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Gentle Giant - Three Friends CD (album) cover

THREE FRIENDS

Gentle Giant

 

Eclectic Prog

4.12 | 1274 ratings

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iluvmarillion
4 stars This comes from a period between Acquiring The Taste and Octopus, when the music of Gentle Giant is very complex and experimental. Comparison wise it's a bit like gazing at a painting by George Seurat. Appreciation of the pointillism of post-impressionist art improves with your understanding of impressionist art. Likewise I would think it useful but not essential in liking this period of Gentle Giant to have a grounding in rock and jazz and maybe have been exposed to a bit of classical music, but it doesn't guarantee that you're going to like it. Sometimes the listener has to make a leap of faith to music that's a little bit more difficult, or different to appreciate. If the scale of the jump is too high to make, then the music loses that connection with the listener. Maybe, it's that the music is too elitist to appreciate, or that people are being taken out of their comfort zone and don't want to go there? This was the danger that Gentle Giant faced in their early days, which they never really overcame. They simplified their approach after Octopus without compromising on their musical integrity. However, they never really endeared the public to their music in the way progressive groups like Yes and Genesis did.

The extraordinary thing about Gentle Giant that stands them apart from other groups is that they are all multi- instrumentalists. All can sing. Kerry Minnear is a classically trained pianist with a degree in composition from the Royal Academy of Music. Ray Shulman is one of the great bass players in rock. His bass line is more, or less, continuous and acts as a counterpoint to the keyboard runs which tend to go in stops and starts. The beauty of the music is that it all interacts, but it generally doesn't come together at the first listening.

The album concept of Three Friends is very straightforward. Three boyhood friends grow up together then are separated by their circumstances. Prologue (nostalgic look over their fate). Schooldays (remembering when they met and grew up at school before they separated). Working All Day (one becomes a road worker). Peel The Paint (the second becomes an artist). Mister Class And Quality (the third becomes a white collar worker). Three Friends (how fate, skill and chances separated them). The vocal line and use of the musical instrumentation, describes the journey of the three friends from childhood.

The mini-moog of Prologue represents the main theme and is built on by Hammond organ and 12-string guitar. The bass guitar with piano is syncopated to signal the passing of time just as the chorus sings, "days change into years". In Schooldays the vibraphone represents the playfulness of the school yard with bells ringing and remembering the fun it was when the boys were together. Pounding piano keys and moody mellotron indicate those days are about to change as the child voices reminiscing what it was like, are competing against the more serious side of homework and attending to teacher demands. The scaling notes of clavinet, guitars and sax, ascending and descending indicate the mundane nature of manual work as Derek Shulman sings the main verse of Working All Day. Bach like organ introduces Peel The Paint before the fuzz guitar breaks up the organ theme and then some very psychedelic electric guitar playing describes the feeling of the artist unconstrained by the worries of time. Contrasting with the life of the artist, the third of the friends has the most practical of lives working in an office. The bright and breezy tones of electric piano with violin and tambourine describes the easy life he has giving and taking orders. The last song, Three Friends, is a worldly chorus of mellotrons reprising the main theme.

Three Friends has a harder edge than the preceding album, Acquiring The Taste. Octopus, to follow, goes a little harder again. I largely ignored these albums when I was younger, preferring the next trio of albums, In A Glass House, The Power And The Glory and Free Hand. This early phase in Gentle Giant's discography is as equally rewarding as the other.

iluvmarillion | 4/5 |

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