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Gentle Giant - Octopus CD (album) cover

OCTOPUS

Gentle Giant

 

Eclectic Prog

4.26 | 1241 ratings

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Finnforest
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars Where they put it together--the definitive Giant

Gentle Giant is not a huge personal favorite but I respect them very much. This was the album that always grabbed me the most as I recall. Here they put the various pieces together, their trademark quirkiness injected with levity and melody, while the musicianship just kept excelling to new heights. Their 4th album was the last with brother Phil Shulman who wanted more family time. Ray Shulman has commented that it was probably their best album, a toss-up between it and "Acquiring the Taste." What makes this special to me is the consistency, with every track working swimmingly. The songs are diverse, filled with life and crazy amounts of creativity, pizzazz, humor, and accessibility. Proggy and complex of course, but also melodic and engaging. I think John Weathers really brought something special to the mix.

Right from the beginning of "The Advent of Panurge" you know you are in for something special. Delicate layered vocals are soon joined by some funky jamming. All band members are going nuts but the work is integrated and purposeful instead of "insert part 16 here" which is how some of the previous album felt to me. These highly constructed, complex vocal arrangements just keep coming back on every track, they must have spent hours coming up with this stuff. John Weathers wastes no time in stamping his drumming on this group. I'm hooked after one track, but all eight are exhaustingly interesting and good! Listen to the strings at the opening of "Raconteur Troubadour" so flawlessly arranged. This is so saucy it could be Italian Prog! Just needs some operatic Italian vocals. Then some mischievous brass challenges the strings and keyboards as the percussion and vocal tries to maintain some order, fantastic! "A Cry for Everyone" appears to be appeasement to the rock and roll crowd but even here they can't settle for normal, as some nice bombastic keyboards rear their head. The side closer jumps right back to insanity with "Knots" which again has these incredibly orchestrated vocal arrangements which work perfectly with the tense strings and vibes. But a melodic, easygoing second part runs counter and periodically allows a breather to the crazy part. Nice contrast.

"The Boys in the Band" begins side two with another fine art rock song, the combination of Green's solo followed by the recorder solo is superb instrumental bliss. "A Dog's Life" is sheer brilliance, sort of a baroque folk vibe, but beyond the great playing is the creative use of sound to mimic "dog thought." If you listen carefully to the sound choices and the inquisitive sounding licks they choose, they are actually crafting music that sounds like what the Dog's thought process is. The soundtrack of Doggie daydreams. Incredible stuff. And you thought it was just music? Ha! "Think of Me with Kindness" is a lovely English sounding ballad with romantic piano and vocal melody. Some might find the big horns cheesy but I always loved it because it sounded sincere to me. And because it was just one more delicious flavor to this grand desert tray of a record. The album's finale is "River." This is the track to please fans of the band's longer, more jamming side. It's very heavy, with guitar and violin leading the way, goaded by really tight and awesome drumming. There is also a very weird "swirly" sound effect which runs throughout much of the piece giving it an odd, off-kilter feel. Fits right in with the Giant standard operating procedure.

While I need to hear Power/Glory and Freehand again before I can make a final call, for now, this is my favorite Giant project and gets the top rating. It's been almost two decades since I heard those other two acclaimed albums, but I look forward to revisiting them. I read one of the Shulmans saying how GG were not like Yes and Genesis, they didn't really do the 20 minute tracks, opting for shorter experiments instead. It matters not, I don't think an album like this suffers because they chose to do 8 tracks instead of 3.

Finnforest | 5/5 |

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