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Gentle Giant - Octopus CD (album) cover


Gentle Giant


Eclectic Prog

4.30 | 1871 ratings

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4 stars Gentle Giant's fourth studio album (in less than three years!) isn't the masterpiece many fans want it to be. It was actually the last of their formative efforts, each one an improvement over the last, and all of them striving to clarify what was still a somewhat cloudy vision in 1972. Quoting the biographical title track of the band's 1976 album "Interview":

"What can we tell you? At the beginning had no direction, any other way; After the fourth one, realization; Finding our road the same as if today."

The recruitment of drummer J.P. Weathers brought that realization a lot closer, filling what had always been an insecure gap in the line-up. His solid, swinging rhythms would anchor the band's more complex arrangements in years to come, but he wasn't fully integrated into the emerging Gentle Giant sound just yet: listen to him struggling with that nearly impossible beat at the top of "The Boys in the Band".

Elsewhere on the album a surplus of confidence and audacity resulted in at least two undisputed Gentle Giant classics: "The Advent of Panurge" (with its ghostly medieval mid- section and killer bass guitar riff), and the fan favorite "Knots": the vocal equivalent of an Olympics-level gymnastics exhibition. The simpler songs are no less impressive, in particular the album closer "River", a small miracle of strength and ingenuity throughout the flowing middle verses.

Producer Martin Rushent was probably the wrong choice for this LP: compare the sometimes glutinous overkill of studio wizardry here with the far leaner soundstage of "In a Glass House" the following year (Rushent would likewise over-embellish PFM's "The World Became the World" in 1974). "In a Glass House" would inaugurate a remarkable run of classic albums, ironically with the realization that three Shulman brothers in the same band was one too many. "Octopus" would see the exit of older brother Phil, the only sibling "with a bit of a sense of humor, back then, about what he did", according to Ian Anderson.

In retrospect the band would be improved as a quintet, finding at last that elusive balance between precocious art and hard rock. But here they came close, and deserved a lot of credit for continuing to aim high. My apologies to Robert Browning for the irresistible misquote, but it was an unwritten axiom of Progressive Rock in the 1970s that a band's reach should exceed its grasp. By that measure, the near-miss of "Octopus" was another milestone for Gentle Giant.

Neu!mann | 4/5 |


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