Gentle Giant

You better watch out! You never know when he's gonna sneak up on you from behind a mountain and politely suggest you have some creamed corn and diced carrots!


Gentle Giant
Acquiring the Taste
Three Friends 
In a Glass House
The Power and the Glory
Free Hand
Official Live: Playing the Fool
The Missing Piece
Giant for a Day

The Lineup Card (1970-1980)

Derek Schulman (vocals)

Ray Schulman (bass, violin, percussion, vocals)

Phil Schulman (horns, vocals)

Kerry Minnear (keyboards, vocals)

Cary Green (guitar, vocals)

And a whole host of drummers


Original proggers with the least rock-worthy name of any band outside of the Mighty Clouds of Joy, Gentle Giant represent the upper crust of the obscuro prog bands - everyone who doesn't live under a rock has heard of Genesis (even if only in their pop lineup), every person who's listened to classic rock radio for more than 15 minutes has heard of Yes, Jethro Tull, and Emerson, Lake, and Pornlover, and King Crimson's been notorious enough for long enough that most people will grudgingly admit they've heard of 'em.  But Gentle Giant? The fuck is that? How can you get away with a name like that, much less when you're putting pictures of Phil Collins on half your album covers...and Phil Collins isn't even in your band? Well, you can play an enormous-sounding soup-like mixture of free jazz, soundtracky classical, and high-dollar psychedelic art rock, for one thing, and you can hang out in the wings just long enough to gather your own following of glazed-eyed acolytes, that's another. Just because Gentle Giant remains a hazily-remembered, long deceased cult band rather than yet another member of the endless white-line geriatric Summer Festival circuit doesn't mean they're not worthy of checking out.  Just remember this: the number of serious 70's bands that made it relatively intact and free of major embarrassment through the 1980's is still somewhere less than three, and even that number is about as reliable as Enron cash flow statements. Perhaps, by remaining low-profile and breaking up before they took a really regrettable step towards pop-accessibility, Gentle Giant were able to remain one of those music critic favorites - an overlooked gem waiting for discovery in the mustier sections of the seedy local used LP store, right next to the more flashy and attractive Genesis albums. You've all been there,  that ugly bald bastard staring up at you from the rack with that Chester the Molester smirk, just daring you to take a chance with a prog band that held horns and saxophones in approximately equal regard to electric guitars, and changed time signatures like Kenny Lofton changes baseball teams.  It's said the band members played up to 30 instruments over the course of a Gentle Giant concert, and Jimi Hendrix only played two (a stock Strat and his cerebral cortext, both plugged in through his Fuzz face), so when you hear strings on a Gentle Giant album, by God, those might just be Giants playing those things! (Of course, it could also have been grey-haired, union-scale hired guns, too, but don't tell that to anyone).

Gentle Giant's main problem is they lack sex appeal and have little to no discernable identity as a band.  See, Yes and Crimson, for instance, both had times in their peak 70's periods where they sounded as much like funk or heavy metal bands than the stereotypical prog winkity-wankity, and both had monster rhythm sections that could make all that sound legitimate. They were rock and roll bands foremost, and jazz/classical/fusioid/New Age wankers second. Then there were those, (and here I'm talking about ELP), who only cared about possessing the spotlight for as long as possible, doing any acrobatic thing they could to extend their solo before the other two chubby dirigibles decided it was their turn. Gentle Giant was a more unique third case - though it is definitely possible for this band to kick out the motherfuckers and jam, goddamn, they only see fit to do it for a few fleeting seconds at a time before flittering off into some other time signature where paisley leprechauns fly around your head and ice cream dinosaurs do the Watusi past your window.  They also have little to no use for soloing, acting more as a 10-armed ensemble monster than a bunch of solo artists who happened to end up on the same stage on the same night. Can you name any of the members of the band? I sure as shit can't. Gentle Giant is schizoid musically, which makes them damned interesting, I'll grant you, but it also makes them about as dicey and easy to digest as Chinese Buffet food five minutes before closing time. They lack a unifying theme in a lot of their music - they're not evil, they're not hard-rocking, hell - they don't even do 'weird' all that well.  What they do is complex, difficult to understand, and quite possibly, in the end, nothing more than a bunch of musical-sounding fucking about. This is eggheaded music, plain and simple, and it's most definitely not for easy listening. Still, at times they can pull off some amazing stuff, and hit as hard as anyone on the ol' musical emotion level.  Just don't expect much of that impact to come from the lyrics, that's all - quite often this band just seems to be singing because we expect them to, and as an excuse to put together some of their wonky, Gregorian vocal harmonies they seem to dig so much.

To be honest, I don't really know that much about this band other than what I've heard on their albums. They don't have wrinkly old ex-groupies writing about how they used to travel with a portable petting zoo or anything, and for once I can't even refer to what drugs they were all addicted to, because it seems there weren't any.   The worst thing they did was not to break up when progressive rock began to decline in the mid-70's, because they did put together some righteously regrettabke pop-oriented albums in the bowels of that decade. I mean, when the worst thing you did was release an album full of misconceived 4/4 rockers and put a cardboard giant mask cutout on the cover, you're not talking capital crimes here.

Anyhow, Gentle Giant is decidedly not the first progressive rock band an unsuspecting Joe Shanksmoker should dive into, anyway. I'm pretty effing well-versed in this shit and I'm still not sure I 'get' Gentle Giant like I'm intended to.  I've yet to review any jazz on this here website, despite what promises I may have made several years ago before I got too far into this thing to even consider it, but this may be the closest thing I've come to it so far - music for music's sake, with plenty of ego and pretension but little artifice or emotional stricture.  Gentle Giant rarely impose on the listener what emotion they're trying to convey at any particular time. They leave that up to you to decide.  And if you require them to play it for you six or seven times before you decide how it does make you feel, you're definitely not alone.

Gentle Giant - Polydor 1970

1969 being Year Zero for progressive rock, 1970 was like that scene in Star Trek II where the Genesis Machine gets turned on and all that pastel goopy-looking crap begins to spread across the surface of the planet like some sort of weird disease - everybody who had ever taken a couple of guitar lessons began playing the stuff.  Grandmas, tax accountants, former mimes - everyone was picking up a flute and learning to count in 11/4 time in 1970 (and taking a look at the band photo, most of those people landed in Gentle Giant).  Except for only one thing - the only road map people had to go by for what a progressive rock album was supposed to sound like was In the Court of the Crimson King, As a result, lots and lots of 1970 albums ended up sounding like faint rip-offs of the Grandaddy Classic prog LP of all time.  Gentle Giant were a bit unique in that they actually released two LP's that ripped off Court, instead of just one.  They were also unique in that they didn't totally suck ass cock like so many one-off bands that sprouted up around that time.  Still, the comparison is one helluva close one - keyboardist Kerry Minnear uses lots and lots of Mellotron, the drums are all that tippity-tippity heavy-on-the-high-hat sort of thing, and singer Derek Schulman often sounds like Greg Lake with a set of hands grasping around his throat.  Hell...'Funny Ways' and 'Aluead' may as well be King Crimson songs, and 'Giant' sure sounds fishy enough as the extended, semi-violent opener when you've got '21st Century Schizoid Man' already in your holster.  You never know when the band's going to turn a corner and just blast into 'DUHHH DUMDA DUMMM DUH DUHH!!', but alas, they never do. Hell, just look at the album cover next to Crim's, and tell me they aren't trying to position themselves in a certain way.

Of course, no one does Crim as well as the Crim themselves, so it's not too much of a surprise that this album falls into the 'decent at best' category, and that the true Gentle Giant-ness is in short supply.  In fact the three best numbers on here, as far as my ears can discern, are the goofy C&W-sounding sendup 'Isn't It Quiet and Cold', which is fun, happy, and as pretty as a prom queen's pom poms, the well-constructed (and perfectly normal) ballad 'Nothing at All', and the funk-metal 'Why Not', which creams everything else here on pure progressive rock terms.  Hell, in places, it even becomes a straight-up blues jam like some fools like Cream or somebody would play. Needless to say, they wouldn't sound this earthbound for some time, and as their philosophies changed, they never sounded quite as immediate, either.

Oddly enough, the further out they get here stylistically, the more they sound like homely dorks who can't get their message across.  'Giant' is the 'big' opening number, full of piss and whiskey, but it simply changes lanes so frigging often it's hard for me to get a tack on what it's trying to do. Is it a rocker? Then why doesn't it ever lock into a groove? Is it a show-off piece? It's surely not that complex or mind-blowing, and the crescendos seem to head to boring, unsatisfying peaks - an organ flourish, or just another repetition of the irritating chorus.  The jazzy middle section builds to...what? A two-finger Mellotron solo? Come on, now guys...gimme danger. You're trying to impress us here, because I sure as hell can't relate to whatever emotion you're failing to get across. Phil Shulman's lead vocals on 'Funny Ways' are somehow better than his brothers are anywhere else, even though the song is not much more than a classicist tease, a bit of instrumental show off (we own a piccolo trumpet, bitches!), an out-of-place psychoid guitar section, and back again. 'Alucad' rocks better than anything else on Side 1, but it gets quite lost with another one of those near-silent jazz instrumental sections before finally stomping that limp fucker to death as it lurches back to life in a maelstrom of angry synthesizers. I have no frigging clue what 'Alucad' is supposed to be, but for my money this is the true 'Giant' of the album. That opening track can get shtupped.

Capn's Final Word: So they're not particularly original or clear about what they're trying to do, but at least they go after it with mouth wide open.

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Acquiring the Taste - Polydor 1971

The question is, the taste for what, exactly? Gentle Giant begin to fall far down into themselves with this album, and even though it still feels in places like a slighter ripoff of early King Crimson, some of the classic GG (Allin) touches are now in place: those massed, Gregorian vocals playing minor-interval heck with each other, less reliance on the lead guitar to define the tone of the song, more instrument and time changes than the listener could possibly know what to do with, and Right...fuck those damn song things, forcing you to put together coherent verses and choruses.  We know how to play every goddamn instrument in the 5th grade band room, so let's play, fuckers! Acquiring the Taste is a contentious listen, no longer broken into nice little snack-size pieces like the debut was, but rather extended into a large chunk of progressiveness that defies easy entry.  It downright forces you to sit down and frigging try to scale its obsidian walls, looking for some emotional foothold, anything to grab ahold of, to pry your way in. Quite possibly, this one has the steepest learning curve of any Gentle Giant album.  Make it through this, and your set for just about anything they'd dish out, up to Interview, anyway, and if you're not calloused enough to noisy complexity by then you probably just ought to give up on this band.  Believe me, though - as cerebral and difficult as this band can often be, Acquiring the Taste is probably one of the more difficult albums they ever put out - it's far less melodic and settled than, say Three Friends, but it seems like the kind of thing you should be able to figure out, but can't.  Take the opener 'Pantagruel's Nativity' (don't worry if you have no idea who Pantagruel or Robelais were...I had to look it up myself, and I'm not too sure that it added too much to my existence that I did.  Take the time you'd have spent doing that and go look at some scantily clad celebrities on the hilarious What Would Tyler Durden Do? site here and thank me in the morning.), which, although it contains a darn nice Dave Mason-y guitar solo, kinda spends most of its time searching for a cool half-Sabbath-y guitar riff to rest on, and somehow just ends up with a drippy no-good bunch of wonk, liberally shot through with lots of dropouts and unnecessary horn interludes that make it sound like nothing more than the latest Chicago debacle.  Folks are right - this band falls flat on its grubby, hairy ass when it comes to creating any sort of an atmosphere with its songs.  They use too many instances of silence or near-silence, and seem to have the attention span of a toddler on Lik-em-aid stuck in the nickel slots room of Caesar's palace.  If any mood or passage lasts longer than 10 seconds, a big blazing light must have come on in the studio, or electric shocks delivered to their extremities, or something.  These guys are fickle.

Talk about jumping in with both feet, 'Edge of Twilight' is a damned classical song for Chrissakes, albeit one that's bookended by vocal sections that sound like Justin Hayward on bennies. Things continue in this Medieval potboiler vein through 'The House, The Street, The Room', which ends up blowing the doors off with an earwax-melting psychedelic solo by Cary Green. Of course, that solo comes only after a tasteless section of unconscionable tunelessness where the band decides to play every single one of their mastered instruments in turn.  'The Moon is Down' betrays the band's roots in hippie-dippy folk-rock, except they're not willing to leave well enough alone with the song's (marginally) engaging melody...they have to make it 'difficult' by screwing with the harmonies until it loses any relief of it's mounting tension, and by adding an irritatingly contrite set of keyboard solos to pad out the running time. About the best thing here is the pirate fantasy 'Wreck', which sounds quite a bit like ELP crossed with Steppenwolf (listen to it and tell me I'm wrong).  I hear this one is usually ridiculed by the Giant faithful because it's so down to earth, but sheeeittt....pirates, bitches! Blood 'n' gore and parrots and harbor sluts! And this song does have an atmosphere...a violent, mean sonofabitch kind of atmosphere.  The way they sing 'draggun 'em dow-un!' is worth the listen by itself. 

Gentle Giant must've had some master plan for how it released these first few albums - the first one grabs all of the people who liked prog music already by emulating its best early work, and the second one 'trains' those who bought the first one on what to expect from the 'real' Gentle Giant.  Except that's not really what happened (no one bought any of these albums anyway, not in enough numbers to make a Ted Knight worth of difference, anyhow), and that's not what the band delivered.  Analingus doesn't sound as thick or as interesting as what was soon to come from this band, and though it does pack some originality and historical import into its tight little aerobic instructor bod, it's unnecessarily obtuse and even (yulp!) pretty damned tasteless in sections. 

Capn's Final Word: The Giant tighten the restraints, and end up snuffing more than a few of their first victims.  Perhaps the 'acquisition' could've taken a bit more time, hmmm?

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Nick   Your Rating: C+
Any Short Comments?: I think you are right on the mark with this one, though I think both "Pantagruels Nativity" and "Edge Of Twilight" are good songs, most of the rest is just a chore to endure.


Three Friends - Columbia 1972

Better, better, better....straight off, we're presented with a real-life riff to follow along with, a nice thing to have in your hip pocket as you begin to wade into the Giants' first concept album (genh. I knew I shouldn't have had that big lunch...), this one about three friends (holy crap! I so never saw that coming! Just like I never in a million years thought Samuel Jackson's character just might be a supervillain in that one movie with the bald guy from Hudson Hawk!) who go to school together and take different paths through life and blah-dy blahditty blah. You know what? Concept albums make my rectum itch. I'd say the batting average for concept albums in terms of not being a huge mash of incomprehensible hippie yammering crap is about 0.005% throughout the history of rock music. I mean, wha...Tommy? Great music on that album, sure, but the story makes about as much sense as a mid-season episode of Twin Peaks. The Wall, Ogden's Nut Gone Flake, Roberta Flack Plays The Golden Hits of Millions of Dead Cops? Nothin'. No sense at all. You might as well pour sand down my throat and tell me I'm eating filet mignon for all the sense most concept albums make, and that's true of this one, too.  For one thing, and don't just completely fly off the handle when I tell you this, but I can never comprehend Gentle Giant lyrics, don't hear most of them due to the bad singing and shitball mix job on these recrods, and moreover don't give much of a flying fish about what they're incessantly spouting off about, anyway. Does that make me a bad person? Does that make me unfit to father this review page? Are you going to call Prog Band Protective Services and have all my Gentle Giant albums taken away from me until I can prove I'm only going to listen to them intently, in a darkened room with headphones on and trusty lyric sheet at the ready? Because, as it is, I can totally get into how they play a lot of the time, but their lyrics just flitter around my head like little translucent butterflies. I had a very similar problem with the Moody Blues, and just like them, I sure have to jack the volume knob up loud to be able to hear this stuff at all. And what about those goddamn dropouts? I'm all for dynamics and all that - I mean, I love 'Paranoid Android' as much as the next Headbanger's Ball watcher, but this is ridiculous. Try to figure out what the fuck is going on through the parts of 'Peel the Paint' (about the arty of the three) that don't feature that nice, loud-ass electric twanger. Go ahead, turn it up! I dares ya! Because then Mr. Guitar Player comes crashing in and, literally, peels the paint from the roof of your mouth.  Keep in mind that these loud parts are the thing I enjoy the best about this band - the singing gets better when it's not all whispered and lilting, and I love the way this Gary Green guy totally doesn't fit in with the rest of the band.  When he's playing, the rest of these fools can't help but play fucking loud as well, just to keep up with that lunatic.  And when he solos, well, he ain't no James Marshall, but he sure isn't shy about it, either.  The Schulman brothers could really take a page or two out of his book.

Therefore, 'Peel the Paint' is both my favorite and least favorite song on this record.  It's got the riff and the wicked solo, but it's also got those incomprehensible quiet parts to slow it down to a waiting-for-the-last-drop-of-Heinz-ketchup-to-leave-the-bottle pace. 'Mister Class and Quality' (the rich, shallow one of the three) sounds a whole helluva lot like Phish through its shallow little jazz jam, but it serves as a nice intro to the more challenging title track, which again reintroduces balls to the album in the form of Green's lead guitar. I tell you, when the guy's on, this band is worth listening to. When he's not, it's just a bunch of burbling and whistling, as near as I can tell. Anyhow, the 'Three Friends' jam is probably the best ensemble playing on the record - the point at which the band finally, after almost three LP's worth of trying, seems to operate as a unit. It's quite possibly the most 'proggy' part of the record, but it's also somehow the most accessible outside of the metallic sections of 'Paint'. The melodies are finally something more than faint suggestions, and the Mellotron section even approaches something close to graceful.

All of this is more than I can say about the opening side, with its 'Prologue'. Some of the themes of 'Three Friends' are introduced here, but in a skuzzier, less attractive technophile sort of way, and there's way too much emphasis on the keyboards here for my taste. Much verbal job-blowing is given to the fact that Kerry Minnear keeps his synthesizers sounding like noise generators instead of, you know, absolutely artificial sounding horns or whatever, but that praise totally misses the fact that he does not know how to make his playing sound interesting. The dude loves his wide-ass arpeggios like a first-born puppy dog, and insists that most of his more audible parts consist of nothing but him going doo-dwee-doo-duhhh-dweee!! sixteen thousand times cyclically. Me? Give me Rick Wakeman's zillion-mile-per classical scale runs any day, cheap syntones or not. I know which side my synth is lubed on, pardner.

'School Days' is an even more audacious snooze, with seemingly more silence than sound, and long sections that sound like the Genitals just trying to fill tape so this album wouldn't end up shorter than the Beach Boys' Surfer Girl album (Gentle Giant albums are notoriously short - this one's a mere thirty-five minutes, and at least fifteen of that's gotta be the prog album equivalent of a walk-in closet in the guest bedroom - stick in there whatever the fuck doesn't obviously fit attractively somewhere else. 'Working All Day' (about the poor laborer of the three), with its Kinks-y disillusionment vibe and simpler-than-usual construction is fairly enjoyable as depressingly grey odes to lost dreams go.  I mean, it sounds as despondent as Pamela Anderson in a swimming pool of buffalo wings, but it attempts to maintain that depressive atmosphere instead of, you know, dropping into silence for fifteen seconds and then following it with a keyboard solo that sounds like a clearance sale ring tone.

This band's faults are clear as day - they equate changing time signature and dynamic with writing a good, memorable song, and for that they're as wrong as Willy Wonka's Genuine Gummy Embryo Chews (That's real stem cell your tasting!) Because they've got it in their power to put together some cool jazzy rock, but they limit themselves from doing it because...because why? They were young? They were attempting to impress their proggier-than-thou audience? Beat Yes at their own game? Get some librarian pussy? Who the hell knows nowadays, but I'll tell you - the better parts just about make up for the boring bits, starting with this album right here. Now, if they could just take a Valium and FOCUS a little bit, we could have something tasty on our hands.

Capn's Final Word: The concept is bunk, and they mostly forget about it anyway. Just like they forget about the melodies and hooks on side one. Side two has some points of ignition, though.

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Nick   Your Rating: B+
Any Short Comments?: Screw the concept, I just love Mr. Class and Quality - Three Friends and think it is about the best thing GG ever did. Schooldays and Prologue are fun too (though Schooldays is drawn out for what purpose?). This CD needs to be remaster in a big way (my Columbia CD is not exactly HiFi)

Octopus - Columbia 1972

Oddly enough, as the music gets more and more complex and 'proggy', I actually think this band has gained in focus....and I sure as crap begin to like them a lot more.  Hell, I hated this album when I first listened to it, the second Gentle Giant experience I had after Three Friends.  Like most people, it took some time to 'acquire' the tolerance for music like this, and I'm still not sure how tight my grasp on it really is (hell, I'm not sure how tight Gentle Giant's grasp on their own shit is) even though I've now listened to it about sixteen dozen times waiting for my workload to lighten up so I could write this frigging review.  That said, Octopus, with the exception of 'Knots', possibly, is the first place I say Gentle Giant does their particular Gentle thing anywhere close to their potential.  Get this - I've been humming the melody to 'The Advent of Panurge' to myself for about three days now, from about the time I shave in the morning to my end-of-evening marathon sessions of World of Warcraft I'm now apparently addicted to (hey - the wife's on out-of-town assignment, so it's either that or back onto the Squealing Tiny Young Asian Woman porn site to see if I can figure out where I found that one video that starred the slut that looked like the short haired girl on Hi Hi Puffy Ami Yumi).  The best thing for me about Octopus is not the decidedly stomach churning cover art (that reminds me of best-forgotten trips to the local Chinatown for $2.99 lunch buffets with my Indonesian co-worker), but the fact that the first three songs represent some of the best-constructed prog rock I've heard since I first heard Relayer all those hazy years ago. Yes, I had to look up the word 'ranconteur' also (have a heart - I went to engineering school where the closest thing we came to right-brained activity was drawing on the sides of our test tubes in org lab), and I'd rather swan-dive into a swimming pool of seeping medical waste than read whatever book that Panurge character comes from, but don't let that scare you off from the sneaky rocking this band does on these songs. Yup - rocking. Check out the way the piano plays off the drums plays off the guitar on the funk sections of 'Panurge' and tell me your Pet Prog Band could play something tighter, funkier, and more lethal than that. 'Ranconteur' isn't quite so much a rock song as a minuet, but it never reaches the point of snobbishness because the arrangement is so tasteful - the Gentiles have never used the violin more effectively, nor have they better integrated 'classical' as well as they do the strings/organ passage towards the third minute. And 'A Cry for Everyone'....well, that main riff would make one fine damn ELO song, wouldn't it? And I love ELO, except they could never quite play like this, now could they? This is the Gentle Giant radio hit that could've been - could've been with a better name, a more appealing image, and a bit less of their freakish aversion to the commercial side of rock music. 

The wheels come off the Octopus jugband juggernaut with 'Knots', which sounds like King Crimson's stage equipment undergoing periodic maintenance while the Crystal Cathedral choir reads the Pasadena White Pages over it.  It's a total and complete rhythmic disaster - difficulty for difficulty's sake. Listen, it may be hard to play like this, but it's not hard to write like that. I could crank out thirty-second note paradiddled cross-harp scale run in 11/32 time if you gave me a half hour to work on it, but never could I write the three-note riff to 'Satisfaction' and realize it could be the foundation of one of rock and roll's greatest songs ever. Things get dislodged again and fall into decent rhythmic shape on 'The Boys in the Band', but this particular sneaky rocker isn't quite as memorable as 'The Advent of Panurge', though it does have the first nice-sounding synth solo so far on a Giant album. My mind tends to skip over the ridiculously overblown 'Dog's Life' as if it weren't there, but the album begins to rip scabs off again with the gorgeous ballad 'Think of Me with Kindness' and, especially, the amazingly ethereal 'River'...yet another one of those cases where Gentle Giant forgets it's supposed to exclusively make music that resembles some enormous Tinker Toy DNA strand and just pulls out the ass and jams. Check out the rumbling drum boulders and the fonky fonky guitar solo section.  Maaaan....if this band could just decide for one album that each song either needs to rock ass like 'River', 'Cry' or 'Panurge', or be as pretty as 'Kindness', we'd have not just one of the best prog rock albums ever, we'd probably have had one of the best albums of the decade.  Dig it.

Capn's Final Word: Still have some rather big lumps in their gravy, but the meat of the situation tastes fantastic.

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tim hoyt      Your Rating: A+
Any Short Comments?: knots is a masterpeice gg at its best..


Nick  Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: The first three songs are so strong that this album can't fail to get a good score. The song Knots was very hard to get into and actually like, but I think I'm almost there. another eseential GG album


In a Glass House - Dressed to Kill 1973

I mean, has any band ever been more obstinate in their refusal to even entertain the idea of being commercially successful than this one? The Octopus/Glass House period being, arguably, the point at which they had the best chance to have broken through, what with the 'Roundabout' and Aqualung songs being played on FM radio all the time and the band finally having matured to the point where they no longer sounded like one big practical joke by a bored backwater liberal arts college department of music faculty...but they didn't take the bait.  Following what I feel to be a near miss with Octopus, they released In a Glass House, a great but not exactly user-friendly chunk of even more dense prog.  And when the band finally did have a miniscule amount of positive popular reception for their Free Hand album, they follow it up by releasing a cynical and grouchy record (Interview) about how much a drag it is to be a rock star. I mean, have you guys ever thought about going into computer programming or tax accounting or something possibly better suited to your personalities? Actually, considering how this band had such a knack for snatching commercial disaster from the claws of success time and time again, perhaps they'd have been a better fit as the guy who changes the ketchup pump out down at the local Whataburger.

Still, I get the feeling that with Glass House, the band really wanted nothing more than to get together and just jam proggishly for awhile.  Wellll...of course it goes much deeper than that, but not too much. The acolytes might disagree with me, but Gentle Giant have never seemed to me to be too enlightened when it comes to their lyrical themes or points of view.  I mean, anyone who finishes reading the lyric sheet to Three Friends and feels a very strong point has been made is probably also 'about halfway through' the first Left Behind novel after three months.  This one's about prisons and other assorted methods of incarceration, and was apparently inspired by a certain early-70's American made-for-TV movie of the same name, but to be honest, I can't ever muster the patience to pay attention to the lyrics, anyhow. Horny brother Phil (saxophones, trumpets, other things that they tried to force into your mouth in 5th grade, other than those in Catholic school) quit before this album came out, leaving the arrangements much thinner and more rock-oriented than previous, and, to my mind, removing some of the absurdity and depth, collectively.  The band sounds really really tight on this album, almost compulsively so - the ensemble instrumental sections feel nearly robotic as it humphalumphs its way through another sci-fi sounding passage.  The 'medieval' trappings that critics are always harping about when they discuss Gentle Giant are conspicuously muted, leaving a cold, computerized band sound focused around drums and organs.  If Octopus had sections where Ye Olde Progge Bande sounded like a sweaty-butt funk rock band, this album has ones that almost sound like Kraftwerk. 'Way of Life' begins like some ridiculous parody of disco music, and 'Experience' is about as prefab and flippant as prog comes these days. Then again, House also has sections that sound just exactly like any other Gentle Giant you may have heard ('Reunion' is simply a 'Retread'), so don't go selling your first edition Silmarillion and lacquering down your hair into a Teutonic Peter Jennings-style shell just yet.

Mostly, Glass House is remarkably consistent in quality, but it's absolutely no brain-teaser to figure out why Polydor balked at releasing it in the US - they could see prog rock was on the skids by 1973 and didn't want to waste money with the expensive cellophane-paneled cover art on a release that was going to be clogging 99 cent cutout bins in three months.  None of it is exactly 'accessible', not even in the convoluted way Octopus was, and the only two songs that could've been potentially radio are either wonky and tuneless ('An Inmates Lullaby') or lilting and fey ('Reunion').  What, you gonna subject Joe Bob Bonghuffer to eight minutes of 'Experience' or 'In a Glass House' to get around to the three minutes of straight up rocking they do in the middle? You better have a money tree growing in the studio booth because the sponsors are gonna start fleeing like rats from the Titanic galley.

That said, as a prog album, In a Glass House is still mighty fine.  The band seems to have cured themselves of the aimless jerking about of their second album and become a sharp and intuitive bunch of ensemble players, and still whip up a fine batch of leather-clad riffs when they give Gary a chance to turn up.  Give it for the most patient progressive rock guitar player the world has ever known, ladies and gentlemen.

Capn's Final Word: I've never heard a Billy Joel album quite like it.

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Mike     Your Rating: B-
Any Short Comments?: Never heard this. But...

"has any band ever been more obstinate in their refusal to even entertain the idea of being commercially successful than this one?"

How about Henry Cow?


Nick   Your Rating: B+
Any Short Comments?: I think your review is pretty fair to this album. I would suggest that the record company really blew it by not releasing it in the states in 1973 as it subsequently sold about 150K units as an import (not too shabby, eh?). I consider this album essential GG.


The Power and the Glory - Capitol 1974

So with Glass House, the band made their choice in their particular Choose Your Own Adventure - The Overblown Seventies Wonk Rock Version and ended up on the page that ended with a picture of them begging for change outside the Polydor Recording Studios. This band was gonna eschew the whole coke-habits-and-blow-jobs scene and be hardcore musician muthafuckers (at least, until the bank accounts ran dry about 1977)...and the suits could just eat a plate piled high with it, maaaan. Following Octopus, this band apparently didn't even care about reaching out to a new audience. You either 'got' this band or you didn't, and the hordes that didn't far outnumbered the hardy souls that did. The Power and the Glory employs the questionable strategy of being even less easy to embrace than In a Glass House, which was no Tarkus in its own right.  So for every acceptable moment, like, say 'Aspirations', you get to smash your fingers along to four minutes of absolute irritation with 'So Sincere', probably one of the most tasteless things to come from the prog movement (along with the 'CHA CHA CHA' part of Yes's 'Sound Chaser' and Ian Anderson's human being). Not even the rockers are safe from this tendency to toss in an extra dash of suck into every bubbling pot here - 'Cogs in Cogs' sounds like Rush covering Yes, except with the score upside down. 

Then, the band can turn around and present a near-masterpiece of self-control like 'Playing the Game' - essentially Gentle Giant do Krautrock, brilliantly. And it begs the question - are they fucking with us, or what? Is it that they seriously can't tell the good songs from the bad ones, or was their audience so disconnected from reality that they enjoyed sitting down and listening to a band break down as unmusically and disgracefully as on 'So Sincere'? It's gotta be a mixture of both.  All I know is that by the time the band is unironically rhyming 'change' and 'rearrange' on 'Valedictory' like they were Gene Simmons and Peter Sinfield's love children, I'm ready for it to be over, and that the experience not be repeated for some time, good moments or no.  With the last two, I could easily click 'play' not three seconds after the finish, and feel a sense of excitement surge back up to hear the first few licks of 'The Advent of Panurge' or whatever.  That's a pretty considerable difference, folks. 

Oddly enough, the concept of the failure of leaders is probably the band's strongest, or least-clumsily handled, anyway (allegedly it was not influenced by Richard Nixon, and considering how out-of-touch this band seems to be, they may even not be lying) , and there certainly are moments ('Aspirations', 'Playing the Game') where things come together as solidly as they ever did for this bunch.  It's just that the inmates have taken over the asylum this time, and the ever-rising tide of shit songs and poor decisions is rapidly sinking Gentle Giant. Prog didn't die commercially in 1974 for no reason, you know?

Capn's Final Word: Funny how the band comes out with its album about the fall of the hailed leaders right around the time their own vision began to cloud.

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Nick   Your Rating: B+
Any Short Comments?: I think your review for this album was a bit harsh. The thing that stikes me as a huge positive for this album is that the vocals, individually and arrainged, are better than any other GG album (with the possible exception of Freehand). The vocal hooks are right there, up front, no affected delivery or bizarre atonal experiments (Inmate's Lullaby and Knots) just kick-as deliveries. GIANT CAVEAT: "SO Sincere" does absolutely suck and brings the album down a grade.


Free Hand - One Way 1975

Like a skier who momentarily stops a full-motion tumble down a steep grade only to lose it even more spectacularly just a few split seconds later - legs bending where legs shouldn't bend, gasps and howls from the onlooking crowd as they witness the futile attempts of the victim to stop his inevitably sticky end, Free Hand was, though too little and too late, the band's one and only genuine attempt not to be absolutely ignored by the vast majority of the record buying public.  It charted fairly high, spawned a live album, and, for a few short months at least, i looked like things were finally breaking through the clouds for these guys, heretofore the New Orleans Saints of the prog rock world. Predictably (for anyone who's been paying attention this far) they followed up this move by once again hurled their blossoming little career under the bus once again by releasing the horribly rushed and damn-near unlistenable Interview album. Then they followed it up by unsuccessfully trying to become Supertramp. So yeah, the relief of hearing great...that's right, great Gentle Giant material for a side is followed up by the realization that you're still heading for a very, very painful end before it's all over. Folks like to refer to this album as 'cute' and 'poppy', which I guess is true for a band that was deviously lacing its albums with the noxious 'So Sincere' just a year earlier, but this isn't exactly James Taylor and the Three Chord Troubadours of Simplicity here. Above all, this still sounds quite a bit like any other Gentle Giant album, it just lacks some of the razor-sharp shards of infected glass that the other ones have had. Let's call most of this 'basically non-threatening medieval keyboard prog' instead, shall we?

Otherwise, we can just call it 'the consistently great Gentle Giant album', because, although it doesn't whip up on fools with quite the unbridled aplomb of an Octopus, it's still, you know...nice to listen to and stuff. How's that for oxymoron? 'listenable Gentle Next you'll be hearing terms like 'Nice Kia' or 'compassionate conservative'. In fact, though you might think I've stopped cooking my shellfish when I say this, but there's no bad songs on this album. From the opening clappity-clap claps to the Roxy Music-ish zip of 'the closing 'Mobile', this is as universally acceptable as Gentle Giant ever got.  One thing I don't buy is that this is a 'pop' record any more than any of the other Giant Genital records were...listen to the wonky textures and heaving tempos of 'Just the Same' and imagine anyone in their gourd attempting to dance/make out/do laundry/cruise Main Street with this in the background.  No frigging way, Herve Villachaize...this music is still for eggheads crashing in their poorly-lit basement hovels with their Piers Anthony novels and their ironic t-shirts and stringy little beards, make no mistake. Free Hand is probably the most 'medieval' of the Gentle Giant records, meaning they start 'On Reflection' with a proto-90125 massed a-capella ditty before really getting into the hairy-armpit dork-in-tights Renaissance Faire vibe with some pan pipes and a desperate need for a rhythm...any sort of rhythm. Mye Kingdome For a Drume Figure! Anything will do...'When the Levee Breaks', 'Halleluwah', 'Let a Man Come In and Do The Popcorn Pt. 2'. Just don't chant 'all around' anymore...there's children present.

Heh, just foolin'. I like 'On Reflection', especially the highly ELP-ish instrumental passage towards the end (that, God have mercy, has drums on it). But I like the maniacal 'Free Hand' much, much better - one of the band's best for sure.  I like it for the unremitting heaviness, the hanging final beat of the first lick ('the games you play, the games you...*pop!* PLAY!') , and how the vocals are all spat out like Schulman just attempted to drink a glass of warm pee.

Warm pee evidently given to him by an ex-girlfriend, no less. 'Free Hand' means 'no longer wanted by previous mate, and he makes the hatred and loss sing on this record.  For all the times I've slapped this band around like a wayward Ikette for being unemotional, this album most certainly shows they do have a heart beating somewhere behind their puffed-up chests.  Listen, it's no secret my relationship with GG can at best be described as 'maddening'....for everything they do that I love, there's something I absolutely abhor. Free Hand is such an exception to this rule...the 'worst' thing on it is probably the instrumental 'Talybent', which pretty much sounds like incidental background music for when you get to cook your rotten bear meat for dinner in World of Warcraft or something (and the section where they play against the echoed keyboard just sounds idiotic), but it's never not at least minimally enjoyable. And 'His Last Voyage' is an eminently mournful, jazzy excursion showing this band is just as good when they take their time at developing a musical idea as when they herky-jerk you around by the scruff of the neck like their did on their second and third albums. It also has the one and only guitar solo on the record...and this one sounds like Jeff Beck doing Wired doing Abraxas doing Fragile. Neat trick. The marginalization of the very talented Gary Green in the Gentle Giant arrangements in favor of Kerry Minnear is regretful until you realize that A) they made several bad albums where Gary played a lot, B) shoving prog guitarists out the door was fashionable in 1976 (think Steve Hackett) C) piling on more of Gary's acid-rock playing would probably have spoiled this record's nice balance anyway.

And that's what Free Hand is all about, in the end. A nice balance.  Tastefulness. Some nice emotion. The songs aren't necessarily the most memorable I've ever heard, but when looking for a way into this most newbie-murderous of rock bands, you probably can't go wrong with this one.  Save Octopus for second place.

Capn's Final Word: Ever walk into a bar and just realize you aren't a member of the clientele they're used to serving? I feel like that here.

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Interview - One Way 1976

Don't get me of this album are just as good as anything they'd done the preceding two years, if with not too many new ideas added in. But no one remembers Hitler for the nice Christmas cards he gave his secretaries, now do they? Let's get our praise out of the way early, so people who only read the first paragraph of each review won't get the mistaken impression that I despise all of this record like I despise some of it (white hot raging hatred). 'Timing' is just plain good, and, as long as the groove is kept up, the opening 'Interview' is a pretty great near-funk opener. It's another one of those disco songs for the Zork-and-greasy-hair set, already shaky ground, but the problems arise on 'Interview' when the drummer stops, you know, playing the drums, and everything turns into a tuneless free-for-all circle jerk hoedown mothership vomitorium wipedown until that fool decides it's time to play again. What, were they paying him by the minute or something? Dammit, play, boy! You almost ruined 'On Reflection' by not playing on the last don't need to try those same shenanigans here, too. John Weathers is not the only poop in the soup here, either. The largest turd in question is keyboardist Minnear, who somehow decides this is the album where he's going to stop being a mere faceless background player and start sticking out. And what better way to do that than soul-grating synth noises?!? That's right, the Tony Banks Memorial Keyboard Bastard of the Year Award for 1977 goes to Kerry Minnear for ruining the last of Gentle Giant's prog albums with his absolutely distasteful use of ever squeal, squonk (waaah!), and squiggle he can wring out of his poor transistorized whipping boy. Now that Gary Green is completely inaudible (well, maybe not vocally...who the fuck knows? All's I know is that I've heard more electric guitar on a Montovani record than Interview), Minnear dominates the sound palate with the only melodic instrument left. Even the lead vocals seem to take a back seat to his tinnish wailing, as if Minnear had incriminating pictures of Gary and John and the Schulmans in their hotel room with an institutional sized can of hominy, some jumper cables, and thirteen pubescent sheep.

Too much of Interview comes across as Gentle Giant filling time with their now-irritating blend of prog at its most jagged and unmelodic, and fucking disco music. Tell me 'Another Show' doesn't have a disco beat, or 'Give It Back' doesn't sound like cheap electro. Imagine Lizard cut up into little bits and re-edited in complete random order, sung over by the Gregorian Monks, with the Disco Duck producing, and you might get an idea of what Interview sounds like. 'Shit' might be another, more efficient descriptor, if you're not into the whole brevity thing. Apparently, this album was released in a rush to follow up on the 'success' (hell, for this band, success can be described as having enough money to repaint their stupid Giant head backdrop before every tour) of Free Hand. Well, they shouldn't have bothered. The public didn't bite (they were too busy buying up every copy of frigging Frampton Comes Alive they could get their grubby paws on), the fans felt betrayed by the 'commerciality' of Hand, and the band was already planning to ditch this whole stupid progressive rock thing anyway. So Interview was doomed to failure, and it wasn't really the band's fault, huh? Let's not sully our glorious, pure-as-the-driven-snow opinion of this band of misunderstood troubadours, huh? Right?

Fuck that and send it back in the mail to where it came from, because it is their fucking fault. The record company didn't come in and put a gun to their head and tell them to record five minutes of pure garbage-can scrapings and call it 'Design' (which returns, by the way, to the time-honored early Gentle Giant tradition of including inaudible quiet passages that seem to go on for ages) or 'rock' so erratically and nonsensically that it sounds like they're collectively pissing on the third rail whilst holding their instruments on 'Another Show'.

The worst thing of all, the thing that drives this album from a mere irritant to a serious source of anger for me, is the concept of this heap. See, apparently with Free Hand, the band had begun having to deal know...people. People like, say, reporters. And not the usual, good kind of reporters that prog bands usually like, like the cokeheaded, ass-kissing ones in Rolling Stone or Starlog. These are reporters who ask such stuuuupid questions like 'So what kind of music do you play, anyway?' So insufferable, you know? Imagine such a thing as somebody never having heard a Gentle Giant record! Scoff! Scoff! Next thing they'll ask is why our albums are all so short! (We're cheap ripoff artists who can't write 45 minutes of decent material in a year's time, but don't tell anyone that!).

The album isn't really about lame interviewers, but it does hit pretty hard on the whole 'poor overworked rock star' tip that always sets my skin a-crawlin'. Whenever a band like this one releases a 'road song' or a 'tribulations of the artist' song, I can't help but think their entire image has been blown. Aren't prog rockers supposed to be above all that whining about the 'white line' and all that? I have no doubt touring is a grind, and that record companies have your nuts in a perpetual vice, but when you base an entire album around this kind of crap, it sounds pretty weak to me. Of course, I never really thought this band needed its concepts anyway (Octopus didn't have one, did it?). Most of all, when you say ' Want to be seen rock and roll music, Don't take us something that we're not.', and follow it up with a despicable piece of everything everyone ever hated about progressive rock like 'Design', don't be surprised when people put zero stock in your 'art'. You see, we're not all as dumb as you think we are. We know when a band is bleeding to death commerically, artistically bankrupt, and contemptuous of its fans. And we avoid that kind of band like a diseased buffalo.

Well, the end result of all this was that Interview was the last truly progressive thing this band put out, and was the last album (at least until the oddly acceptable new wave ape Civilian) that their fanbase respects at all. Some could see this as the beginning of the fall, but like I said before...Rome was burning long before Free Hand came out. (Rome? That may be overstating this band's accomplishments a bit. How about 'Tulsa was burning'?) My love and hate relationship also comes to an ignoble end longer does Gentle Giant begrudgingly get my respect and occasional sincere admiration for its accomplishments. As of Interview (and excepting the live album), this band doesn't accomplish much of anything anymore.

The minor comeback turns deadly cynical and hatefully tuneless. Maybe not the last stake in the heart of the first wave of progressive rock, but certainly the one that finally offed this band.

Capn's Final Word: Maybe not the last stake in the heart of the first wave of progressive rock, but certainly the one that finally offed this band.

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Playing the Fool: The Official Live - One Way 1977

Progressive rock was never presented particularly effectively in a live setting, at least not in such a way that is translated well to record. On one hand, you've got the improvisers (ELP, King Crimson), who take every opportunity to wail and flay their instruments on tuneless, frustrating jams (think Red's 'Providence' or any one of the 83,712 live albums that band's put out), or they take the Yes/Genesis approach of performing everything to the utmost pristine studio quality representation of the original recording. (The only exception I can think of straight off is Jethro Tull, who suddenly and gloriously reverted back to their Stand Up/Benefit mastodonic hard rock roots when their pointy-toed shoes hit the stage, no matter how gut-bustingly horrific their recent studio material may have been). Gentle Giant take the middle road, that of the 'hey lookit how we play all the parts as written, even the part where the coin drops in front of the hot mic!' unimaginative show-offs. At first glance, this is impressive...not only do these guys play a band-teacher's dream of recorders, triangles, sitars, vibraphones, saxamophones, and vibrators, they also sing all those parts just like they do in the studio (or it may actually have been in the studio...this was the era of the heavily skin-grafted, errors-corrected live album, you know. On the other hand, I don't doubt that on a good night, this band could have probably nailed 99% of their vocal parts anyway, and that's pretty impressive). The band plays songs from every album except for Acquiring the Taste (which is fine by me), and doesn't harp on their recent material, either.

Still, Gentle Giant records were all right about 30 minutes in length - just long enough to get mildly bored before the album politely ended just in time to prevent further damage to ones wakefulness. This live album goes on for nearly three times that long, and around the time of the mallet solo in 'Funny Ways', you begin to feel every minute of it. Yes, this band can play, there's no doubt about it...but the question is, do you want an overlong compilation with terrible inclusions ('So Sincere'? Why don't I just run over my dog with the snowblower and listen to that?) and questionable exclusions (why combine Octopus into just a single medley?), or do you want to hear these songs the way they were meant to be heard (read: in the context of some spotty albums). Playing the Fool seems to only exist to document this band's technical ability, and nothing more. The live setting adds nothing to the proceedings - no new colors, no audience interaction, no added octane up the ass...zilch. Talk about nothings, how about this audience? I've heard more audience interaction at a wake. I mean, not that I need crowd noise to know when a live album is working, but this one needs as much help as it can get to differentiate itself from the studio albums. The silence here is deadly. Even favorites like 'Free Hand' and 'Experience' (both performed well, by the way) sound like they're being tossed into a deep well rather than given to a rapt, appreciative audience.

Capn's Final Word: Whatever. I don't need a Gentle Giant live album to tell me these guys can play. Progressive rock is heady and detached enough as it is...having a lifeless live album rub it in like this isn't my idea of a great time.

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The Missing Piece - One Way 1977

Most reviews I've ever heard of this album begin with some vignette about how even though you're considered at the top of your game as a composer of 'serious' (read: tricky and pretentious) compositions, pop songs aren't so easy to write after all, now are they? Well, that assumes a mutual exclusivity between pop and prog music, that prog can't be catchy and pop can't be complex, and it's just that misconception that Gentle Giant's been exploting throughout their career.  As long as they could rely on the gee-whiz factor on their hordes of time signature changes and endless supplies of different woodwinds and hoodity-hoos and crash-bangs to keep the boredom from sinking in too deeply, their fans never really noticed that as songs, a lot of their work was shaky at best. So, besides the inevitable whining of the prog fans that results when a former prog band commercializes and robs the fan of their beloved 'snob factor', Gentle Giant pulled a double Sneaky Pete by sucking ass at writing 'normal' pop music. On one hand, it's hard to blame them for trying...they'd been seven long years working their little embouchures to the bone without even a buttsniff of real success, and then a bunch of little welfare snots in stolen leather jackets begin calling them dinosaurs. Dragons, maybe...Gila monsters is cool...but after wowing the masses with the neverending adorability of Interview just the year before, they get paid back with 'dinosaurs'?  the whole 'dinosaur' slab stung just a bit. So, you don't like the progressive rock, huh? Maybe a little dab of ABBA/Foreigner ARENA ROCK FUSION might be JUST UP YOUR ASS!

No? Well, the Judas Priest/Bread hybrid was all out of stock, and the Bay City Rollers/Boston was on back order so they had to take what was available and...WAIT WAIT WAAAAIIITT!

Gentle Giant really thought this bizarre master plan was going to work! Talk about self-delusion, folks! That's what makes this album so goddamn funny, the chutzpah on casting Scarlett Johansson to play an Ivy League college student or calling Tom Cruise psychologically fit to parent a child. The fact that they'd never gathered 30 seconds of material in one place that might in any way be considered 'accessible' during their entire career didn't phase them one bit.  Gary Green, as the only one who had ever come close to actually doing it, had given them a couple of workshops on 'rocking' theory, and they figured a couple of 'fun' songs and they'd be on their way to Easy Street. 

It didn't work. In fact, this album is a complete and utter affront to anyone who enjoys music that actually rocks (as opposed to the book-read, theory based 'rocking' that Gentle Giant appear to think fits the bill here).  That troll-looking drummer can bash his crash cym all he wants, 'For Nobody' isn't going to sound any less like it was written by a half-crazed chimpanzee with three fingers missing and an ear infection.  Geek rage doesn't get any funnier than the 'punk' speed 'I Betcha Thought We Couldn't Do It' (one of several songs here that seem to self-reference their recent change of stylistic heart, sort of like the formerly skinny nerd that finds the need to point it out to everyone once he spends a couple of days in the gym). 'Two Weeks in Spain'? The hell you say. Give 'em propers for 'pioneering' synth-based new wave music with songs like this one and 'Winning', but then realize how much cooler it sounded when Yes did pretty much the same thing three years later with Drama, except Yes didn't sound like they'd just sustained massive head damage.  Slightly less embarrassing, but still, you know....not something you'd want played in front of people you know, are the two 'rootsy' tracks, 'Who Do You Think We Are' and 'Mountain Time'.  The fist literally sounds like one of those mid-period ABBA songs off Arrival, slightly tricky rhythms and whatnot, and perhaps acceptable with some decent singing (Roger Schulman sounds really tacky singing like least Jon Anderson had the good sense to cover his emasculated mewl with lots of overprocessed background vocals on the 90125/Big Generator-era Yes material). 'Mountain Time' is rootsy-disco (!), and sounds like a Devo joke parody on Lynyrd Skynyrd, but I guess I can call it amusing. There's also a completely out-of-place go-nowhere 7-minute moody ballad ('Memories of Old Days'... pining for the prog heyday so soon?), an execrable piece of John Hughes Adult Contemporary ballad glop ('Turning Around'), and...Jesus...if this isn't the longest goddamn 37 minute album I've ever heard, well, that means I haven't heard a Throbbing Gristle album lately.  Even that would be preferable to this documentary of a truly horrifying geek-freakout, the patients taking over the asylum, the proggers cowtowing to the punks, dogs and cats living together, a total breakdown of the popular music boundary structure.  One that results in angry, grotesque mixed-heritage mutants like A Missing Piece. Stay far away.

Capn's Final Word: 'I Betcha Thought We Couldn't Do It'...does that refer to changing styles, or reaching such daring new lows as a band?

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Mike     Your Rating: D
Any Short Comments?: I don't know, man...why couldn't you cast Scarlett Johansson as an Ivy League college student? I totally agree with you on the Tom Cruise thing, but Johansson? Eh, whatever, I'm not such a big moviegoer anyway.

Giant for a Day - One Way 1978

Chalked up by most rah-rah reviewers as being somehow much ‘better’ than Missing Piece (of Shit that Somehow Ended Up In A Dustjacket, Wrapped In Shrinkwrap, Sitting On a Record Store Shelf), better no doubt indicating the kind of positive thinking that goes along with the rationale that it would be ‘better’ to have your penis gnawed on by ravenous wolverines than rabid kimodo dragons.  Me? I mostly see that this album cops from slightly more suitable sources than the ridiculous cock-rock and moldy Adult Contemporary that filled up the last album. Here we get a smattering of Queen (‘Giant for a Day’), some Cat Stevens (‘It’s Only Goodbye’), and I dunno...America? (‘Friends’).  They still take to pop music like Frenchmen to a shower, and sound absolutely clueless as to how to come across like they know what they’re doing, but at least it doesn’t sound nearly as fish-on-a-bicycle as last time.  Also, and this is a nice plus, they give singer Derek Schulman a bit of a break from straining his champagne-flute of a voice by backing him up with some double tracks and background vocals (best used on ‘Words From The Wise’, which is a direct ripoff of the Yes vocal sound, in case that bothers you that one formerly decent prog band is stealing from another one, when a few years before they didn’t need to).  That said, I still have no good reason for subjecting myself to music like this outside of the perverse need not to dismiss an entire album with a wave of the hand and a quick ‘this album sucks’ ala Wilson and Allroy. Then again, I also realize when I’m preaching to the choir on something, and don’t much like wasting my precious breath on long-forgotten relics of an age when dinosaurs thought they could not just change their spots, but metamorphosize into cute little fucking butterflies overnight.  Give ‘em credit for changing instead of rotting on the prog vine, but Gentle Giant somehow got stuck at ‘plague-carrying cockroach’ instead of ‘Monarch butterfly’ somewhere along the line. 

Capn's Final Word: Anyone can be Gentle Giant.  Or, in other words, Gentle Giant is trying to be anyone but themselves. Giant for a day, gnat for a half decade.

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Civilian - One Way 1980

Okay, call this a Kerry Minnear solo album and let’s all go home for some cake and soft-core porn and going to sleep daydreaming that Gentle Giant broke up after a nice comeback with Free Hand instead of hanging around like a bad yeast infection. I mean, what fool in their right mind comes back for a third helping of this latter-period Gentle Giant ridicule and insult?  The difference being that Civilian is the ‘new wave’ Gentle Giant album, as opposed to Missing Piece, which was cock rock and housewife music, and Giant for a Day, which simply copped shamelessly from all over the mediocre 70’s AM radio map. Again, this only sounds like Gentle Giant in that the same guy with the same gauze-thin voice is still singing, and they keyboards are still way too loud for their own good, but this time, see, we’re Converts to the New Church – the church of Hair Metal (‘All Through the Night’), slick El Lay studio fakery ala Toto (‘Shadows on the Wall’), and ugly Survivor-ish fist-pump jock rock.  It’s not that this sounds Eighties – The Police sound Eighties, Breakfast in America sounds Eighties, On Through the Night sounds Eighties, but they get it.  Gentle Giant have never progressed beyond the fact that they were complete stylistic outcasts when they started their ‘commercialization’, and had absolutely no credibility in playing this way.  They’re the nerd who buys a new pair of Air Jordans and a $200 track suit and wonders why no girls want to go out with him.  They’re absolutely ridiculous in this new guise of theirs, still playing unnecessarily busy (‘Underground’, ‘It’s Not Imagination’) considering the fact that they’re writing such uninterestingly ‘simple’ pop songs.  The only interesting thing here is the fact that they release a song called ‘I Am a Camera’ the same year that Yes did the same thing, and somehow make their tune sound even less reputable than ‘I Am Camera! Camera Camera!’ by making it into some kinda shit-assed Loverboy arena rock trash.  I’d rather something sound bizarre and uncool like Drama-era Yes (especially when it’s redeemed by something as wicked pisser as ‘Tempus Fugit’) than this clueless fumbling about in the skinny-tie and pointy-sunglasses world. 

As a short coda to this review, the band broke up soon after Civilian’s failure to sell beyond the band’s immediate family members, later lamenting that they’d ‘lost their way musically’ (an understatement on the level of calling Stalin ‘a bit of a cranky-puss’).  They’ve since resisted invitations to reform, probably knowing that they now can’t remember to play beyond the first ten seconds of ‘The Advent of Panurge’, but yet have released a steady stream of live archive albums to their hardcore fans.  I don’t have any of those, and don’t feel any emptiness inside of my soul admitting that fact.

Capn's Final Word: Ain't punk, cold spunk, it's all just sleazy ain’t Gentle Giant to me.

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