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Old 11-04-2011, 08:21 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Review: Gentle Giant, Octopus- 1972


Gentle Giant Octopus- 1972
RMR Album Rating- 5


Gentle Giant’s “Octopus” was by far the biggest disappointment of all my progressive rock purchases.

I had not heard any of Gentle Giant’s music prior to buying the album, but I could not wait to get it, because on paper it had all the ingredients of a winning progressive rock recipe. I had heard that it was Gentle Giant’s best, which most fans think it is; I had heard that the complexity of instrumentation was out of this world, which it is; I had heard that all the players were unbelievably talented, which they are, and it was released in 1972, which was the peak of progressive rock. So, man was I ready for a great listening experience. Well, that’s not what I got.

Yes, the album has all the factors that I mention above, but I quickly realized that those factors only make a good album on paper. To use an analogy, I can follow a recipe to bake a cake, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that my cake is going to be any good, and Gentle Giant’s “Octopus” flavored cake just doesn't taste good to me at all, and here’s why.

It does have complex instrumentation and crazy time signatures (a hallmark of progressive rock), but it comes across sounding like they want to be complex, just for the sake of being complex, and they do this at the expense of melody and rhythmic hooks, and for me— regardless of the genre of music— there has to be melody and hooks. Otherwise, the music just doesn’t resonate with me. Another major problem are the vocals. Derek Shulman sings like he’s a stage performer at a “Medieval Times” restaurant. This might resonate with some people, but it just sounds ridiculous to me. Lastly, there is no emotion in the playing at all. This is the biggest problem because if a band doesn’t add an emotional component to their playing, than the listener is not going to have an emotional experience while listening, and that’s what great music is really all about (in any genre).

As for the songs, “The Advent of Panurge” and “Raconteur, Troubadour” start off the album. They are commonly cited as the best two tracks on the album, but they don’t resonate with me at all, and as I mentioned before, they sound like something you would hear at a “Medieval Times” restaurant. My favorite track on the album is “A Cry For Everyone.” It is a more traditional progressive rock song, and the vocals are by far the most normal of the album. As for the other songs, “Think of Me with Kindness” is a nice ballad, but it’s nothing special. Then lastly, the worst of the bunch is “Dog’s Life.” I would be embarrassed to play this for anyone. It has this very serious instrumentation going on, but the lyrics are about a dog, and they could have easily been written by someone in kindergarten.

So, there you have it. Progressive rock is my favorite genre of music, but it has to be good and resonate with me on an emotional level, and this album just doesn’t do that.

Post Script:
I had originally given this album a 2-star rating, based on the reasons I cite in the reivew, but in retrospect, I changed the rating to a 5. Although I still do not really enjoy the album, I can’t deny the inventiveness and innovation that Gentle Giant put into it, and that alone is worth a few extra points.
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Last edited by RMR; 12-22-2011 at 04:18 PM.
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Old 11-04-2011, 02:00 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Really? Don't GG get points for originality in this album? I mean, take 'Knots' for example. I don't imagine any mainstream prog group ever doing a song like that, and pair it with the more accessible prog songs they do.

Personally, my biggest problem with this album is the feeling they're truncating the songs for accessibility. Really wish they'd cut loose, and sprawl a bit more. This is prog, after all, there's no death penalty for going beyond the 6 minute mark. Beyond that, I've always deemed this album as 'perfect'.
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Old 11-04-2011, 02:28 PM   #3 (permalink)
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I love this album (top marks from me) and the only beef I have with it is that I've listened to it so much that it's a bit worn on my ears. It may be the finest GG album, it's certainly good, but it's not far ahead. Both the debut (self-titled), their second (acquiring the taste) and their seventh album (Free Hand) are other favourites. I guess Free Hand is my overall favourite at the moment actually.

I get some of the criticism like lack of emotion, but I think that "Think of Me With Kindness" (which I think is a lovely ballad) shows that they can do emotion just fine. Sure, you don't have every track brimming with something like the melancholy of David Gilmour's guitar, but if you want that you can listen to Pink Floyd. The particular musical recipe that Gentle Giant offers is one that I've found no other band will give you and if you don't appreciate that, then GG is just not for you.

I'd also say that the album is a grower, but any appreciator of prog rock will know that already. Prog rock often challenges you so perhaps it just needs a few more spins. You write that "A Cry For Everyone" is your favourite because you consider it more traditional. That makes me think perhaps you should have started with their debut or Free Hand instead of Octopus.

As a sample, here's "Nothing At All" from their debut (1970).



Edit :

And here's On Reflection from Free Hand (1975), arguably the ultimate Gentle Giant song even if it's not the most popular



Many of the other songs from that album are more traditional (which is why I suggested it), but I would just like to point out that this is awesome.
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Old 11-04-2011, 04:26 PM   #4 (permalink)
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That's not my favorite record, but it is their most playful and eclectic. The playing and singing are exquisite, and I see this as a very solid 8. It's very unusual, and as Tore stated, it may take newcomers some time to acclimate.
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Old 11-04-2011, 04:37 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Tore--

Good recommendations. I like Both "Nothing At All" and "On Reflection" better than anything on "Octopus." I also have "In a Glass House," which I like much better than "Octopus." I really wanted to get into GG, so I put a few weeks of listening time into both those releases when I got them, and I've owned both albums for about 10-years, but they just never hit home with me.

I don't think GG will every fully resonate with me. They are certainly talented, and their instrumental prowess is definitely top notch, but for me personally, there's just not enough emotion to their sound. Their sound is also much less rock oriented than other prog bands that I like better, and I can appreciate and respect that maybe a less rock oriented sound was their intent, but it still doesn't help the music appeal to me. Also Derek Shulman's voice is kind of a deal breaker for me, and I'm not a big fan of when they sing in the round... it comes across sounding kind of childish to me.

So, to each his own, and that's the great thing about music.
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Old 11-11-2011, 06:47 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RMR View Post
Tore--

I don't think GG will every fully resonate with me. They are certainly talented, and their instrumental prowess is definitely top notch, but for me personally, there's just not enough emotion to their sound. Their sound is also much less rock oriented than other prog bands that I like better, and I can appreciate and respect that maybe a less rock oriented sound was their intent, but it still doesn't help the music appeal to me.
You're right they're not a trad. sounding rock band, but I find their music to be full of warmth and emotion. I just feel that GG had such joy as they played, that it ingrained itself so forcefully into the music and created some of the most exuberant and cheerful sounds I've ever heard. I find their music extremely exhilarating and a nice contrast to the dour tone of some other prog bands. I'd recommend you try "The Power and The Glory", which is a little more accessible, but still has that GG sense of playful adventure the we all know and love. IMO, one of the best prog. bands, ever. Cheers!

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Old 11-12-2011, 07:29 AM   #7 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by almauro View Post
You're right they're not a trad. sounding rock band, but I find their music to be full of warmth and emotion. I just feel that GG had such joy as they played, that it ingrained itself so forcefully into the music and created some of the most exuberant and cheerful sounds I've ever heard. I find their music extremely exhilarating and a nice contrast to the dour tone of some other prog bands. I'd recommend you try "The Power and The Glory", which is a little more accessible, but still has that GG sense of playful adventure the we all know and love. IMO, one of the best prog. bands, ever. Cheers!
/gg.jpg[/IMG]
I actually really wanted to like GG. I've exhausted all the discographies of the first wave of 70's prog bands, and GG was the last one left with the album a year kind of activity that the other prog bands of the era were doing (my favorite period of music), but they just never hit home. I'm definitely going to pick up "The Power and the Glory" and see if that hits home more than "Octopus" and "In A Glass House". Thanks for the recommendation.
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Old 11-12-2011, 08:21 AM   #8 (permalink)
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They have this to say for them; you've been recommended their debut (self-titled), Acquiring the Taste, The Power and the Glory, Free Hand and probably also Octopus and In A Glass House since you checked those out. People who like them can't agree on which one is the magnum opus and so there's certainly a lot about them to like if you start to appreciate them
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Old 11-12-2011, 08:43 AM   #9 (permalink)
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Tore, I love you and I think that you have very good taste in music. Thanks to your recommendation, I've thought differently about Octopus after listening to it for a second time.
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Old 11-13-2011, 05:37 AM   #10 (permalink)
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Octopus is my fave by them, though i can understand the criticisms
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