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Gentle Giant - Gentle Giant CD (album) cover

GENTLE GIANT

Gentle Giant

 

Eclectic Prog

3.92 | 1116 ratings

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steamhammeralltheway
5 stars I personally think most rock albums are products of recycling. This even happens in prog., and Giant are offenders. This is a by-product of them being pinnacle of the peak. Often in this world, if one soars incredibly high, there will be shattering, plummeting lows, as well. The predictable chromatic shifts of "Pantagruel's Nativity" along with the alienating jazz riffs, are mined many times in Giant's career. "Pantagruel," only from Giant's second album, is ultimately brilliantly constructed with some ethereal vocal overdubs, but the group's self-titled debut album is a creative and emotional statement supreme. If this album doesn't give you chills and move you to tears every step of the way, then the morgue might need to be called.

From the minute this album opens with "Giant", it is very clear that this is something truly special. "Giant," the group's namesake composition, indeed is a towering masterpiece. A better written, more deeply developed and expertly performed track would be hard to find. Atmospheric organ sets a mind-expanding tone, soon underscored by the arriving bass guitar. Then the vocal line bursts in. And what a melody it is, in a tension-building seventh chord and a configuration of notes that is completely fresh and startling, but at the same time soothing and entrancing. Then the woodwinds enter in perfectly premeditated fashion as to frame and accentuate the vocal melody just rendered. The particular woodwind style used gives the song both a slightly Renaissance and jazz feel, the jazz a direction only touched on and not consumptive of the song; that is a good thing for us rock people. The woodwind line and for that matter, the song as a whole, is so beautiful and original as to transcend any style or category. Something truly brilliant usually stands on its own rather than being genre-serving.

"Giant's" middle section is sparse and pensive, an understatement making by contrast a perfect grand entrance for the band's glorious coming out. That is marked with a stimulating new vocal line: "He is coming . Are you ready ?" Drums deftly herald this unveiling. Then back to the verse, which is now far more spirited. The instrumental section is a celebratory jam out between organ, mellotron and the occasional woodwind, waxing symphonic but grounded by punchy rock drums.

The next track, "Funny Ways," couldn't be better to follow the "Giant's" romp. It is as introspectingly melancholy as "Giant" was haltingly festive, and contains some of rock's most original opening lines. A sultry, pensive violin or cello serenades the lovely intricacies of a twelve-string guitar. Then the most haunting of vocal melodies unfolds. The violin continues to flavor the vocals. In the next iteration of the verse, skillful banjo strumming heightens the exquisiteness of the melody. Then a more forceful statement is laid down with the vocal "My ways are strange.," all the while the strings dramatizing. The instrumental solo is virtusosic if not dazzling, more important in rock annals for organ giving way to a hot blues guitar interpolated by snarly sax, and not in the slightest jazz-indulgent. The song closes with the melody revisited accapella, save for bodhran or toms in an echoey production.

The next track "Alucard," if not as original melody-wise as the first two tracks, is a head-banging riot of raucous organ spiked with memorable sax and synthesizer lines. It's a bit reminiscent of King Crimson's rocking sax patchworks. The vocal is textural in this song, rather than dominant. The lyric melody wafts in dreamily and quickly becomes joyfully weird. Instrumentation also becomes wacky and experimental, alternating between rowdy and wistful moods. This is a motif that Giant will revisit many times in their career. It is rarely as fresh, delicate and well-rounded as on "Allucard." "Nothing at All" is a stirring orgy of 12 string and vocal beauty, probably one's of art rock's finest and most memorable creations. The rarified atmosphere is heightened by the band's delightful harmonizing and well placed bass guitar accents. Gary Green's heavy, heavy distorted guitar lines, if not particularly creative, are extremely moving and memorable and fittingly lead into the louder vocal section. The structured part of the song so ends for the time being and is built on by an excellent drum solo and then the most bizarre but endearing of piano, the soloing on that instrument running the gamut from honky- tonk to avant garde, the whole transition completely fluid and engaging. The spaceship makes a smooth landing and the song closes with the delectable vocal theme.

The Gentle Giant debut's last full track, "Why Not," would be a welcome addition to a Deep Purple album. It's hard rock hijacked by organ .. or is it? On closer examination, an unrelenting funky vibe engulfs the listener. Then there's the recession of the organ into the most sensitive and recorder-festooned of secondary melodies. And lest one think the song's new mood lies in this space, another funky guitar-oriented section erupts, leading back to the heavy, main melody and guitar soloing galore. Art rock is generally unfairly labelled devoid of guitars. "Why not" is the clear negation of that stereotype and a statement continued into the closing track, a hard rocking, undoubtedly satirical cover of "God Save the Queen," as if to announce that the Shulman family and friends have joined Robert Fripp, Keith Emerson, Pink Floyd and the Moody Blues in an even merrier remaking of Old England. At future times, Giant will on occasion go off the proverbial deep end. Yet, this band more than their art rock associates embody an incredible, inexplicable joy.

steamhammeralltheway | 5/5 |

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