches a height of complexity that is simply beautiful and will appeal to all Gentle Giant fans. Now that I've discussed the music, let me explain why I love the title as much as I do. Extending the contraction yields No God is a Man. The president here is a God figure to his people. Now, remember the adage, "absolute power corrupts absolutely?" Well, this president tries to exercise absolute power, as he would if he were God, and is thus "corrupt[ed] absolutely." He acts in inhumane ways (putting focus on inhumane). Thus, any person who exercises God powers becomes inhumane, or, rephrased: No God's a Man.

The Face is another song that may well be my favorite on the album. Like Cogs in Cogs, it is frantic and full of boundless energy, never staying the same for longer than it has to. More RIO/avant elements come into play, adding to the incredible complexity already present. Guitar is as prominent as keyboards here. This is a unique song (like most sons on this album), again making it hard to describe accurately. Imagine In a Glass House (the song), one of the most complex songs I know, taken to new levels of complexity. There you have it: The Face.

I've listed several songs so far that could be my favorite on this album, but the truth is, not one of the five I mentioned actually is my favorite, for Valedictory blows them all out of the water. In many ways, it is a reprise of Proclamation, only with slightly different music (notably more complex), and different lyrics. The music has more energy than Proclamation (which is saying something). I will go so far as to say that vocals are Gentle Giant's very best, and the dominant guitar riff is one of my favorites by any band. In terms of progressiveness, imagine Genesis's Can-utility and the Coastliners, only with more changes in less time. And that gives you the amazing Valedictory, a perfect closer to this album. The album does come with a bonus track (the title track), which is a fun little number, but nothing truly special.

At this point in my review, I'll discuss the concept of the album in more detail, for it truly is one of the greatest concept albums in terms of how the concept is executed. Proclamation, which opens the album, announces (or proclaims) the ascension of a new president. This president tells of how he'll fix the problems (or rather, how nothing needs to change). So Sincere begins our president's corruption. He is deceiving the people, saying one thing and meaning another, which the lyrics perfectly convey, "every word is lies, he only tells the truth, for he believes it, means not anything he says." Aspirations tells of how the people are fooled, convinced they've found a president who will fix their perceived problems. With Playing the Game, we see how our president manipulates the political system for his own ends, trying to assure that he'll "never ever lose" an election. Cogs in Cogs continues this theme, telling of how the gears of the president's corruption machine keep on churning. Now we're up to No God's a Man, which shows how public opinion has turned against the president. In The Face, however, the president sweet talks to the people and manages to weasel his way out of the predicament, making a bunch of meaningless apologies and denying wrongdoing (think: "I am not a crook"). Finally, with Valedictory, we see the people re-unite behind the corrupt president. The cycle is set to repeat, as the reprise of Proclamation that forms Valedictory shows that we are right back where we began. There has been "no change."

And that is the marvelous album The Power and the Glory. As I have said, it is a masterpiece well worth your time. There is one last point, however, that I would like to make before concluding this review. I would like to discuss what makes music progressive. There certainly are many characteristics of progressive rock that we could all name (multi-part songs/epics, unusual time signatures, etc.), but I feel that these are mere byproducts. After all, progressive electronic along the lines of Kraftwerk is far removed from the jazz rock of the Mahavishnu Orchestra. What binds them is not similar music, it is the mindset with which the music was approached. What makes music progressive is that the band/artist behind the music puts their efforts into doing something new. The byproducts of this form what we call "prog." Thus, while bands like Spock's Beard have many prog characteristics, they are not truly progressive. Likewise, the Beatles may not be prog, but they were certainly progressive. Gentle Giant, however, got the best of both worlds. Not only were they incredibly progressively-minded, they also produced some of the greatest "prog" music we know. The Power and the Glory sits behind only Octopus in Gentle Giant's stellar discography. 4.5 stars.

Pnoom! | 4/5 |

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