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Gentle Giant - Gentle Giant CD (album) cover

GENTLE GIANT

Gentle Giant

 

Eclectic Prog

3.93 | 1159 ratings

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Zargasheth
3 stars

I have to say that Gentle Giant's debut album is actually probably my least favorite from them (pre-Giant For a Day). The album very distinctly sounds of a band still trying to find their way; the quirky diversity that pervades most later albums from Gentle Giant here is more of a confused and disjointed muddle. The sound quality also occasionally leaves something to be desired. That being said, there are some very good songs on here, and I would be doing this album wrong to suggest that just because of its formative quality it is lacking in good music.

The first track, "Giant", is not all that great, but it is fun in parts. The main guitar riff is an excellent one, and it's interesting to notice how the theme shows up as a quiet synth flourish in most of the other breaks between tracks throughout the album. But in the middle, the song suddenly stops, and starts over again with Derek singing solo and accompanied by brass, gradually building back up to the main theme again. This is somewhat of a clumsy insert.

The next, "Funny Ways", is a ballady track which remained a staple of their concert performances for most of their existence. However, I don't really understand the track's popularity. I don't really find the theme to be all that interesting, but it's nice enough; once again, the middle of the track sees a sudden change, as the song breaks out into a hard-rocking portion that soon falls into a harder repetition of the main theme. This is a better transition than the first track, but it still seems unfitting overall. Nevertheless, I like this track quite a bit.

"Alucard", the third track, is one of the album's 2 1/2 great successes, in my view. It's a very powerful and energetic song, with a dramatic ascending riff on saxophone and synthesizer which is intertwined with other parts well as the song goes on. The song has quieter parts, but they transition well through dramatic buildups, which are assisted by the application of some sort of filter to the vocal parts which causes them to suddenly crescendo, almost like a reverse fade, and these buildups are connected into the song well through more saxophone/synth transitions that have an almost sort of "demented circus" feel. The song produces a very powerful and menacing atmosphere as a result. (I've heard it said that Gentle Giant is very similar to In The Court of the Crimson King, which came out soon before. I can certainly see how "Alucard" is comparable to "21st Century Schizoid Man" in this regard, and although I don't think it's better, it provides worthy competition.)

"Isn't It Quiet And Cold?" is another one of the excellent tracks; a relatively subdued and peaceful piece after the previous track, mostly for a string quartet. It also produces a nice atmosphere, and there are some quirky, jazzy parts for the violin and cello to keep it interesting throughout. Phil Shulman's voice is also excellent here (well, his voice is excellent everywhere, but particularly here).

If "Alucard" is this album's "Schizoid Man", "Nothing at All" corresponds to "Moonchild", in that it starts as a folky ballad and is marred by an overlong, arbitrary improv section. But "Nothing at All" is, I think, a lot better than "Moonchild", for a couple reasons. First of all, the bizarre and arbitrary drum/piano solo in the middle only lasts for about 3 minutes. And secondly, the opening and closing theme is one of the best parts of the album (thus accounding for the fractional portion of the "2 1/2 successes" mentioned above), a beautiful, calm, and slightly sad song with complex guitar lines and vocal harmony that gradually metamorphoses into a harder, almost anguished tune, and then returns at the end to wrap things up. Without the solo in the middle, this would easily be the best song on the album; as it is, it's still really good.

After hearing "Alucard", "Isn't It Quiet and Cold?", and "Nothing at All" in a row, "Why Not" kind of pales in comparison. It's just a dull, bluesy number that has a recorder ensemble in the middle; while this foreshadows their use of recorders in the future, the appearance here is not sufficient to make the piece interesting.

Finally, the album is capped off by their own rendition of "God Save The Queen", which is more of a joke than anything else. It's very short, and not particularly interesting in any way; they could have left it off the album and it would not have made a bit of difference, in my mind.

Overall, while this is a good enough album with 2 1/2 standout songs: Isn't It Quiet and Cold, Alucard, and Nothing at All. Gentle Giant nevertheless improved greatly from here. It's clear that it was an early effort. So it's good, but not essential.

Zargasheth | 3/5 |

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