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Gentle Giant - Free Hand  CD (album) cover

FREE HAND

Gentle Giant

 

Eclectic Prog

4.26 | 1005 ratings

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Eapo_q42
5 stars IMHO, the absolute peak of Gentle Giant, along with The Power and the Glory.

This album is very special. For myself and (i assume) most others the whole appeal of Gentle Giant lies in their sheer complexity of their music. This obviously has its drawbacks...sometimes their music is just so dense and thick that it can takes countless listens to absorb. Not so with this masterpiece.

On this album, like the last one, our favourite Gentle-men do the unthinkable. They cram all the complexity they are known for into all these tracks, and somehow make each one of them completely catchy! These tracks get stuck in my head, i mean they REALLY swing! With so many instruments and parts being played at once, I don't how they do it! Moreover, I feel like none of these tracks overstay their welcome (which I thought was a bit of an issue on In A Glass House).

The first track, JUST THE SAME, gets things going in splendid fashion. The rythmic clicking which opens the album gives way to a delicious piano riff, then the guitar comes in over that, and before long, the drums and vocals slam their way in. This is a brilliant way to start the album. By presenting the multiple pieces one at a time, GG allows the listener to get a grasp of what they're doing, and the complexity isn't overwhelming. It sounds almost accessible! The track has a most glorious bridge ("I'm just DOING what i want to DO....") with sounds so unique it couldn't be any other band. There is a tremendous keyboard solo through the middle, and by the time the crunchy guitar riff comes back in (along with clapping!) at around 4 minutes in, you'll be hooked. Just try not to sing along as Derek's vocal line comes back in!

Track number 2, ON REFLECTION, is one of their famous "vocal workouts". This is the sort of thing you would find in "Knots" from Octopus or "Design" from In'terview. This is my favourite amongst these GG vocal-based tracks. The complexity of their counterpoint here will blow your mind. And...believe it or not, it is once again catchy as hell! I get this one stuck in my head all the time ("still you stay, tied in your way, changing times...waaaatching signs!"). There is an absolutely beautiful vocal melody (just derek) through the middle of the track. Just when you think the track will be too long, it changes up completely in the last minute. Guitar and keyboards assault from nowhere, and once Weathers starts hitting his drum kit, you know this is an awesome way to end a song.

Onwards to the title track, FREE HAND. One of my favourite GG tracks ever. To me, this honestly as catchy as any hit single, but all the complexity is still there! The piano and guitar which open the track create a haunting but beautiful effect (to use an old cliche). Derek's vocals, as on the whole album, really rock here. Very solid, very clear, they make the riffs seems simpler than they are by providing a lynch pin for your mind to follow. The piano refrain which usually follows the main section is very unusual but will grow on you. The middle section begins as a more developed version of the first few bars of the track, which then develops into something new entirely.

Believe it or not, TIME TO KILL is even catchier than Free Hand. Beginning with a very weird time signature, with some sterling but slightly discordant guitar and keyboard work. Suddenly, out of nowhere, catchy rock and roll emerges in the main section. The band cleverly adds bits and pieces to this main section the first three times it appears. So the second time you hear it, there is more acoustic guitar and percussion. By the third time you hear it, there are ethereal backing vocals as well. It is impossible not to swing along by this point. As much as any other Gentle Giant song ever recorded, I think this is a perfect example of how popular and experimental music meet favourably.

HIS LAST VOYAGE is the albums most tranquil piece. However, unlike some of the gentler pieces on their older albums (like An Inmate's Lullaby) this one really appeals to me. The melodies are absolutely riveting and sung so well. As they tend to do, GG change it up just before it gets boring. The song breaks in to a very jazzy new section, with layered vocals that will send you positively floating if you're listening on headphones. Then a masterful rock n'roll guitar solo to close proceedings.

What can I say about TALYBONT? It's clearly the worst track on the album. Truthfully, that's not saying much, as the other tracks are all so superlative. Well, this has a very medieval feeling which is pleasant and it doesn't really do anything to offend anybody. It's short, under three minutes, and therefore does not ruin the flow of the album or anything like that. I should add that I do NOT consider it filler, merely not up to scratch with the other masterpieces on the album.

Well, MOBILE ends the album in about as fantastic a fashion as an album could possibly end! Yet another of my all time favourite GG tracks, this one has violin work which will absolutely permeate your brain. Goodness, the interplay between the guitar, bass and keyboards really do shine here. Once again, the vocal melodies are supremely catchy and hold the track entirely together. The fingertap percussion which accompanies the violin solo through the middle is absolutely inspired, and when the other instruments come back in, there is prog-rock glory for everyone to behold.

Well, it's been a long review! Let me just end on this note: The version I own is the Free Hand In'terview combo from 1998. It sounds very good, but I would practically KILL for a 2009 remaster of this masterwork. I haven't been able to get my hands on the 35th anniversary Free Hand (though i managed to get In'terview). If it sounds better than my version, you can add an imaginary sixth star to the rating!

Eapo_q42 | 5/5 |

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