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Gentle Giant - Free Hand  CD (album) cover

FREE HAND

Gentle Giant

 

Eclectic Prog

4.26 | 980 ratings

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Tubes
1 stars Certain bands and their releases we all feel are over-rated here at Prog Archives, so I'll begin with one of my personal least-enjoyable over-praised albums. Many reviewers extol the combination of complexity and accessibility in progressive music, and I do agree that this requires a peculiar emotional intelligence of its creators. However this album is something of a sell-out - and released by a band that was never really bent on defying popular and stagnant music conventions - regardless of whatever that motto on Acquiring the Taste (another hyped-up record) would lead one to believe.

Just listen to the opening piano riff of Just the Same: so simple and unvarying. Now listen: a catchy passage here and there is nothing to turn one's nose up at; I actually find some of the most infectious music ever written to be progressive rock and the works of the Classical Masters. And there's another related problem that pervades all these tracks. Which is to say that most of the riffs/motifs presented are never re-worked in anyway. Ever hear of melodic variation or recapitulation? Well, you won't hear it on this disc.

First, the piano riff on Just the Same, punctuated by an equally harmonically uninteresting guitar riff. Then we are tormented with a very dated-sounding keyboard wail after the first verses. Trust me; it is bad.

Next, On Reflection - just the whole damn thing. The a cappella introduction is a basic round for the most part, not particularly special. And how many times do we hear that stupid 3-note melody, "All around!" repeated? Seriously, I don't know; I lost count. What about the section with Gary Green's simple acoustic guitar and Kerry Minnear's stereo vocal interchanges? Could these guys be any more repetitious!?!

That brings us to the title track, which is a highlight for some (not me). Annoying and cartoonish bass and piano music interrupts this one every so often, so beware. I honestly do like the jazzy guitar parts that open Free Hand, but they change key only ONCE. *shudders* A certain section of the piece could be very pleasant, but Kerry Minnear chooses to ruin it with cheesy keyboard-imitation strings, as opposed to letting Ray Shulman perform on an actual violin. Maybe this is a good place to start criticizing the lyrics. They are utterly terrible. "It wasn't hard to run, break away from you, break away from you, After all you'd done, what was I to do, what was I to do?" As a matter of fact, the whole album is filled with this drivel. But then again Gentle Giant were never really poetic to begin with.

Time to Kill is just the same: mechanical and cold melodies stagnating in the same keys and arrangements. The lyrical content is pretty empty. Some people think Dog's Life on Octopus is trivial; this song is literally about a guy who has time, takes it, and goes places! Beware there are also "Ooh"s and "Ah"s in the back-up vocals to this one.

His Last Voyage has the distinction of being, for my tastes, the most tolerable track. However, in order for Gentle Giant to achieve this, they had to plagiarize Via Lumiere by Premiata Forneria Marconi. One BIG difference though: the bassline here is much less elaborate. The song then proceeds into more simple acoustic guitar accompaniment.

Talybont is an homage to some village in Wales. I wouldn't know whether this instrumental does the place any justice, but if I lived there, I wouldn't exactly be pleased with this sort of publicity. Rather aimless this one is. If this kind of prog folk is your bag (and I do love prog folk) I would suggest Jethro Tull's Songs from the Wood or Heavy Horses instead.

And finally (Thank the Most High) we arrive at Mobile. This one is also in the prog folk vein. Good acoustic guitar and violin greets us at the beginning. But the track then descends into more repetitive riffery in common time.

Is this progressive? No. Is anything on this album innovative, or noteworthy in the history of rock? No. Is any of this "music" marked by deep emotional character, or likely to so evoke you? No. Should you buy it? No.

Tubes | 1/5 |

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