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Gentle Giant - Free Hand  CD (album) cover

FREE HAND

Gentle Giant

 

Eclectic Prog

4.27 | 1021 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Negoba
Prog Reviewer
5 stars Gentle Giant Reaches Its Mature Peak

Free Hand represents Gentle Giant in their full-blown, refined glory. All of the varied elements of their sound are brought together for one last masterpiece. Some have argued that their albums had become fairly formulaic at this point in their career. This is probably true, as for each tune I can point to corresponding songs on earlier albums. Luckily, the examples of the "formula" on Free Hand are often the best of their type. "On Reflection" continues in the tradition of "Knots" and "Proclamation." "His Last Voyage" reminds of "Think of Me with Kindness" and to a lesser extent "A Reunion." But in each case, the Free Hand versions are extremely strong GG tracks, and if this album were the only one a fan had, the entirety of the band's sound would be well represented.

Contrary to many reviewers, I felt In a Glass House was a very uneven album, one that showcased the band pushing new boundaries after the exit of the eldest Shulman, but not quite succeeding. Free Hand is where the more complex and demanding writing style finds its full stride. The mix is much better, the distribution of vocals is smarter, and the band pulls in a little bit of medievalism again late in the album on "Talybont" and "Mobile." The musical device of "hocketing," tossing melodic ideas between instruments like a hot potato, continues as clever as ever. But most of all, the fun, the fire is back. The boys really sound like they're enjoying themselves.

Despite their signature massive syncopation and complex rhythmic structures, songs like the opener "Just the Same" truly groove. Quirky wide vibrato key sounds and fingersnaps are more humorous than cheesy given the complexity of the composition. "On Reflection" contains the a capella work that many fans like myself love the band for. Here, the sound is more traditionally harmonic and choral than some previous work, but still contains the contrapuntal lines that are the band's trademark. The title track starts with a brilliant interweaving instrumental passage before descending into one of Derek Shulman's occasional forced lead vocal moments. The second half morphs through a reprise of the intro, dreamy keyboards with meandering bass lines, harsh staccato riffs, and it works so well that by the time the song is over the average vocal delivery is forgiven.

The remaining songs are all strong GG works, with each member getting a chance to shine, including Gary Green's wah solo on "His Last Voyage" which evokes a bit of Tommy Bolin in the way he hangs onto notes. Kerry Minnear gets some very nice lead vocal spots, and we are treated to some medieval whimsy.

All in all, I would call this the prototypical Gentle Giant album. It displays the band at their most mature, polished, and consistent. There are no weak songs on this album. The production is great, the sonic balance perfectly keeping the focus on the music rather than the recording. Though other albums may have more perfect individual tracks, this album is perhaps Gentle Giant's best, start to finish.

Negoba | 5/5 |

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