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Gentle Giant - Gentle Giant CD (album) cover


Gentle Giant


Eclectic Prog

3.95 | 1254 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars The most unfortunate mistake that the band made on its fine debut was making it a bit too similar to In the Court of the Crimson King a bit too soon after the release of that prog-defining masterpiece. Though the band largely had its own sound worked out from the very beginning, there are nevertheless a few aspects where the band was still using Court as a crutch. Aside from the obvious comparison of the album cover to Court, the extensive use of saxophones and mellotrons certainly calls up the stylistics of that album, not to mention that "Funny Ways" can be seen as a sort of analog to "I Talk to the Wind" or "Alucard" to "Pictures of a City" (which wasn't on Court but was already part of Crimson's live show). That said, the resemblences to Crimson are not as extensive as some make them out to be (I certainly wouldn't agree with the assertions made by some that there are no resemblences, though; that's just completely irrational), and there are enough great ideas to distinguish this as a fine album unto itself.

Of course, sometimes even the good songs have aspects that probably could have been thought through a little better. The opening "Giant," unfortunately, doesn't rock anywhere near as hard as it could in the hands of (you guessed it) King Crimson; the effective basslines, the organ swirls, the good guitar lines and the bizarre vocal melody are all fine contributions, but they're undercut by (a) Derek Shulman's decision to not put any oomph (or a growl or anything) into his vocal delivery and (b) production that minimizes the impact of the aforementioned positive characteristics. However, the mid-song instrumental passage, with a bunch of lovely minimalist organ and mellotron lines overlaying a nice bassline, intertwined with nice vocal harmonizing and majestic brass, is definitely unique in mood to the band, and makes the song incredibly worthwhile to me.

The "good-but-flawed" category also inclues "Nothing at All," one of the few instances in the GG catalogue where the band goes for an 'epic' time-length (over 9 minutes - mid-length for Yes, but an eternity for GG). The opening two minutes are one of the most beautiful two minute stretches the band ever put out, with amazingly lovely vocal harmonies over a perfect pop ballad melody and mystical acoustic guitar lines, and then after that builds into a more 'rocking' version that would work just fine as a climax to the piece ... but then it turns into a nastily ugly electronic drum solo (with some piano tinklings under it near the end). ARRRGH. Yeah, it ends up going back to the original lovely melody, but man that solo leaves a nasty aftertaste. And it's unfortunately not helped tremendously by the more 'rockin' "Why Not?," which has good basslines but nothing else particularly crunchy or rousing about it (though the softer sung parts are lovely). And come to think of it, the closing 1:40 "The Queen" (a totally random cover of "God Save the Queen") doesn't seem particularly necessary, though not particularly nasty.

Fortunately, the other three tracks, sandwiched between "Giant" and "Nothing at All," rule immensely. "Funny Ways" is a magnificent ballad (mostly sung by Phil Shulman, whose voice is lovely beyond words and a good contrast to Derek), with the band making good use of its versatility by mixing the regular acoustic guitars with cellos (remember, all instruments are fair game with this band). Plus, the song eventually becomes amusingly upbeat, driven by neat piano lines with trumpets on top, then becomes majorly anthemic by combining these trumpets with a fabulous guitar break. Not bad for four freakin' minutes.

Where "Funny Ways" shows off the band's strengths in more delicate material, "Alucard" shows how great the band can be in the instances where it ups the intensity. The main synth riff is absolutely KILLER, both in notes and tone, and Kerry does a great job of augmenting it as necessary to make the accompanying saxophone and guitar parts that much more powerful. Add in a lot of great organ parts and a bunch of distorted vocals fading in and out during the sung parts, and you have the first GG song that ever made me sit up and go "WOW, these guys are really cool!"

Speaking of 'cool' (or in this case, 'cold' - whee, I love stretching for segues), the final part of this glorious trifecta is a moody, playful ballad entitled "Isn't it Quiet and Cold?" Phil's back on lead, singing a delicate vocal melody while bunches of violins (plucked), cellos, electric piano and glockenspiel do their thing underneath. This song actually passed me by the first couple of times I heard it, and I guess I dismissed it because it was so relatively unpretentious, but I hope you won't make the same mistake. Anybody seeking proof that GG didn't just use all these instruments just because they could, but actually had a purpose and focus to what they were doing, should use this track as exhibit A.

So anyway, it's a fine debut, and my #2 for the band overall. There are problems, but the brilliant stuff is no less so than the brilliant stuff on later albums, and that should be enough.

tarkus1980 | 4/5 |


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