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GENTLE GIANT

Eclectic Prog • United Kingdom


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Gentle Giant biography
Formed in the late 60's by the Shulman brothers, GENTLE GIANT is known as the paradigmatic progressive rock band. With an uncomparable musicianship, they went as far as no one ever did into unexplored grounds in the progressive music, navigating over dissonant 20th-century classical chamber music, medieval vocal music, jazz and rock. The multi-instrumentation capabilities of the musicians gave such dynamic to their music, which set parameters to a whole coming generation up to these very days. They explored Moogs, Mellotrons and Fender Rhodes usage with such majesty! Not to mention other instruments like oboes, violins, cellos and horns among others.

The band was able to come across the 70's maintaining an outstanding level on their music, altering their style over the years and keeping the quality as only a few bands were able to do. Among their magnificent discography, all the albums from "Acquiring the Taste" through "Playing the Fool" are essential progressive rock releases (with the possible exception of "Interview"). This portion of the band's career would see a fittingly grand conclusion on the live "Playing the Fool" album. What more is there to say about these masters of progressive music?

Compilations Albums: Numerous collections and greatest hits albums have appeared over the years.

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The Power And The Glory (Mixed By Steven Wilson) [CD/Blu-ray Combo][Deluxe Edition]The Power And The Glory (Mixed By Steven Wilson) [CD/Blu-ray Combo][Deluxe Edition]
Alucard 2014
Audio CD$11.65
$11.64 (used)
Playing The Fool - TPlaying The Fool - T
Remastered
Alucard 2010
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$5.48 (used)
In A Glass HouseIn A Glass House
Remastered
Alucard 2010
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Power & Glory: 35th Anniversary EditionPower & Glory: 35th Anniversary Edition
Extra tracks
Alucard Records 2005
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OctopusOctopus
Remastered
Alucard 2011
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I Lost My Head: Chrysalis Years 1975 - 1980I Lost My Head: Chrysalis Years 1975 - 1980
Box set · Import
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Free HandFree Hand
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Alucard 2010
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Gentle GiantGentle Giant
Import
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Live At The Bicentennial [2 CD]Live At The Bicentennial [2 CD]
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Gentle Giant -  Gentle Giant/Acquiring The TasteGentle Giant - Gentle Giant/Acquiring The Taste
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GENTLE GIANT shows & tickets


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GENTLE GIANT discography


Ordered by release date | Showing ratings (top albums) | Help Progarchives.com to complete the discography and add albums

GENTLE GIANT top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.87 | 903 ratings
Gentle Giant
1970
4.24 | 1111 ratings
Acquiring the Taste
1971
4.10 | 934 ratings
Three Friends
1972
4.26 | 1416 ratings
Octopus
1972
4.36 | 1240 ratings
In A Glass House
1973
4.27 | 1141 ratings
The Power And The Glory
1974
4.28 | 1113 ratings
Free Hand
1975
3.75 | 559 ratings
Interview
1976
2.94 | 404 ratings
The Missing Piece
1977
2.32 | 345 ratings
Giant For A Day
1978
2.79 | 311 ratings
Civilian
1980

GENTLE GIANT Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

4.50 | 339 ratings
Playing The Fool - The Official Live
1977
3.55 | 23 ratings
In Concert (BBC Radio 1)
1994
4.11 | 51 ratings
Out Of The Woods
1996
2.39 | 31 ratings
The Last Steps
1996
4.09 | 46 ratings
King Biscuit Flower Hour Presents
1998
4.01 | 20 ratings
Out Of The Fire
1998
1.93 | 15 ratings
In A Palesport House
1999
4.11 | 35 ratings
Totally Out Of The Woods
2000
1.96 | 16 ratings
Live Rome 1974
2000
2.29 | 13 ratings
Interview In Concert
2000
1.81 | 8 ratings
Artistically Cryme
2002
3.74 | 19 ratings
Experience
2002
1.50 | 5 ratings
Endless Life
2003
3.89 | 8 ratings
Missing Face
2003
1.94 | 12 ratings
Way of life
2003
2.20 | 7 ratings
Prologue
2003
0.00 | 0 ratings
Playing the Cleveland
2003
0.00 | 0 ratings
Live In New York 1975
2005
2.75 | 4 ratings
Santa Monica Freeway
2005
3.34 | 17 ratings
King Alfred's College Winchester
2009
3.79 | 30 ratings
Live In Stockholm '75
2009
3.89 | 16 ratings
Live at the Bicentennial
2014

GENTLE GIANT Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

4.62 | 169 ratings
Giant On The Box
2004
4.24 | 82 ratings
GG At The GG
2006

GENTLE GIANT Boxset & Compilations (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.45 | 18 ratings
Giant Steps...The First Five Years 1970-1975
1975
3.13 | 4 ratings
Pretentious For The Sake Of It
1977
4.38 | 52 ratings
Edge of Twilight
1996
3.13 | 57 ratings
Under Construction
1997
4.28 | 32 ratings
Free Hand/Interview
1998
3.18 | 30 ratings
Scraping The Barrel
2004
4.17 | 16 ratings
I Lost My Head - The Chrysalis years (1975-1980)
2012
1.84 | 10 ratings
Memories Of Old Days
2013

GENTLE GIANT Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

2.00 | 1 ratings
Rock Power
1971
4.17 | 12 ratings
Prologue
1972
4.29 | 17 ratings
In A Glass House
1973
4.26 | 23 ratings
The Advent Of Panurge
1973
4.08 | 12 ratings
The Power and the Glory
1974
3.33 | 6 ratings
Give It Back
1976
3.00 | 6 ratings
I'm Turning Around
1977
3.75 | 8 ratings
Two Weeks in Spain
1977
4.00 | 8 ratings
Just the Same (live)
1977
2.40 | 5 ratings
Mountain Time
1978
3.20 | 5 ratings
Thank You (edit)
1978
3.25 | 4 ratings
Dando Vueltas
1978
3.00 | 5 ratings
Words from the Wise
1978
2.33 | 3 ratings
Underground
1980
2.20 | 5 ratings
All Through The Night
1980
0.00 | 0 ratings
In A Power Free In'terview
2009

GENTLE GIANT Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 The Power And The Glory  by GENTLE GIANT album cover Studio Album, 1974
4.27 | 1141 ratings

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The Power And The Glory
Gentle Giant Eclectic Prog

Review by Necrotica

5 stars Gentle Giant were sort of the "odd-man-out" group when it came to popular 70s progressive rock bands. While maintaining a solid fanbase, they never really achieved the stardom that bands such as Rush or Yes received; when you start listening to the band's music, it quickly becomes evident why this was the case. In the liner notes of their second album Acquiring the Taste, the band stated: "It is our goal to expand the frontiers of contemporary popular music at the risk of being very unpopular." During their prime, they'd follow this quote and shun the commercial world as the commercial world generally shunned them in return. It's really quite unfortunate though, as the group made some of progressive rock's finest works; they'd mix technicality and multi-faceted arrangements with an emotional weight and depth rarely seen in progressive rock. Nowhere does that seem more wonderfully represented than in their 1975 masterpiece The Power and the Glory.

The record is a concept album about a man who wants to use his political power in a beneficial way. However, as he becomes more power-hungry and dictatorial, the man ultimately becomes no different than the leaders who came before him. It's a pretty typical concept, but it also allows for Gentle Giant to get creative with their themes and musical settings. For instance, the opening track "Proclamation" has a very frantic discordant section in the middle, suggesting panic stemming from either the previous leader or the position of this new leader in the story. Also, every song references the previous song by title; so for instance, "So Sincere" would put "Proclamation" somewhere in its lyrics, "Aspirations" would put "So Sincere" somewhere in its lyrics, and so forth. It's a clever way to tie each song and theme together, all leading to the climactic "Valedictory" which displays the complete reinvention of the main character; the song is essentially a more distorted and dark version of "Proclamation," leading the story and album to come full circle. A great concept indeed.

Musically, Gentle Giant were better than ever here. You've got the typical sudden changes and instrumental shift displayed in other albums by the band, but there's a greater sense of cohesion at the same time. The concept and certain compositional choices led to this album being a bit more streamlined than In a Glass House (contrary to popular belief, this album is not as complex as you might think), but in a good way. While technically challenging numbers such as the multi-layered violin-led "So Sincere" or the incredibly nimble, dissonant-sounding (for the most part anyway) "Cogs in Cogs" are on the album, a song like "Aspirations" is a completely different tune. Instead it's a heartfelt ballad that's very quiet and keyboard-driven; also unusual for Gentle Giant is how the 4/4 time signature is the main beat of the song. Almost as if it's... conventional??? Well, it doesn't go that far; there are still a few odd breaks and diversions here and there that add the band's unique touch to the music. You've also got "No God's a Man" which goes for a similar slow pace with occasional instrumental diversions, as if separate musical "conversations" are putting their stamp on the atmosphere of the song. And that's what makes this album work so well... it has a very healthy mix of simplistic accessibility and complex multi-faceted technical moments. It's a perfect combination of the two, and the band are very keen on not giving the listener too much of either at a time. For every "So Sincere," there's an "Aspirations" to follow. It's so pleasing to the ears to hear two musical thoughts collide into one cohesive whole. "Playing the Game" and "The Face" have a tendency to be a bit weaker and less played (by me, at least) than other songs on the album, but they have their own share of highlights too. The 6/8 portion of "The Face" is a great shift from the main 4/4 melody played during the verses. The violin's a highlight here just as it was in "So Sincere," working well as a lead instrument against the complex rhythm parts.

This is an amazing record. Not only is it a very technically accomplished progressive rock effort, but it also has a cleverly-executed concept and numerous emotional moments to balance out the virtuosity. It may be a bit tough to find this in stores, but I'm sure it's pretty cheap online. No matter how you get it, just get it. If you like progressive music, you won't be disappointed in the slightest.

(Originally published on Sputnikmusic)

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 Octopus by GENTLE GIANT album cover Studio Album, 1972
4.26 | 1416 ratings

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Octopus
Gentle Giant Eclectic Prog

Review by Necrotica

4 stars Gentle Giant's early work was always intent on pushing the limits of popular music, "at the risk of being very unpopular" (as their second album Acquiring the Taste states in its booklet). Indeed, every album the band released had revealed new musical avenues to explore. The band could go from folk, hard rock, progressive rock, blues, you name it. After three excellent records under their belts already, Gentle Giant released a gem of an album that's a bit overlooked these days: 1972's Octopus.

Octopus is an album that explores plenty of new themes and ideas not present in Gentle Giant's early work, but puts them in a much more concise package. This brings some extra perks and flaws for the record, but overall the sense of direction makes the album triumph in the end. The shorter songs mean that the band can concentrate and focus their efforts more, thus eliminating some of their occasionally overbearing segments from the first three albums.

That's not to say the experimentation isn't still there; take "Knots" as an example in this case. The song begins with an acappella section that seems disjointed yet works quite effectively. Then the band come together slowly to eventually clash instruments for a Queen-esque climax, overdubbed vocals and all. Then the next bridge leads into the Yes-styled chorus, overall making for quite a diverse listen. Other examples of their experimental side here include the Medieval-inspired "Raconteur Troubadour" and the instrumentally diverse "Dog's Life."

Indeed, the band experiment and flirt with very different styles, but as I said above, this album is much more accessible; This is especially seen in the song lengths, no song even reaching six minutes. Also, there are more hard-rocking songs than before, like the powerful opener "Advent of Panurge" and "A Cry for Everyone." "Advent of Panurge" especially has a powerful chorus, balanced out by keyboard/organ interludes to give a good contrasting feel to the song. "A Cry for Everyone" starts out in a more straightforward fashion, with traditional guitar and drums doing the average 4/4 time signature before developing into a more normal GG track.

If I had to pick the main flaw, it would probably be the length of the overall album. Octopus clocks in at 34:24, and it certainly feels that short. If there were maybe a few more songs, the album would certainly feel more complete, and not as much like a long EP. Also, some songs, like the aforementioned "Dog's Life" feel a bit tacked on to just make the album longer.

Either way, Octopus remains one of the finest early Gentle Giant albums, if a little short by other prog albums' standards. The songs are more concise and focused, and that certainly doesn't take away from the quality of the music within. This album's recommended for any prog fan, or even fans of classic rock in general.

Recommended tracks:

Advent of Panurge Knots Raconteur Troubadour Boys in the Band

(Originally published on Sputnikmusic)

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 Acquiring the Taste by GENTLE GIANT album cover Studio Album, 1971
4.24 | 1111 ratings

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Acquiring the Taste
Gentle Giant Eclectic Prog

Review by Prog Leviathan
Prog Reviewer

4 stars At the time of this writing, I'm a casual Gentle Giant fan - only having reviewed one of their albums; however, Acquiring the Taste is a spirited, eclectic, subtle, and dynamic mix of good old fashioned prog experimentation that accomplishes in me exactly what the title sets out to do: acquire the taste!

Overall, the many styles and textures of this release make it more rewarding as time goes by, with more nuance being discovered in the dense instrumentation (horns, violins, etc.), vocal interplay, and constantly changing time signatures. There isn't a lot that jumps out to the ear while listening, but the album's jaunty melodies and overall effect is very fun. The band brings a lot of influences to their music, and the result is a great example of classic progressive music, without the unsubtle drama of bands like Yes or ELP (note, I like both of these bands a lot).

This difference makes Gentle Giant stand out to me as a unique, and probably very influential group. While I wouldn't come close to giving this a "masterpiece" label, Acquiring the Taste wets the appetite for something you may not have realized you wanted, and makes for a moody, quirky, and enjoyable 40 minutes of vintage prog. Rounded up to 4 stars!

Songwriting: 4 - Instrumental Performances: 4 - Lyrics/Vocals: 3 - Style/Emotion/Replay: 4

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 Giant Steps...The First Five Years 1970-1975 by GENTLE GIANT album cover Boxset/Compilation, 1975
3.45 | 18 ratings

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Giant Steps...The First Five Years 1970-1975
Gentle Giant Eclectic Prog

Review by Matti
Collaborator Neo-Prog Team

2 stars I was in my late teens, maybe 18, when I borrowed this 2-LP from my local library. I had been diving into the vintage British prog for some time, and the household names of the genre were my biggest favourites. I was anxious to find more and more classic prog bands, with a help of the great Finnish library services. I had even borrowed the Renaissance debut (1969) and liked it despite the confusion of the Annie Haslam-less line-up. But my first acquaintance with GENTLE GIANT was very ambivalent: I disliked the lead singer and there was something very hard-to-digest on many tracks on this compilation, while I certainly sensed the innovative and highly original cleverness too. I decided I wasn't ready for them yet.

When in 1997 (ie. circa 9 years later) I borrowed the 2-CD compilation Edge of Twilight, all changed radically and I begun to adore GG. Well, that's one way to see it, that my own maturing as a prog listener was the key factor. Another way is simply to say that this particular selection was not succesful to meet my taste - probably still wouldn't be as an introduction to GG - , and that The Edge of Twilight was, in its near-completeness. Now, seen from the perspective, as the source albums (from the eponymous debut of 1970 to The Power and the Glory, 1974) have long ago become familiar to me, I actually prefer the latter explanation.

This compliation emphasizes on the rougher and rockier side of GG and almost totally excludes the softer and the more Art Music oriented side of their extraordinary eclectism. Kerry Minnear's ethereal vocals appear only in very minor roles while Derek Schulman - was it Derek? - shouts with his rough voice that I associate with ugly, hairy moustaches. Sure, there are some quite interesting tracks such as 'Alucard', 'Nothing At All', 'Why Not?', 'Peel the Paint' and 'The Runaway'. But I could name over a dozen of much better GG tracks from this period that aren't here. And several that are here are some of my LEAST enjoyed GG songs.

I don't remember if there were any band history or even album information. Cover design with bodiless legs off the ground, wearing red & white striped socks and tennis shoes, is in my opinion plain silly and more or less unsuitable to the musical contents. Hence only two very subjective stars, even though I know many others would rate it much higher.

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 Free Hand  by GENTLE GIANT album cover Studio Album, 1975
4.28 | 1113 ratings

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Free Hand
Gentle Giant Eclectic Prog

Review by TCat
Prog Reviewer

5 stars This was Gentle Giant's first release on the Chrysalis label and it was also an attempt to make their sound a little more accessible. I say a little more accessible, because it was just a very slight compromise and they really didn't lose much of their sophisticated yet very progressive sound. Eclectic prog is the perfect genre for this band because eclectic definitely defines their music. Very odd meters and time signature changes pop up constantly. Yet their sound is very renaissance sounding, folkish, yet complicated with plenty of jazz mixed in. This slight adjustment to their sound ended up being the thing that would bring them to the attention of the American audience they were trying to attract. And they did it without much of a compromise to their sound, other than maybe cutting out much of their classical/modernistic sound, becoming a little less avant garde, yet still keeping things technically difficult. Even hardcore prog fans seem to have a hard time penetrating the accessibility of their sound, but this album did become the most accepted.

This album is excellent, even more complex than the prog folk masters Jethro Tull. It is not easy to appreciate on the first listen because it is so complex and, yes, eclectic. Their folk leanings shine through but never overbearing. Composition and formation of the songs is anything but conventional. The vocals are a little strange, and I find them the hardest thing to get used to, but keep with it and you will come to accept it. As far as the instrumental passages here, you will find yourself wanting to dance a jig at times, but the music never remains with a constant enough beat that you just can't quite seem to get the right beat, and that is how it should be with this music. The only way you can dance to this is in a madman style.

I will not try to break down these complicated songs, they are there for you to listen to and plenty of other reviewers have already done that for you if you are interested. The sad thing is that Gentle Giant, even though they have a huge cult following, never really caught on and received the high regard and awe-struck status that other progressive bands like Yes, Genesis, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, King Crimson and many other received, but they are very deserving of that status. Their music is definitely complex, the most complex folk-oriented music you will ever hear. They can't be considered folk prog though because it is too complex and also incorporates jazz, electric music, and modernistic styles. Hence, with the many genres incorporated, even with the overall medieval rock sound, there is just so much more than that. I mean, what other band would be able to take the vocal acapella harmonies in "On Reflection" and perform it outside of the studio without a conductor? I doubt there are many that could do that. Sure there are many that could play the difficult passages and odd time signature changes that exist in songs like the popular title song "Free Hand" but they would only be those who were the most talented, and I doubt they would be able to do it without a lot of preparation. Have you ever heard anyone cover a Gentle Giant song off the cuff in concert? I don't think so.

Yes this is great stuff and should be considered a masterpiece of prog and nothing less. Even if you don't like it, you should still own it and try to let it work it's way into your mind. Simply amazing. Essential music for all prog fans.

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 Gentle Giant  by GENTLE GIANT album cover Studio Album, 1970
3.87 | 903 ratings

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Gentle Giant
Gentle Giant Eclectic Prog

Review by HunterD

4 stars How can Gentle Giant's debut LP not be considered anything other than an essential entry in any prog collection? I'm not just talking about the music, I'm talking about that album cover. That dorky, smug Scottish giant, with those happy Keane-ish eyes. It's like he knows something you don't. They say to you, "yeah, this band is called Gentle Giant. I'm a big, cuddly Scot. I enjoy mandolins and Punch & Judy shows. You think that sounds lame? Joke's on you, little guy!" It's an image that, like King Crimson's schizoid man or Rush's star man, has become representative of the genre. Even before I ever listened to Gentle Giant, the cover of this record was what leaped to mind whenever I thought of seventies progressive rock. Not owning it is like not owning "In the Court of the Crimson King" or "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway." It's like loving gangster movies, but not having seen "Little Caesar." It's not the best gangster movie, but it's an iconic one, goddammit!

Okay, enough about the cover, what about the music? It certainly is GG's heaviest record, with more of a blues rock influence, but it has the eclectic elements in place that would bloom on their subsequent releases. I must admit that after hearing albums like "Acquiring the Taste" and "Octopus," I didn't spin this one again for awhile. "Acquiring the Taste" is such a quantum leap from "Gentle Giant" in terms of musicianship and progressive songwriting, that it made "Gentle Giant" seem like an album where a band is simply hammering out their sound. And yet, I missed the heaviness of the album, which is why I always feel compelled to return to it, and I always listen from "Giant" all the way to "The Queen," which is actually the only throwaway on the album, but it always lets me know I've reached the end.

This self-titled debut is nowhere near the finest work that Gentle Giant put together in their brief-but-prolific career, yet it's still a must, a perfect starting point for getting into one of the finest bodies of work progressive rock has ever offered.

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 The Missing Piece  by GENTLE GIANT album cover Studio Album, 1977
2.94 | 404 ratings

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The Missing Piece
Gentle Giant Eclectic Prog

Review by presdoug

4 stars I have heard and have all of Gentle Giant's output except Civilian. Giant For A Day doesn't do anything for me, but The Missing Piece? Now, that's a different story. Wrongly lumped in with the two subsequent GG albums, The Missing Piece, even though it was somewhat of a departure from previous records, stands on it's own as a masterpiece!

I never tire of this record, and keep looking for the negative feeling that a fair number of others have for this record, and after countless listenings, I give up trying to find it. I love The Missing Piece! This album is pretty upbeat, and has a mostly happy vibe to it, and when I want something like that, this record always delivers.

There is still enough quirkiness and complexity going on to make it a stimulating and interesting listening experience. In the same breath, this is one of the most cohesive albums that I have ever heard by any group-there are different moods and paces being realised here, from the moving ballad "I'm Turning Around" , to the rock your socks off "For Nobody", and some sort of in between like "As Old As You're Young", but everything fits together so nicely I usually listen to this album not in sections, but all the way through. The recording is a transitional one, I admit, but a pleasant one, nonetheless. Though not quite like previous GG records, it is not like what came after it, either. The Missing Piece is gutsy, but not "in your face". It truly is a "missing piece", and I am glad I have it. I give it 4 stars.

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 Playing The Fool - The Official Live by GENTLE GIANT album cover Live, 1977
4.50 | 339 ratings

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Playing The Fool - The Official Live
Gentle Giant Eclectic Prog

Review by Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer

4 stars 'Playing the Fool' - Gentle Giant (82/100)

At the end of the day- when all is said and done, Gentle Giant's music leaves a mixed impression on me. Everything they had ever done up to and including their definitive live document Playing the Fool was seemingly layered with a hundred thousand twists, and damned-near a million parts of an often preposterously overdone musical arrangement. For better and worse, Gentle Giant embodied progressive rock by taking all of its traits, conventions and clich's, and systematically amplifying them past the point of good sense. Especially towards the de facto 'peak' of their career, Gentle Giant's music grew increasingly dry as a result of this approach, and I get the impression that they used this proggier-than-thou mindset to excuse the sore lack of emotional resonance in their music. To effectively summarize, I don't think Gentle Giant were ever quite as brilliant as some folks like to give them credit for.

But to hear it live is different. Hearing mind-bending arrangements conjured in-studio goes far enough, but there's always the nagging knowledge that the various layers were recorded one at a time; each musician's individual proficiency is strained to its limits, but there's little telling whether they would ever be able to pull it off live. The ultimate measuring stick of musicianship is the live arena. With that in mind, Playing the Fool is, in many ways, a confirmation of what was only ever implied by Gentle Giant's studio recordings. By some miracle of organization, Gentle Giant were able to replicate the wild instrumental eclecticism- whatever changes they've made to the arrangements were done to make it refreshing rather than convenient.

With seven albums of largely quality material to choose from, Gentle Giant had the hefty challenge on their hands of picking the best set of tunes. Unsurprisingly Playing the Fool racks up close to 80 minutes of time- over twice as long as the next-longest album in their discography. Even then, it still feels like Gentle Giant were conscious of the constraints of time when recording the album. Although some songs get true- to-studio replications ("Just the Same" was a perfect choice for opener in my opinion) most of the tracks represented are compounded into medleys. While this would normally feel unsatisfying in a prog context, it is perfect for Gentle Giant, who were always better composers than they were songwriters. They were clever in arranging these medleys, taking their strongest ideas and recontextualizing them in a way that should sound fresh to stonecold veterans of the studio work. "Excerpts from Octopus" is the best example on the album in this regard, of a medley that condenses many of the coolest moments from the album into a makeshift epic. The idea-heavy medley approach gives Gentle Giant's performance a rejuvenated sense of urgency. It is puzzling, however, that nothing substantial from their magnum opus Acquiring the Taste was included.

I get the certain feeling that Gentle Giant made Playing the Fool with the distinct intention of proving to the prog-weary masses that they could, in fact, perform everything heard on their albums without the help of studio magic. It might explain why they included some of their most challenging work. The fact that they can perform it, and perform it with near-perfection gives Playing the Fool a state of grace unto itself. In particular, hearing each band member's voice tackling the "On Reflection" a capella is tremendous; you can hear it in the spontaneous applause that the audience are stupified that GG could pull that off. What's potentially even more impressive is the fact that the eclectic instrumental musical chairs that Gentle Giant loved to play in-studio is here as well. Just like in studio the sporadic parts pass off from one side of the stereo to another, and much like the studio, there are usually too many instruments to count. Here's a rare case where I would love to have experienced Playing the Fool as a DVD; from the sound alone it's still hard to believe it's five guys playing it at once, and a visual component would have helped to set the record straight.

Comparisons to Yes' Yessongs do not go unfounded. Gentle Giant's music may not be as personally satisfying as Yes', but Playing the Fool hits all of the same marks relative to GG's now-legendary career. There are plenty of moments here that leave me with a sense of awe and wonder: how in the hell did they do some of this stuff? Gentle Giant demand respect on the merit of their technical capacity, and I don't think any other release of theirs demonstrated it quite so well.

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 Civilian by GENTLE GIANT album cover Studio Album, 1980
2.79 | 311 ratings

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Civilian
Gentle Giant Eclectic Prog

Review by Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer

2 stars 'Civilian' - Gentle Giant (40/100)

While it's not entirely unlikely I get this sense from having recently watched William Wyler's 1946 Oscar-winner The Best Years of Our Lives, Gentle Giant's Civilian says a lot to me from the title alone. I get the mental image of five prog-weary soldiers, coming home from the frontlines of experimental rock. Perhaps they suffer shellshock from the explosive instrumental fireworks they were handling for the better part of the decade. What's more likely; they became disillusioned by war, er, prog, and decided they'd had enough of it. Unfortunately, as every veteran of war will tell you, home is never as you left it. The world had changed, and Gentle Giant had entered the pop world with little of the vital skills necessary to thrive in it.

Civilian is arguably the most grounded and 'professional' of the three pop Gentle Giant albums. It's also, by turns, the most tedious and uneventful. While the glossy production and peppy synth-bolstered pop rock fits the early 80s zeitgeist like a snug mitten, Civilian once again proves that, as pop songwriters, Gentle Giant were more sure to miss than hit.

Comparisons are often made between this and Yes 90125. While both are examples of progressive heavyweights realigning themselves for the new decade with a recognizably '80s' style, that's where the similarities begin to end. I personally love 90125 for what it is; I even think some of Genesis' pop stuff was great. The thing that Gentle Giant lacked compared to the others is that they never had a member whose talents really worked with pop. There were no Phil Collinses or Trevor Rabins in Gentle Giant; as profoundly proficient as they are musically, there's a different skillset required for proverbially good pop, and as they had struggled in the absence of those skills with The Missing Piece and Giant for a Day, Civilian feels like a nicely executed album with little of the substance to keep me interested for long.

While it's easily the most consistent of the GG pop trilogy, that may have only served to make the album less interesting. The Missing Piece and Giant for a Day failed to leave much of an impression on me, but there was something to be said for the way they surprised me with the kind of eclecticism Gentle Giant brought to their music. Not surprisingly, these experiments brought plenty of flaws (the AOR ballad "I'm Turning Around" off The Missing Piece is particularly unforgivable), but I must admit there were charming moments as well. "Memories of Old Days", "Two Weeks in Spain" and "Friends" are all choice cuts from Gentle Giant's latter era, and though the albums as a whole felt too contrived to recommend, there are songs that stuck with me. Civilian is the first and only Gentle Giant album that doesn't have some sense of eclecticism to it, and given that the songwriting does little to provoke me one way or the other, I think Gentle Giant shot themselves in the foot when it came to streamlining their sound.

No, there is nothing truly awful to bear on Civilian. "I Am A Camera" is a pretty decent pop rock tune too, though I can't altogether recall any of the hooks after listening to it. After a bit of struggle, Gentle Giant finally settled into a style of pop they were comfortable with. They toned down their instrumentation for a kind of ineffectual verse-chorus-type manner of composition that makes no attempt to capture my attention. To their credit, it's a good thing that Gentle Giant called it quits when they did. Three albums is more than enough time to see if a style is working for a band, and the divorcement from wacky prog insanity was a death knell to virtually everything that made Gentle Giant interesting in the first place. I have a soft spot for pop when it's done right, but good pop requires the same amount of inspiration as good prog. Gentle Giant seemed to overlook that fact here. If there is any lasting pleasure to be gleaned from Civilian, it's to think what the Gentle Giant circa Acquiring the Taste would have thought of this. If this sort of declawed New Wave-y pop rock wouldn't make their past selves scoff, I'm not sure what would.

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 Giant For A Day  by GENTLE GIANT album cover Studio Album, 1978
2.32 | 345 ratings

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Giant For A Day
Gentle Giant Eclectic Prog

Review by Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer

2 stars 'Giant for a Day' - Gentle Giant (46/100)

To put it plainly; Gentle Giant went from tackling ambitious album-long concepts, philosophical themes and referencing Rabelais, to writing songs about banging groupies. Not that I mean to imply Gentle Giant were particularly nuanced lyricists to begin with, but there is a sharp contrast between, say, "The Nativity of Pantagruel", and "Rock Climber", a skuzzy rock n' roller about some of the unexpected benefits of being a prog-turned-pop rocker. Giant for a Day completes Gentle Giant's transformation into a would-be pop rock act, so it should be scarcely surprising that it's earned such a bad reputation. Indeed, I think any album that dared to 'turn' one of the most cerebral prog bands in history into bite-sized party rock would be hated, regardless of how good it really was. Having apparently brushed up on their newfound pop sensibilities following the mess that was The Missing Piece, Gentle Giant have made an album that is truly mediocre, virtually to the point where I may be able to use it as an example of a perfectly mediocre rock album. Is it the worst Gentle Giant album ever, as most fans seem to declare? I don't think so, if only for the fact that there's nothing here quite so bad as some of the AOR cuts off The Missing Link here to cringe through. It is, however, the least involving and involved Gentle Giant album by a wide margin, and given that much of their career flourished on the basis of seemingly overwhelming complexity, that is a pretty sorry statement in of itself.

Gentle Giant are far from the only progressive rock bands that decided to fly the coop and migrate towards a pop-oriented sound, though they may have been among the first to feel the heat of a late '70s prog- hating public. Say what you will about pop compared to the would-be 'superiority' of prog, Yes and Genesis saw fit to reinvent themselves for the 80s in a pretty amazing way, and opened entirely new doors for themselves as a result. It's little wonder that Gentle Giant couldn't do the same. While Genesis had Phil Collins to pick up the slack and take charge, and Yes enlisted the help of pop genius Trevor Rabin to guide them successfully throughout the next decade, there wasn't anyone in Gentle Giant with the proper set of skills to write a good pop song. Sure, they had tried over the last few recordings (possibly even including their last 'great' record Free Hand) but they were never able to make good music without their bells, whistles, and instrumental fireworks.

It's downright puzzling that Gentle Giant decided to cut prog out of their sounds entirely with Giant for a Day. Their main influence here appears to be the classic rock n' roll from two decades prior, mixed with a handful of surprisingly pleasant acoustic tunes. Nothing here is ever truly bad (Gentle Giant were too skilled a band to have ever devolved entirely) but a lack of inspiration is always audible in music; in pop music, doubly so.

The cheerful driving energy of a lot of these tracks doesn't really feel fun or infectious so much as predictable, maybe even a little contrived. There's a surefire identity crisis with "Rock Climber" in particular; if Gentle Giant had spent the weight of their career making pretentious avant-prog played with a million instruments and inspired by Renaissance-era toilet humour, would it not stand to reason that Gentle Giant wouldn't have had a great deal of experience with trashy groupies?

Maybe things were different in the '70s- it's just been my experience that sexual lust doesn't like to go hand in hand with MiniMoogs and time signature changes.

The truth be told, the rock songs here feel hollow- pleasantly listenable, but there's nothing to get me hooked, either from an intellectual or emotional level. A very surprising exception to that actually comes in the form of the acoustic songs Gentle Giant have included here. "Thank You" and "Friends" go a step further, condensing Gentle Giant to little more than an unplugged guitar and the voice of Derek Shulman, and you know what- it works! Especially when heard with the crackle of a vinyl player, there's a warmth to the acoustic pieces here I wouldn't have dared expect from Gentle Giant, on this or any other of their albums. It's a shame they're so brief. Barring that, the title track is pretty decent (recalling the New Wave approach they would further adopt with Civilian in 1980) and "Spooky Boogie" seems to be meant as some sort of instrumental eulogy to their progressive style. It's a pretty uninventive reprise of some of their past instrumental ideas, but might be worth a fan's gander for sake of the retroactive nostalgia.

Giant for a Day ain't that bad. It's not good either. Going one step further, it's not much of anything. The majority of the personality and charm invested into the making of this album may be found on the cover. Having found a copy on vinyl in a discount bin (appropriately), there have been times I was tempted to fetch the scissors and be a giant for a day. Truth be told, there's some cold symbolism in removing the band's trademark mascot from the music. True to what many others have said of this album, barring Derek Shulman's voice it would be impossible to tell this was Gentle Giant based on the music alone. I find it bleakly ironic that well under a decade before with Acquiring the Taste, they had proudly declared themselves to be playing against the grain of popular music (at the risk of becoming terribly unpopular, so they said.) With this album, they gave it up and finally tried to be popular, and as a result became even more unpopular. Lots of people are still enjoying Acquiring the Taste. I don't see quite so many enjoying Giant for a Day. Go figure.

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