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Gentle Giant - Octopus CD (album) cover

OCTOPUS

Gentle Giant

 

Eclectic Prog

4.26 | 1243 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

KyleSchmidlin
5 stars For the innumerable subgenres of progressive music, there are, to my mind, two main distinctions worth drawing: the complex and the symphonic. There is, to be sure, some crossover, but all the big bands can be lumped primarily into one or the other, with the understanding that the very nature of the beast keeps them from being totally confined. On the symphonic side of things, you have groups like Genesis, Pink Floyd, and Magma. Somewhere in between are Yes and King Crimson, who can achieve one or the other or both at the same time. And all the way to the far extremities of complexity, the world of dissonance, disjointedness, and time changes, lies Gentle Giant.

But the key to this band's success and appeal is not in complexity alone - that is, this music isn't complex for complexity's sake. And unlike so many of their more modern progeny, there can be no doubt that what Gentle Giant created was music, first and foremost, not a challenging sequence of mathematically-selected, emotionless notes.

And Octopus is their masterpiece.

It was also one of the first Gentle Giant releases I heard; at least, part of it was. Years ago while still new to prog I discovered a MySpace page which had "The Advent of Panurge" on it. I remember thinking, "What is THIS?! It's HORRIBLE!" True, the melody is so twisted and turned and disjointed and weird that it couldn't possibly have any human appeal. But before I knew it, I was walking through school with "Theeeere, coming over Char-a-ton Briiidge" in my head. How it happened, I haven't got a clue, but I'm thankful it did, and I don't think there's ever been a band which rewards patience and repeated listening the way Gentle Giant does (and they knew it just as well as the fans did, of course, naming their second album "Acquiring the Taste").

Because what's really going on in Gentle Giant's music is a kind of musical puzzle. The better you get at sorting out the puzzle, the richer the music will be. This concept was explored rather explicitly on this album's "Knots", a hairy, unpleasant, dissonant-sounding thing that just keeps getting messier until all at once one of their most immediate and beautiful melodies pops out at you in the chorus.

Folksy palettes are also whetted here, on the excellent "Raconteur Troubadour" and "Dog's Life", both great songs even if they're the record's flattest. But this is also one of their hardest rocking albums, with true blue legitimate hard rock in "Cry For Everyone" and "Boys in the Band" and a lengthy guitar exploration in the closing "The River".

But for me, the album's absolute highlight - and a song I see unjustly ignored completely or dismissed as not unpleasant in many reviews - is "Think of Me With Kindness." The song is blissfully tender, both sad and optimistic, and as genuine as it could be. A sense of humor is pretty much required for my tastes in prog, and Gentle Giant had one, but to see them abandon it, as well as much of their usual musical trickery, in favor of the lilting melody, the spiritual, uplifting horn solo, the ruminations on a dying love - it's more than enough to make a grown man cry. And when, in the middle, they decide to break things down and make a fairly uncomfortable, awkward melody, just for a minute, as though slyly reassuring the listener it is still Gentle Giant on the turntable, and then they return to the song and Kerry brings us to a climax by singing "Sleep while the sweet sorrow wakes my daydream" - geez, I could have done the entire review and awarded five stars on the basis of this song alone.

It's one of the crowning achievements of prog. It's more lightweight than other masterpieces, like "Foxtrot", "Animals", and "Thick as a Brick", but who said prog had to always be dramatic and serious? This eight-piece opus (get it?) speaks to the many virtues of prog as a movement and eschews all of the excesses. It's highly complex and difficult to get into, but once you're in you realize it's actually very genuine, very sweet, and very real. One of the easiest five-star ratings to give out.

KyleSchmidlin | 5/5 |

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