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Gentle Giant - Three Friends CD (album) cover


Gentle Giant


Eclectic Prog

4.10 | 1126 ratings

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4 stars Album number three from Gentle Giant is a wee bit weaker than the first two, but still quite good nonetheless. It's more jam heavy than its predecessors, with but six tracks over 35 minutes, and the instrumental parts are drifting away from the occasional glorious bursts of emotion shown before into an ocean of mechanical "hey-this-is-neat"-itude (with a couple of exceptions, fortunately). Fortunately, the instrumental parts aren't yet sacrificing "interesting" for "weird," which makes them at worst pleasant background fodder and at best a fairly gripping experience. The band also decided to make a concept album here, and in so doing pulled off the amazing feat of making an album seem less pretentious by making it into a bit of a rock opera; there's no moral or preachiness here, just a brief look at three friends from their school years who took different paths when they grew up, underpinned by a bunch of decent jamming.

The opening "Prologue" gets things off to an ok start, establishing a twisted-but-interesting instrumental theme, then there's some very quiet vocal harmonies singing lyrics that establish the 'concept', and then there's ... more jamming. Some bass-organ dueting, with layers of keys added over time, then the opening comes back, then .. whatever. Truth be told, for a band of the calibre of Gentle Giant, this jam is fairly lacklustre, but it's still ok. The following "Schooldays," however, is far beyond ok, easily one of my top five tracks from the band. It's quite complex, as are all GG songs, but here every last component feels like an essential element and not just something thrown in to satisfy whomever. The vibe-guitar duet theme is fascinating, the call-and-response vocal harmonies in the "verses" are something else, and then there's the mid-section. Kerry's piano lines here are some of the most atmospheric, melodic and all-out gorgeous piano lines I've ever heard in all of prog rock - blast it all, why couldn't have fate let Tony Banks have half of Kerry Minnear's sense of taste and restraint and ... arrgh, I'm getting off topic. The vocal melody and nostalgic lyrics in the mid-section are also knock-your-socks-off quality, especially the nice touch of having a younger Shulman brother contribute "kid" voices to the proceedings.

All things must pass, however, and the next three tracks present the friends as grownups. "Working All Day" is about the friend who became, well, a "working man," and is a fairly compact piece with a decent brass-guitar riff serving as the foundation, around which there's some decent organ and sax jamming. Whee. "Peel the Paint" starts quiet, with some nice string parts here and there, and then in the third minute the bassline gets louder, and then Derek does some bellowing over the (now 'rocking') instrumental work. Then there's a bunch of jamming (notice a common theme in this review?), highlighted by a terrific guitar solo. Yup.

"Mister Class and Quality" showcases the well-to-do friend, and it's ok, with another decent jam occupying the middle of the song (btw, the track divisions on the CD are wrong - Mister Class extends to about 2:30 of track six, as well as obviously occupying all of track five). I like the distorted organs and the wah-wah'd guitars. Yup. Just when I'm about to give up on the album and droop from the seemingly endless jams, though, in comes the harmony- and-organ laden conclusion, the glorious title track. THERE's the bizarre dose of atmospheric catharsis that I'd been waiting for since, er, "Schooldays" (hey, give me a break, I got spoiled on the first two albums)!

In short, the album almost seems like a bit of a tossoff to me, but I don't mean that in a bad way - parts are brilliant, parts are alright, but overall it doesn't seem like the band spent an inordinate amount of time going over and "inaccessible"-izing every second of the album. That it's a slight tossoff is not a bad thing, though - it just means that the album's quite good, not much more, nothing less.

tarkus1980 | 4/5 |


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