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Gentle Giant - Three Friends  CD (album) cover

THREE FRIENDS

Gentle Giant

 

Eclectic Prog

4.12 | 825 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Pnoom!
3 stars After releasing two stellar albums (Gentle Giant and Acquiring the Taste) to begin their musical careers, to say that they had a lot to live up with their third release would stand as one of the greatest understatements ever uttered. Thankfully, they live up to all the expectations put upon them, and purpose even surpass them all, and somehow manage that while changing their sound in the process, going from a band experimenting with hard rock to a band experimenting with music in general (though they would, with Free Hand, eventually return to experimenting with hard rock). With this album, we start to see the "more complex than you can imagine" mentality that would last through Interview and the use of complex and skilled vocal harmonies that would all but disappear when Phil Shulman left after Octopus. Whereas Gentle Giant (the album) was complex and challenging but still basically hard rock and Acquiring the Taste was complex and challenging and also experimental, but, again, still basically hard rock, this album is complex, challenging, experimental, hard rocking (but not quite hard rock, though some of those tendencies are still there), and then some. As we see, Gentle Giant was, at this stage, truly progressing as a band, adding new layers onto all their albums.

Despite the move away from hard rock as a base style, this album still rocks. hard. The songs are full of relentless energy and pound away with no sign of letting up, and Gentle Giant work around this to create some of the most complex music you can imagine, but without scaring off the average listener. The vocals alternate between those of their first two albums (aggressive and somewhat raw, but unique) and also start the vocal harmonies best associated with their Phil Shulman era. As for the music itself, it is some of the most accomplished and complex music I've ever heard, with at least ten layers at all times (or so it seems), never allowing the listener to get bored, even if, for some inexplicable reason, said listener is trying with all his/her might to be bored to death. Right from the opener, Prologue, we are fed catchy yet complex riffs, subtle textures, and, ultimately, perfection. Though neither of their first two albums had any weak songs, they did have some variation in quality, from major highs to songs of middling quality. This album is glued together by consistency. With only six songs, each one better be essential, and each one is.

One thing I haven't mentioned in any of my recent Gentle Giant reviews (Free Hand, Gentle Giant, and Acquiring the Taste) is the musicianship of the band. But let me just put it out there for you now: these guys can really play! I'm not sure exactly who plays what instrument (except that Phil Shulman plays sax and Kerry Minnear plays keyboards), and it certainly doesn't help my memory (NOT their music) that they all play somewhere in the vicinity of a hundred instruments each (and all to phenomenally), but they are all amazing musicians and masters of their instruments. The bass particularly stands out on this album as more excellent than the rest of it (which is saying something), and the keyboard work is enough to make even Rick Wakeman and Keith Emerson jealous. What this high level of musicianship means for the music is that Gentle Giant is able to make all their songs both catchy and complex (one of their greatest strengths, in my book), and it also simple makes them able to actually pull the songs off.

This album is a concept album (Gentle Giant's first of four - Three Friends, In a Glass House, The Power and the Glory, and Interview), but I really wouldn't worry about that too much. First off, the concept isn't particularly interesting (something about three friends who go separate ways), and also, more importantly, Gentle Giant, as good as they were musically, simply weren't very good in the lyrics department. While not bad, per se, they could use a lot of work, and the concept just isn't pulled off very well. But remember those vocal harmonies?... now that's something Gentle Giant could do, and the lyrics simply serve as notes for their amazing vocal skills. Anyway, this is an essential Gentle Giant album (along with, well, almost all of them up through Interview, really), and is thereby also essential in any progressive rock collection. A fun but challenging album. Highly recommended.

Pnoom! | 3/5 |

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