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FREE HAND

Gentle Giant

 

Eclectic Prog

4.26 | 982 ratings

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R-A-N-M-A
4 stars One thing that cannot be said about Gentle Giant is that they don't live up to their reputation as a weird band. If there was some way to define the Eclectic Prog genre with a single band Gentle Giant would be my leading candidate. No one can even dream of making the music they do. Their music has so many qualities. It is at once phenomenally British, totally unpredictable, stunningly complex, acoustic and totally rocking. It's easy to see why they never took off as a major commercial act. They are simply too good for that. What little public profile of theirs which has lasted into the conformity driven 21st Century is totally in spite of themselves, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Free Hand is a *cough cough* eclectic mix of tracks which don't all sound entirely alike, but couldn't have come from any other group. It rocks a little harder on average than Acquiring the Taste and has less overt Jazz influences. They also have chosen to proceed with atonality in a way that many rock bands would be loath to do. One thing to know about the songs on Free Hand or any other GG recording is that there is no way they will stay the same all the way through. They are a truly "progressive" band.

Free Hand 's leading track is Just the Same, it's bouncy and as far as Gentle Giant works go, comes in on the more conventional end of the spectrum. What does that mean for GG; plenty of stylistic shifts, long instrumental interludes and a variety of sounds which is unmatched. Just the Same, has great lead vocals and is for the most part quite upbeat. It's an exciting way to start an album.

Following Just the Same is On Reflection, which is by far my favourite Gentle Giant track. What's so great about it? Two words: Counter Melody. This is a technical masterpiece which comes off as just so much music to my ears. No other band could have accomplished it. If you don't decide to check out Free Hand that's fine, but you have to hear On Reflection, possibly the greatest vocal piece out there.

After the exceptional high of On Reflection we move on to the title track which is one of GG's harder rocking selections. Don't be fooled , it's still Gentle Giant. It's simply impossible for them to stay to one thought for too long. It also features one of the strangest sounding guitar and piano duets ever and it sounds great. It is revisited in several snippets early on and then given and extended more mellow musical interlude which doesn't quite live up to the harder rocking segments. It shouldn't come as a shock to anyone that the vocals are still top drawer.

Time to Kill begins with some strange electron sounds followed some harder guitar work, only to give way to the smoothest track on the album. During the main portion of the track, the show is stolen a mellowed out guitar riff which repeats throughout. During the secondary parts, the bass tends to play a major role. The interludes this time round are mostly piano/keyboard and vocal showcases. It's a cool track, but it doesn't stick out quite like On Reflection or the title track. It also concludes on a fairly sudden fade out which I always consider unfortunate.

After killing time is his last voyage. It feels more in the vein of the tracks on Acquiring the Taste. I doesn't come clattering down on the listener like a tonne of rock and roll bricks like the earlier ones do. Up to this point it makes it feel like a bit of an odd duck on the album. I'll be shocked when I hear a Gentle Giant album which treads over the same ground twice. Following the switch up, and there is always a switch up, the cymbals and electric guitars kick in and this get decidedly jazzy. It still manages to stay on the lower key side thanks to a dominant piano playing in a minor key.

Talybont, as Wikipedia informs me is a small village in Wales. It's an instrumental track which fuses some rock and roll elements with a mostly medieval sound. It is unfortunately short clocking in less than three minutes. It still manages to explore some interesting sounds especially with the plucking section which comes towards the middle. It's only fault in is not being long enough.

Rounding out Free Hand is Mobile. It too draws on folk influences through its prominent fiddle. It almost sounds like they'd been listening to a bunch of Kansas before they wrote it. And not simply because of the fiddle, there is plenty of aggressive piano and guitar work which reminds me of our American friends. Even the shorter instrumental portion has a southern boogie fusion feel sort of like the Dreggs. There are a few parts of Mobile which don't quite gel with the overall cheery mood, but they tend to pass quickly.

Free Hand is a really fun album from start to finish. I think it would make a great party album, if you could actually find enough people to have a Gentle Giant friendly party. And no, it wouldn't count as a party without girls. For us here at PA, it's as good as gold. I give Free Hand a very solid four stars out of five.

R-A-N-M-A | 4/5 |

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