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GENTLE GIANT

Eclectic Prog • United Kingdom


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Gentle Giant biography
Formed on the late 60's by the Shulmman 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 (5.1 Blu-ray/CD Mixed by Steven Wilson)The Power And The Glory (5.1 Blu-ray/CD Mixed by Steven Wilson)
Alucard 2014
Audio CD$13.77
$9.99 (used)
Live at the BicentennialLive at the Bicentennial
Alucard Records 2014
Audio CD$10.91
$10.90 (used)
I Lost My Head: Chrysalis Years 1975 - 1980I Lost My Head: Chrysalis Years 1975 - 1980
Box set · Import
EMI Import 2012
Audio CD$11.52
$13.32 (used)
Free HandFree Hand
Remastered
Alucard Records 2010
Audio CD$4.98
$2.96 (used)
Gentle GiantGentle Giant
Import
Island Def Jam 1990
Audio CD$4.79
$4.13 (used)
In A Glass HouseIn A Glass House
Remastered
Alucard Records 2010
Audio CD$6.48
$4.00 (used)
Playing the Fool: The Official LivePlaying the Fool: The Official Live
Remastered
Alucard Records 2010
Audio CD$8.21
$7.89 (used)
Acquiring the TasteAcquiring the Taste
Fontana Island 1990
Audio CD$3.38
$3.37 (used)
King Biscuit Flower Hour Presents Gentle GiantKing Biscuit Flower Hour Presents Gentle Giant
King Biscuit Flower Hour Records/Sony BMG 1998
Audio CD$29.97
$4.89 (used)
OctopusOctopus
Remastered
Alucard 2011
Audio CD$12.07
$10.95 (used)
Right Now on Ebay (logo)
GENTLE GIANT-POWER & THE GLORY (MIXED BY STEVEN WILSON) CD NEW USD $13.88 Buy It Now 2h 9m
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2h 34m
DON WILLIAMS: THE GENTLE GIANT [GOOD OLE BOYS LIKE ME,TULSA TIME,AMANDA++] USD $7.98 Buy It Now 2h 34m
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2h 36m
GENTLE GIANT Power And The Glory 2009 Remastered CD NEW & SEALED USD $16.03 Buy It Now 2h 38m
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3h 33m
Gentle Giant - Giant for a Day LP SW-11813 w/mask orig inner sleeve USD $14.00 Buy It Now 4h 7m
Live At The Bicentennial - 2 DISC SET - Gentle Giant (2014, CD New) USD $14.52 Buy It Now 4h 49m
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Gentle Giant - Live At The Bicentennial [CD New] USD $14.33 Buy It Now 7h 23m
In A Glass House - Gentle Giant (2010, CD New) USD $9.06 Buy It Now 7h 50m
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Free Hand by Gentle Giant NEAR MINT CANADA CD, Feb-1993, One Way Records) USD $9.98 Buy It Now 9h 23m
Gentle Giant Giant for a Day. With cutout mask on cover and inner sleeve USD $10.00 Buy It Now 9h 32m
GENTLE GIANT 'The Missing Piece' Original 1977 US Press LP - SEALED USD $12.99 Buy It Now 9h 39m
I Lost My Head: The Chrysalis Years, 1975-1980, Gentle Giant USD $25.31 Buy It Now 10h 52m
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Gentle Giant **The Power And The Glory **Brand New 5.1 Blu-Ray & CD USD $14.96 Buy It Now 11h 40m
The Progressives LP COLUMBIA Bill Evans Gentle Giant Mingus Soft Machine SEALED USD $7.00 [0 bids]
11h 45m
GENTLE GIANT In a Glass House Derek Ray Shulman WWA 002 UK LP Kerry Minnear USD $39.97 Buy It Now 13h 21m
Gentle Giant Official Live Playing the Fool SKBB-11592 FREE US SHIPPING USD $19.80 Buy It Now 13h 50m
Gentle Giant, Free Hand Audio CD USD $12.71 Buy It Now 17h 9m
Gentle Giant - Free Hand: Cd/Dvd Edition CD USD $29.29 Buy It Now 19h 49m
Gentle Giant - In A Palesport House ( Live ) CD 2002 NEW USD $4.46 Buy It Now 20h 35m
Gentle Giant - Free Hand/Interview (2000) - Used - Compact Disc USD $11.10 Buy It Now 23h 24m
Gentle Giant - Giant For A Day (2010) - Used - Compact Disc USD $3.98 Buy It Now 23h 24m
GENTLE GIANT Live 1977 UK Poster size Press ADVERT 16x12" USD $14.84 Buy It Now 23h 54m
GENTLE GIANT Giant for A Day 1978 UK Poster size Press ADVERT 16x12" USD $14.84 Buy It Now 23h 54m
GENTLE GIANT Octopus 1973 UK Poster size Press ADVERT 16x12" USD $14.84 Buy It Now 23h 54m
GENTLE GIANT In A Glass House (black) 1973 UK Poster size Press ADVERT 16x12" USD $14.84 Buy It Now 23h 54m
Three Friends - Gentle Giant (2011, CD New) USD $16.25 Buy It Now 1 day
GENTLE GIANT Free Hand UK 1st press vinyl LP A-1U/B-1U 1975 Ex+ USD $111.85 Buy It Now 1 day
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GENTLE GIANT The Missing Piece CD 9 tracks One Way S21-18469 USD $7.99 [0 bids]
1 day
Gentle Giant The Missing Piece The Road Goes On Forever EARLY PRESS CD USD $11.02 Buy It Now 1 day
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(CD) Giant For A Life: A Tribute To Gentle Giant / 2 CD / Import USD $35.99 Buy It Now 1 day
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Yusef Lateef The Gentle Giant LP on Atlantic 1972 US Pressing USD $11.05 Buy It Now 1 day
GENTLE GIANT I'm Turning Around 7" Blue Label Design B/w Just The Same Sticker USD $7.82 Buy It Now 1 day
GENTLE GIANT I'm Turning Around 7" Blue Label Design B/w Just The Same UK Chrys USD $7.82 Buy It Now 1 day
GENTLE GIANT Thank You 7" B/w Spooky Boogie UK Chrysalis 1978 USD $7.82 Buy It Now 1 day
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GENTLE GIANT Civilian 1980 UK Press ADVERT 12X8" USD $14.84 Buy It Now 1 day
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GENTLE GIANT OCTOPUS Die Cut Gimmick Vinyl Record Album LP 1973 NM Disc USD $9.99 [0 bids]
1 day
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Gentle Giant FOR A DAY w/lyric/mask Capitol SW-11813 NM PROMO LP 1978 rare orig! USD $49.00 Buy It Now 1 day
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JOHNNY CASH - GENTLE GIANT OF COUNTRY MUSIC LP SUN RECORDS USD $6.70 Buy It Now 1 day
Don Williams - Gentle Giant (2007) - Used - Compact Disc USD $14.18 Buy It Now 2 days
(ROCK CD) GENTLE GIANT - ACQUIRING THE TASTE USD $6.00 Buy It Now 2 days
GENTLE GIANT "Interview" LP I Lost My Head, GIVE IT BACK, Empty City VG+ USD $4.00 [0 bids]
2 days
Gentle Giant In'Terview vinyl LP 1976 Capitol USD $23.00 Buy It Now 2 days
GENTLE GIANT - POSTCARD SET # 1 - concert posters, promos etc - NEW USD $7.44 [0 bids]
2 days
Gentle Giant - Playing The Cleveland (NEW CD) USD $13.41 Buy It Now 2 days
GENTLE GIANT - The Missing Piece - UK 1977 Chrysalis 12" 1st Pressing Vinyl LP USD $7.44 [0 bids]
2 days
GENTLE GIANT - The Power And The Glory - UK 1974 WWA 12" 1st Pressing Vinyl LP USD $29.82 [0 bids]
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GENTLE GIANT In a Glass House WWA 002 UK 1973 Vinyl Lp Ex USD $28.98 Buy It Now 2 days
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GENTLE GIANT The Missing Piece LP 1977 GD+/VG Capitol Records 1977 Prog Rock USD $7.61 Buy It Now 2 days
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Gentle Giant Acquiring The Taste Japan CD USD $29.99 Buy It Now 2 days
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GENTLE GIANT - Free Hand LP (1st US Pressing on CAPITOL) MINT-- USD $29.99 Buy It Now 2 days
GENTLE GIANT - Civilian LP (RARE US White Label PROMO) MINT- USD $29.99 Buy It Now 2 days
GENTLE GIANT - Giant for a Day! LP (US Pressing on CAPITOL) MINT-- USD $24.99 Buy It Now 2 days
YUSEF LATEFF: The Gentle Giant LP ATLANTIC RECORDS SD1602 US 1972 VG++  USD $16.99 Buy It Now 2 days
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GENTLE GIANT-"IN'TERVIEW" LP-1976-CAPITOL SN-16047-USA-REISSUE-EXCELLENT COND. USD $6.99 Buy It Now 2 days
Gentle Giant : Power & the Glory CD (1996) USD $8.95 Buy It Now 2 days
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GENTLE GIANT CD INTERVIEW 35TH **Saw-Cut** USD $6.99 Buy It Now 2 days
BIG SLEEP - BLUEBELL WOOD 1971 ex EYES OF BLUE MAN GENTLE GIANT WILD TURKEY CD USD $5.95 Buy It Now 2 days
GENTLE GIANT-IN A GLASS HOUSE -REMAST--CD ALUCARD NEW USD $12.19 Buy It Now 2 days
GENTLE GIANT - LIVE IN ROME 1974 NEW CD USD $15.95 Buy It Now 2 days
CD acquiring the taste
GENTLE GIANT
~ USD $6.43
LP gentle giant
GENTLE GIANT
~ USD $20.59
CD gentle giant
GENTLE GIANT
~ USD $6.43
LP live in essen, germany 1971
GENTLE GIANT
~ USD $19.07
LP three friends
GENTLE GIANT
~ USD $20.59


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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 | 878 ratings
Gentle Giant
1970
4.24 | 1083 ratings
Acquiring the Taste
1971
4.10 | 912 ratings
Three Friends
1972
4.27 | 1382 ratings
Octopus
1972
4.36 | 1219 ratings
In A Glass House
1973
4.26 | 1113 ratings
The Power And The Glory
1974
4.27 | 1091 ratings
Free Hand
1975
3.75 | 542 ratings
Interview
1976
2.94 | 391 ratings
The Missing Piece
1977
2.31 | 338 ratings
Giant For A Day
1978
2.79 | 304 ratings
Civilian
1980

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

4.50 | 333 ratings
Playing The Fool - The Official Live
1977
3.53 | 20 ratings
In Concert (BBC Radio 1)
1994
4.12 | 47 ratings
Out Of The Woods
1996
2.38 | 29 ratings
The Last Steps
1996
4.09 | 44 ratings
King Biscuit Flower Hour Presents
1998
4.00 | 18 ratings
Out Of The Fire
1998
1.88 | 14 ratings
In A Palesport House
1999
4.11 | 34 ratings
Totally Out Of The Woods
2000
1.92 | 15 ratings
Live Rome 1974
2000
2.23 | 12 ratings
Interview In Concert
2000
1.74 | 7 ratings
Artistically Cryme
2002
3.72 | 23 ratings
Experience
2002
1.31 | 4 ratings
Endless Life
2003
3.88 | 7 ratings
Missing Face
2003
1.92 | 11 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
3.87 | 15 ratings
Live at the Bicentennial
2014

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

4.62 | 167 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 | 51 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
 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
4.27 | 1091 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 | 878 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 | 391 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 | 333 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 | 304 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
2.31 | 338 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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 The Missing Piece  by GENTLE GIANT album cover Studio Album, 1977
2.94 | 391 ratings

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The Missing Piece
Gentle Giant Eclectic Prog

Review by Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer

2 stars 'The Missing Piece' - Gentle Giant (41/100)

The Missing Piece is, if nothing else, an eclectic album. Unfortunately, that's where its similarities with Gentle Giant's earlier albums begins to end. Yes, this is where things really started to unravel for a band I've heard described as the 'quintessential prog rock act.' In a sense trailblazing the 'prog-to-pop' trend that swept up bands like Yes and Genesis a couple of years later, it seemed like Gentle Giant were finally desperate enough to pursue the commercial success they loudly scoffed at circa Acquiring the Taste. However, unlike Genesis (who had Phil Collins) or Yes (who had Trevor Rabin), Gentle Giant lacked the fundamental songwriting skills to make it in the commercial sphere.

With The Missing Piece in particular, the experiment feels like a complete and utter mess. Far moreso than its pair of poppy successors (Giant for a Day and Civilian), The Missing Piece doesn't seem to have a firm idea of what it wants to be. Especially on the album's superior second half, there's the definite sense that Gentle Giant still have part of their heart set on progressive rock. But it would misleading to call The Missing Piece a prog album; before we hear anything that confirms our expectations of Gentle Giant, there is punk rock ("Two Weeks in Spain") diabetic AOR balladry ("I'm Turning Around") rock n' roll ("Betcha Thought We Couldn't Do It") and blues rock ("Who Do You Think You Are?" and "Mountain Time")- and that's just the first side. Even if most of the styles they're working with are familiar and pre-codified, the variety gives the impression that Gentle Giant are unsure where they want to go.

By itself, the variety is actually cause for some mild excitement. Given that so many of these 'popular' styles are fresh territory for the Shulmans and co., it's pretty cool to hear Gentle Giant extending their reach to encompass so much new ground at once. The Missing Piece may have even been great, had many of these expeditions ever actually worked. "Two Weeks in Spain" is one of the few that arguably do; it's a jarring change of pace even from what they were doing the year before on Interview, but the prog-punk fusion is exciting, and probably one of the very first instances that combination was actually attempted (anyone else hearing early Cardiacs here?) There seems to be consensus that the strongest track here is "Memories of Old Days", and indeed it's one of the most emotional moments in GG's career. It's a crossroads between Floydian melancholy (think "Comfortably Numb") and surreal acoustic guitars foreshadowing modern avant-prog legends maudlin of the Well's famous interludes by a quarter of a century. Be you a fan of Gentle Giant or a total newcomer, "Memories of Old Days" is kind of a masterpiece for what it is, and it's a complete and utter shame that the album it's a part of is such crap more often than not, elsewise I'm sure more people would be singing its praises.

"Two Weeks in Spain" and "Memories of Old Days" are truffles in the mud. The rest of the music here ranges from mediocre prog ("For Nobody") to forsakenly terrible AOR- can we stop for a moment to condemn "I'm Turning Around" in particular? I suppose it's a slight merit on Gentle Giant's part that they foreshadowed the slimy-sugary 80s' power ballad archetype a few years before the fact, but to current ears especially, it's a tough sell to get through that song with ears intact. No, I'm serious- what were they bloody thinking?! Gentle Giant have never been one for any shade of sentiment, and they go off an attempt a love song that would make the FM radio gods weep and wither. "Betcha Thought We Couldn't Do It" and "As Old As You're Young" are irritating as well, but their shock is limited by the dismal depths they hit on "I'm Turning Around". The Missing Piece has a few great moments but they're fiercely outweighed by the duds. Unlike Giant for a Day it does sound like they're trying to do something interesting here, but- pure and simple, it does not work.

Let's face it; a big part of the enduring appeal of Gentle Giant's music is the fact that they took the tenets of progressive rock bombast and complexity to a proverbial 11. The sheer overwhelming arrangements and mind-bending eclecticism tended to outshine emotional depth and composition. Even as a fan of the band, I don't think Gentle Giant could ever be called good songwriters in the traditional sense, so it stands to reason that an album that largely mutes the bells and whistles wouldn't seem nearly as appealing. To the album's credit, a simpler route hasn't kept Gentle Giant from diving into a wide range of styles, but with such appalling inconsistency to the quality of music here, it's a tough album to recommend.

Could a 'pop' Gentle Giant actually work? I think it might have, if they had approached the new dynamic with the fervour that inspired their wackiest prog. Civilian is the closest we ever hear of that potential. While the variety makes The Missing Piece more generally interesting than Giant for a Day, some of the band's most underwhelming and pathetic moments are to be found here. Might have not been a bad idea if they had quit after Interview.

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 Interview by GENTLE GIANT album cover Studio Album, 1976
3.75 | 542 ratings

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Interview
Gentle Giant Eclectic Prog

Review by Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer

3 stars 'Interview' -Gentle Giant (64/100)

There is a moment on Interview that, whether on purpose or accidentally, perfectly describes Gentle Giant's music to a tee. A sampled faux-interviewer opens "Design" by asking Gentle Giant to describe their music. A flurry of answers erupt simultaneously; the result is an indistinct haze of voices that would take a particularly attentive ear to get a grain of sense out of it. No matter how eloquent each member might have been answering on their own, the number of things said leaves a far greater impression than what is being said.

Gentle Giant get lauded as one of the go-to prog legends, often to the point where I've seen them namedropped amidst flagships like Yes and King Crimson. At the same time, there's a decided lack of any particular songs getting mentioned or celebrated. It's more often than not that Gentle Giant are celebrated for the sheer degree of musicianship and complexity rather than the music itself. In other words, the means are hailed as their own end.

Following a brilliant but altogether listenable debut, Gentle Giant innovated and perfected the wacky approach with Acquiring the Taste. Within a few listens, I was hooked, not because of their musicianship (although that did play into the intrigue) but the sense of pure and spontaneous creative energy that seemed to pour from every note. Possibly barring Free Hand, I haven't heard that passion from Gentle Giant since, and by the point of Interview, it's clear the flashy workhorse they had depended on all this while was losing spirit.

It's not that the band lost any of their technical chops with Interview, but the amount of actual substance behind their smoke and mirrors had grown questionable to the point the album feels like a shallow listen despite all of its apparent surface-level 'depth.' I've listened to the album several times now, and only a handful of moments ever leave an impression. Barring that, there is the vague sense of musical complexity, but Gentle Giant rarely use that capacity to powerful effect. It's akin to drinking from an expensive wine class filled with lukewarm soda water. Ultimately, the experience is tasteless and slightly difficult to swallow, and considering how fine and classy the receptacle was, you wonder why you weren't served a better drink.

Although Interview is loosely tied together by its concept (inspired by interview questions they were asked throughout their career) it comes off as fairly disorganized, even by Gentle Giant standards. They'll shift between hard rock and avant-garde without a rhyme or reason. Overwhelming (as always) acapella and abstract vocal harmonies will erupt out of nowhere, and considering Gentle Giant had been pulling that card since Three Friends, it's more annoying than innovative. Back to their usual (after the surprisingly melodic and catchy Free Hand) the melodies are only ever half-successful, even when they've left plenty of room for good hooks (see: the title track).

Even so, while the album suffers a lack of focus, there's no doubt that Gentle Giant enjoy plenty of great moments on Interview- arguably more than they did on the grossly overrated The Power and the Glory. For what is otherwise essentially a hard rock tune, "Interview" has an infectious dissonance that feels wonderfully out of place (and for once, I mean that in a good way.) "Give It Back" seems like a mixed-success- at-best attempt at a reggae groove, but some of the ideas are really promising, including a theremin motif that sounds like Kid A-era Radiohead thirty years before the fact, and a pleasant guitar lead so restrained I could have swore it was Steve Hackett playing it. At the end of the day, the most impressive feat on Interviewer is its closing number. "I Lost My Head" is one part Medieval rock, one part heavy prog, and the fusion works- by the gods, does it ever work. Maybe my endearment's partially because it sounds so much like the theme to the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy programme; whatever the case, "I Lost My Head" accomplishes what the rest of the album (and some of their so-called 'peak' material) only ever managed to do half-heartedly.

To put it in the context of what came before, Interview strikes me with much of the same dryness as The Power and the Glory, and though while this one probably isn't quite as terribly unfeeling, Interview feels more inconsistent and scattered than any of its predecessors. One school of thought likes to call Interview Gentle Giant's last great album, the other likes to call it their first bad one. I'll chip in and say both schools are right. There is inspired material here, but now more than ever, it takes trudging through self-indulgent flash and fluff to get to it.

(Post-Script: After spending some more time listening to it outside of a critical context, I've gotta admit Interview's grown on me a bit. I still stand beside everything I've written, but in spite of the glaring faults and general unevenness, there's an echo of that charming feeling of spontaneity I loved on Acquiring the Taste, that The Power and the Glory went entirely without. Gentle Giant were a lot less concerned with sterile perfection here, and as a result I'll probably want to listen to it more in the future than their most soulless output. It's still a guilty pleasure by prog standards, but the change of perspective is worth noting.)

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 Free Hand  by GENTLE GIANT album cover Studio Album, 1975
4.27 | 1091 ratings

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Free Hand
Gentle Giant Eclectic Prog

Review by Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer

4 stars 'Free Hand' - Gentle Giant (78/100)

Free Hand is Gentle Giant at their most energetic, their catchiest, their jazziest, and- at least since Acquiring the Taste four years and half a career prior- their most playful. Given the increasingly dry and stately route they had taken on In a Glass House and The Power and the Glory, to hear Gentle Giant inject a little soul into their craft feels as refreshing as any of their more objective shifts in style. Barring that, this is very much the sort of album we might have expected by that point from Gentle Giant. Always preferring to say less with more, the rediscovered pop hooks are swept away with the trademark bombast and near-crippling aural complexity. The lean towards hooks and otherwise conventionally satisfying songwriting doesn't always work out on Free Hand, but it's one of the few times in Gentle Giant's proud career where the guys sound like they're operating outside their comfort zone.

Free Hand is typically described in terms of its so-called 'pop sensibilities' relative to the rest of their albums, but any talk of pop goes tandem with the damning implication that a progressive act must have simplified their craft. Gentle Giant would indeed try for a laughable 'commercial' approach a couple of years later (in a sense paving the way for Yes and Genesis, who would try pop with far greater success) the hooks on Free Hand are just another layer to an as-ever complex and indigestible maelstrom of rock, jazz and classical traditions.

I'm not convinced the juxtaposition between the catchy and complex entirely works on Free Hand, but like the best of Gentle Giant's work, there's something to be said alone for the boldness of the undertaking. Take "Just the Same"; the rhythmic bounce and bright melodic focus in the verse could have foreshadowed what the Phil Collins-led Genesis would be doing a decade later, but the superfluous layers of noodling guitars, keys and who-knows-what-else are far more challenging than the hooks are catchy.

In my original review of Free Hand, I noted that the album place a greater weight on conventional songwriting. I don't believe that is true anymore, though I can see why I first had that impression. Gentle Giant's approach to composition is just as sporadic and 'everything but the sink' as ever, but the band's use of melody in that context is much more tactful. "Free Hand" and "Time to Kill" are instrumentally clustered and frantically busy, but Derek Shulman's vocal lines sound as if they genuinely believe they're part of a pop or disco song. Although the hooks do little to endear the music on an emotional level, it's legitimately surprising how infectious they can be, especially given Gentle Giant's feeble track record when it's come to sweet and simple songwriting.

If there's anything that really sets Free Hand apart from its most recent antecedents, it's not so much the melodic writing (it does help, mind you) but the feeling of vivace Gentle Giant have injected into their performance. Whenever I'm listening attentively enough to an album, I'll get a mental visual of the band playing, as though I were there at the time it was recorded. While I did come to love In a Glass House in time, the accompanying image was sombre and sedentary; The Power and the Glory was drearier still- even the liveliest parts sounded like Gentle Giant themselves were emotionally detached. I could never call Free Hand (or any other GG album) an emotionally involving experience by any stretch, but with Free Hand it sounds like they're having a lot of fun playing it, which- while rare- was never a bad thing to hear in progressive rock.

Free Hand would also see Gentle Giant's jazz and Medieval musical influences come full force. While the jazz manifests itself in the band's fusion-style riffing, it's great to hear the latter given greater attention. While some might argue that "Talybont" isn't more than an interlude piece, hearing Gentle Giant throwing caution to the win and immersing themselves in their Medieval influence is surprisingly gratifying. The largely acapella "On Reflection" basks in classical austerity; the overlapping choral arrangement is one of the most impressive things Gentle Giant ever did, for its composition and performance alike. While the hard rock-oriented "Mobile" sadly fits their tradition of less-than-spectacular closing numbers, Free Hand stands among the finer accomplishments of Gentle Giant's career. Akin to their very own Going for the One, Free Hand acknowledges that Gentle Giant couldn't function on pomp and pretentiousness and alone. Music of this cerebral sort always needs some kind of visceral hook to be interesting, and following a spot of dryness in the mid-stage of their career, Gentle Giant managed to partly dispel that issue here. You can hear a shard of that same compelling energy on their following album Interview, but Free Hand stands as the last relatively 'great' album Gentle Giant would make before they started to finally unravel.

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