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


Gentle Giant


Eclectic Prog

4.30 | 1643 ratings

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5 stars The British group's sixth studio release and a fan favourite amongst the group's cult following, 'The Power & The Glory' would find this most intriguing of progressive rock outfits and it's phenomenally-talented line-up of brothers and multi-instrumentalists producing some of the most complex, dissonant and ambitious material of their whole careers. With a discography that can basically be divided into three distinct stylistic phases(we'll come to that later) 'Gentle Giant' have throughout their decade-and-a-half existence shaped some of the most fiendishly intricate music of the entire progressive rock genre. Centred around the three Schulman brothers, Gentle Giant's origins can be traced back to the summer of 1966 when they were originally known as the orchestrally-flavoured, psych- tinged pop-act Simon Dupree & The Big Sound. Based in the Southern coastal town of Portsmouth, the group, like many others before and after them, began their musical life as a covers band, playing soul, R'n'B, and pop covers of the day at small clubs and bars. Their big break came when they were spotted by talent-scouts from EMI's off-shoot Parlophone Records, who subsequently offered the group a short-term recording deal during the final months of 1966. Positioned as a straight pop act just as psychedelia was starting to grow in popularity, Simon Dupree & The Big Sound briefly flirted with chart success when their trippy single 'Kites' reached the top ten of the UK singles chart in 1967. It would subsequently be followed by two further singles but both failed to scale the lofty heights reached by 'Kites, leading to a change in musical direction spearheaded by the three brothers at the group's core. Surrounded by music from a young age Phil, Derek and Ray Schulman could very well be described as musical prodigies though somehow that accolade doesn' seem quite lofty enough. Each brother was a capable vocalist and proficient on a number of instruments, with Phil Schulman, the oldest of the trio by a good ten years, a consumate saxophonist and trumpeter, middle brother Derek handling bass duties and lead vocals, and baby-brother Ray a highly capable violinist and guitarist. Feeling restricted by the limited pop format being forced upon them by their label, Simon Dupree & The Big Sound was subsequently dissolved in 1970 and their deal with EMI/Parlophone terminated. Impressed by the emerging progressive sounds of King Crimson and Yes and wanting to flex their considerable instrumental muscles, the brothers started to piece together a new outfit dedicated to producing only original music. After many auditions(including working with a then little-known pianist called Reginald Dwight) the trio hired Gary Green(guitar, flute), Kerry Minnear(keyboards, bass, cello, vocals) and Martin Smith(drums), named their fledgling group Giant and signed to entertainment svengali Tony Visconti's newly-minted Vertigo imprint. During the summer of 1970 Giant entered London's Trident studio's to record what would become their eponymously-titled debut album, though thinking that the name 'Giant' was more suitable for heavy rock group, Visconti persuaded the brothers to insert the moniker Gentle and thus the final piece of the puzzle had been located. Gentle Giant were born. The group's first album displayed the impressive instrumental chops of not only the brothers but also of their new found bandmates, with 'Gentle Giant' exhibiting a folk-tinged and slightly medieval sound. A moderate success in the UK, 'Gentle Giant' was followed by the similarly-styled efforts 'Acquiring The Taste'(1971), 'Three Friends'(1972) and 'Octopus'(1972), before Phil Schulman, tired of the relentless merry-go-round of writing, recording and touring, decided to quit. After determining not to replace their big brother, Gentle Giant started to develop a harder, darker and less whimsical edge that relied less on acoustic instruments and saw heavier guitars added to the mix. The first album developed without Phil was 1973's 'In A Glass House', a radical slice of symphonic prog showcasing a new found confidence that saw the group's already highly-complicated style take on an even more complex angle. 'In A Glass House' would mark the beginning of a new phase for Gentle Giant, the group's second phase, with their new, diamond-sharp style making better- known and more commercially-successful contemporaries such as Pink Floyd, Genesis and Van Der Graaf Generator seem tame and mundane in comparison, no easy trick. Following on in 1974, 'The Power & The Glory' arguably represents Gentle Giant at their creative, if not commercial, peak. Recorded in London's West End, at Advision studios, and produced by the group themselves, album number six eschewed almost entirely the whimsical story-telling that had been such a feature of the group's earlier material, with the quaint medieval undercurrent that characterized critically-lauded albums such as 'Acquiring The Taste' and 'Octopus' replaced by a dense tapestry of experimental instrumental passages, grazing guitar riffs and fiendishly complicated time signatures layered over one another with frightening dexterity. Indeed, although there were only five members in the group, the music often made it sound like there were many more. Nominally a concept album-of-sorts, 'The Power & The Glory' is based on that age-old moral warning: 'Power corrupts, but absolute power corrupts absolutely', as the eight individual tracks chart the various quandaries facing a political figure who initially tries to use his power for good but ultimately begins to abuse his status the more prominent he becomes. This cautionary journey is described such tracks as the rambling opener 'Proclamation', the album's longest piece at just under seven minutes, the awkwardly- structured 'So Sincere' and the almost anthemic 'Playing The Game'. Introduced by the sound of a vast, roaring crowd, 'Proclomation' features a delicate keyboard melody slowly building up, in typical Gentle Giant style, to something much more grand as incongruous percussion skitters around the tune's edges with jazzy intent. It's a difficult, jerky piece, almost tuneless in some of it's darker moments, that never really settles into a single rhythm, though Gary Green's menacing guitar breaks give follow-up 'So Sincere' slightly more focus. The album really bursts into life, however, on the awesome 'Playing The Game', a stone-cold Gentle Giant classic featuring an outrageously catchy central riff conjured up between a clipped vibraphone chord, impressively byzantine guitar licks - again courtesy Green - and some lightly funk-dipped drum rhythms. In what seems to be a stylistic theme running through all of 'The Power & The Glory', 'Playing The Game' momentarily interrupts it's slick flow to allow a brief, almost ethereal respite of vocal harmonies before the vibrant guitar licks reappear accompanied by a hail of impossibly- intricate drum rolls and chord changes. Finally, on the album's metallic closer 'Valedictory', bar-room pianos, echo-drenched vocals, chiming guitars and dancing synth runs combine for a last, epic assault of experimental discordia and progressive noodling, closing the album with a sense of unease that is merely amplified by the group's absolute refusal to settle on a single chord, melody or rhythm for a few seconds without injecting it with their brazen and highly-creative habit of multi-layering almost every decible with a opposing line. The effect can be somewhat jarring, yet the sheer complexity on offer can also be truly awe-inspiring. Although, commercially speaking, Gentle Giant failed to hit the heights of their more popular contemporaries, the group's music is considered by many fans and critics to be amongst the most important and influential within the progressive rock genre, with 'The Power & The Glory' finding the remaining Schulman brothers and their talented accomplices at their most deliberately ambitious. Showcasing a highly-evolved tapestry of sounds and colours, this is music-making in the boldest sense of the term, unafraid of commercial constraints or stylistic trends. Despite the occasional indulgence this is an enthralling ride of an album that, even within the paradigms of prog, somehow defies description. It's certainly rock, but not as we know it...
stefro | 5/5 |


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