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Gentle Giant - Octopus CD (album) cover


Gentle Giant


Eclectic Prog

4.30 | 1871 ratings

From, the ultimate progressive rock music website

3 stars Gentle Giant has always been celebrated as one of the more out there classic prog bands, at least out of the fairly widely known ones. They has a consistent track record of putting out album after album of short albums that focus more on dense, ever changing compositions as opposed to longer, more grandiose strectches of music, with a major part of their sound being centred around complex vocal arrangements. This album is the first of the three albums by the band where they took this complexity to another level in certain respects, especially these vocal arrangements, at times being downright labyrinthine. With that said, Octopus is also one of the most accessible ones albums by Gentle Giant, having more melodic moments and embracing a medieval folk sound. Despite all that has so far been said, I can also say with fair certainty that this is my least favourite of the classic era GG albums, as I find a couple of the songs to either be quite dull or at the very least, nothing special. I feel like a lot of this comes down to these extremely short song structures causing there to be very little breathing room, eliminating the expansive nature of many of the prog greats. That said, the album still isn't a bad one, just a less appealing one to me when stacked up against the rest of the band's discography.

The Advent Of Panurge starts off the album in a very strong way, with a quiet, pretty melody that quickly begins the wonderful layering that the band applies, backed up by occasional hints of guitar. The song picks up very quickly however, with a groovy bassline backed up by what almost feels like random piano keys being played, some moments with high energy, others being soft and dreamy, right before kicking back in with another idea, all around very jazzy, never sitting still, but with a great central melody. Raconteur Troubadour is a more conventional song in certain respects, with a more focused central theme and a more beautiful, heavily medieval sound. As with the previous song, this one quickly picks up as well, briefly becoming frantic before settling right back down with its main verse, the chorus being rhythmically interesting as it constantly sounds as if it's lagging slightly behind, before making a quick sprint to catch up, repeating this process many times over. My favourite part of the song is definitely the instrumental section in the middle, softly building up with an increasingly fast drum while violins are played wonderfully, before it briefly bursts into a cheery, almost regal sounding section filled with trumpet. Unfortunately, after these first two amazing songs, the album doesn't leave the listener with too many great tracks, one of the most notable ones being A Cry For Everyone, which is more energetic and more rock oriented, but this energy ends up feeling extremely wasted thanks to the weakness of every part involving vocals, and the keyboard use does come off as very cheesy and underwhelming for the most part.

The album manages to avoid falling flat here by following up this weak track with the absolutely perfect Knots, which is easiy one of my favourite songs by the band, and undoubtedly the highlight of this album. The vocal layering present here is absolutely spot on all the way throughout, sounding so incredibly precise, starting out minimalistic, including literally no instrument other than the voice, before briefly including some quick xylophone, before going back to the minimal amount of instrumental work. the song then takes it to another level when it follows the near non existent rhythm and becomes bouncier and more cold and otherworldly, before gradually singing higher notes until the instrumentation fully comes in, sounding almost apocalyptic in nature. The layering of the vocals all throughout the song are nothing short of mind bending , and become more and more impressive the more you try concentrating on the insane rhythmic interplay going on. The Boys in the Band is a better showcase of the band playing something energetic than the poor Cry For Everyone, still displaying a lot of the intricacies of the slower, more calcukated tracks, but giving it enough of a powerful twist to make it interesting, especially that really great saxophone that appears about midway through.

Dog's Life is a folksy little ditty that really does nothing for me. It has a saccharine quality to it that turns me off immensely, and the overbearing classical sound really doesn't seem to work as well here as it did in Peel The Paint, this one just coming off as cheesy. Think of Me With Kindness is better than Dog's Life, but I'm just not as keen on the ballad type songs that the band puts out, I feel like they're far less adventurous and that the band lacks the ability to make a truly beautiful melody that has any impact for more than a few seconds, with them being fun and quirky almost always working out far better for them. That said, this is at the very least a pleasant song, which is better than can be said about a couple of other songs here. River is a strange song, on one hand, I like the abrasive edge it has, with the vocal melody being quite wonky and seemingly out of place with the instrumentation, but on the other hand, I feel like there are too many moments of this in which it just ends up working terribly, such as the quieter section near the start where Derek Shulman tries and fails to sing decent high notes. I also feel like the song ends up meandering quite a bit, with the middle section transitioning right back into more off key singing that's just retreading the opening section, which also wasn't particularly great. Overall, while the song is definitely interesting, I can't say it works particularly well on a level beyond this.

Despite the fact that this album has some of the best songs that Gentle Giant would make, and the shift towards even more complex music is one that I personally love, the uneven nature of this album really drags it down. Certain song just bore me, with a couple being straight up bad in my opinion. However, due to the fact that I am a big fan of the songs here that are good, I would still say that this album is one to listen ot at least once, as when it's good, it's really good. I personally believe that the band would move on to make the two best albums of their career past this point, and this album is definitely responsible for sowing the seeds that would eventually grow into those absolute gems, showing greater prominence in rhythmic interplay and all around instrumenal weirdness. Definitely an interesting album for sure, just not one I personally can enjoy to its fullest extent.

Best songs: The Advent Of Panurge, Raconteur Troubadour, Knots (this one is especially recommended)

Weakest songs: A Cry For Everyone, Dog's Life, River

Verdict: Despite being more accessible in certain ways, this is also the start of Gentle Giant taking their already complex songwriting to the next level. It unfortunately falters in some places, but definitely at least partially makes up for it with the great tracks. I'd recommend listening to their previous 2 albums, Acquiring the Taste and Three Friends first before trying this one out, but this has enough good material to warrant at least one listen, especially if you're a fan of more calculated, intricate music.

Kempokid | 3/5 |


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