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Gentle Giant - The Power And The Glory CD (album) cover


Gentle Giant


Eclectic Prog

4.30 | 1647 ratings

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Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer
3 stars 'The Power and the Glory' - Gentle Giant (61/100)

It doesn't matter whether we're talking about progressive rock released in 2014 or 1974- technical chops only go so far. If an album's to leave a lasting impression, it needs a heart to go along with its head. Gentle Giant have always had at least one of those, but my impression of The Power and the Glory is less coloured by the overabundance of one than it is by the apparent lack of the other.

From the self-titled to Acquiring the Taste, from that to Three Friends, from Octopus to In a Glass House, Gentle Giant defined themselves as a band in stylistic transit, evolving at the risk of alienating fans of their past work. I don't feel that same degree of evolution on The Power & the Glory, Gentle Giant's sixth album, released in the dead-centre of their arguable 'peak' era. After stripping the superfluous arrangements and focusing their sound on In a Glass House, I think Gentle Giant had finally found a sound that favoured consistency over constant reinvention. While it's sometimes described as the most complex and challenging Gentle Giant's music ever got, The Power and the Glory's obvious technical merits are shadowed in part by its considerably more 'glorious' antecedent. To be certain, the music Gentle Giant made at this stage in their career is a mite too unfeeling and angular for my own tastes, but The Power and the Glory has enough meat on its bones to make for a challenging listen for its prospectively adventurous audience.

This marks the second time Gentle Giant would dive into 'concept album' territory, following Three Friends; considering the band drew their bread and butter from every progressive rock cliche and expectation (and amping them up to 11), the concept route is so fitting I'm surprised they only went for it thrice (including the less-narrative-but-still-conceptual Interview two years later). The Power and the Glory wraps itself around the concept of an inevitable abuse of power, in spite of the best intentions someone may have had during the time they spent acquiring it. It's the most intellectually promising subject matter Gentle Giant would ever tackle, far moreso than the relatively simple narrative for Three Friends. I actually think Three Friends succeeded far more as a concept album than this however; The Power and the Glory is a more consistent record musically and lends itself to greater depth, but the conceptual simplicity of Three Friends is part of what made it work in the first place. Released in the recent wake of the Watergate Scandal, The Power and the Glory may have been a more relevant concept, but the album's lyrical exploration feels pretty dry and static. Lyrics were never Gentle Giant's strength anyway.

...neither were vocals, for that matter. While Three Friends offered some of the most layered and sporadic vocal arrangements I've ever heard in rock music, the departure of lead singer Phil Shulman post- Octopus resulted in Gentle Giant downsizing the role vocals played in their music. The Power and the Glory is the most straightforward album Gentle Giant had done up to that point, and I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. Nothing on The Power and the Glory impresses me as much as Three Friends' vocal schizophrenics, but leaving more attention for the instrumentation was both a safe and effective decision for them to make. Derek Shulman sounds like a poor man's Peter Gabriel. Kerry Minnear- the more interesting of the two lead voices- still sounds like a poor man's Peter Hammill. When they do attempt the lavish vocal harmonies (see: "No God's a Man") it is needlessly cluttered, not impressive. Gentle Giant's vocals are decent for the most part ("So Sincere" is a dreaded exception to this rule) but I don't think they ever fully recovered from Phil Shulman's absence as vocalist. Given the aforementioned downsizing, I think they felt the same way.

Unsurprisingly, Gentle Giant's dense and complex musicianship (their defining characteristic) takes centre-stage, although now more than ever, the effect of their work depends on the holistic arrangement over individual riffs and performances. If there's anything in particular that's made The Power and the Glory less effective than In a Glass House, it's the absence of singularly memorable ideas. I do love "Playing the Game" for its quaint Genesis-style melodic phrasing and exotic riff, but for the most part, it feels like Gentle Giant had become too erudite for their own good by this point. I hate to be the kind of mouth- breather that can't get beyond lamenting how great they were with Acquiring the Taste, but come on; there was a passion and organic quality in the first years of their career, and somewhere along the way, they lost it. The Power and the Glory continues the pattern of angular rock riffing, overzealous arrangements and (dare I say) pretentious attitude that became so much a part of their format that The Power and the Glory feels much less adventurous than it first seems or undoubtedly considers itself to be.

It's a good thing Gentle Giant would return to a more playful context with Free Hand.

Conor Fynes | 3/5 |


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