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Old 05-25-2014, 12:51 PM   #11 (permalink)
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I didn't want to include these in the main review, but I found two student performances of songs from Free Hand that I wanted to post here, something that NEVER would have occurred in the 1970's, demonstrating that great music, even if unpopular during the artist's time, eventually finds it's way to recognition



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Old 05-28-2014, 04:01 PM   #12 (permalink)
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Default Playing The Fool (1977)

Most live albums aren't nearly as "live" as they appear, there is still a ton of mixing, editing, splicing, filtering, so on and so forth that takes place before the final master disc is made. Other than Joe Jackson's 1986 masterpiece Big World I can't think of any live album that more perfectly abandons this process than Gentle Giant's "Official LIVE" album Playing The Fool




Not only is there no edits or overdubs, there are even a few (not many) mistakes left on the record. When you spin Playing the Fool you are getting a 100% accurate representation of a Giant performance.

Additionally, they arrangements of these songs, nearly without exception, are an actual LIVE version of the songs and not just a copy and paste performance of the studio versions. An outstanding example comes right on the opening track, merging "Just The Same" from Free Hand with "Proclamation" from The Power And the Glory



"Just The Same" appears to end at 5:27, but then they kick in a reprise, then segue into "Proclamation", then at 9:39 break into "Valedictory", the reprise of "Proclamation" on TP&TG. Masterful.

I stated in my previous review that I would demonstrate in *this* review how they could totally pull off "On Reflection" live and THEN SOME. Well, they start out sounding more like a chamber orchestra than a rock band, recorder, bowed instrumentation and melodic percussion join in an arrangement not appearing on Free Hand, then break into the ridiculously difficult vocals at 2:30. And here's also an example of how this album is presented raw, unfinished and uncut, somebody's microphone is buzzing like a motherfucker at this point. Then at 4:11, rather than the bridge section that appears on the studio version, they segue into the same arrangement that opens the track but on rock instrumentation. Then at the 6:00mark, maybe the greatest ending I've ever heard to any song, by anybody, ever



Side two begins with the Octopus album, brilliantly condensed to 15 minutes



The arrangement here are just fucking *sick*. One thing I didn't realize was that at the 5:06 point in part 1 they break away from Octopus and play a section of "Acquiring The Taste", the title song from an album I didn't know at that time existed as it was one of three albums that had not been released stateside. When I first spun PtF I just thought it was a lovely part of the arrangement. This was the first such example on PtF that there were albums I had not heard, even though I was unaware of it at that time.

On my review of Octopus earlier in this thread I mention how they would replace the odd bridge of "The Advent of Panurge" with a brilliant recorder section, this begins at 2:32 of part 2. And I also mentioned earlier in *this* review that the (incredibly rare) mistakes were left in, and there are two in part two here, on on a recorder at 3:21 and another on bass at 4:13. When you're *this* good live, you can live with tiny imperfections as these

Then, the first time that I became 100% certain there were albums I had yet to discover was the first time I heard the next song, a brilliantly performed version of "Funny Ways" from what I would discover later was their real first album (up to this point I thought Three Friends was their first album)



Then, more such realization opened side three

"This album was called "In a Glass...House!"

Now, not only was I perfectly certain there were albums I hadn't heard yet, I had a title of one of them. I assumed "Funny Ways" wasn't on In a Glass House or it would've been in this medley, so I knew by this point there were at least two albums I hadn't heard.



"The Runaway" melds into"Experience" at 3:55. At this time I'm thinking to myself that I need and I do mean NEED to find these albums. We didn't have the internet in 1977 (or Al Gore for that matter) so that search would have to be done in my local record stores

The next song on side three I'd heard live before, when they opened for Yes the previous summer, this incredible arrangement of "So Sincere" from The Power and The Glory



Love every minute of this, from the faithful-to-the-record opening, to the thoroughly rocked-up chorus (without the vocals) to the incredible extended percussion outro, with everybody playing different drums melding together as one, then into mallet/melodic xylophone/glock again with everyone on their own instrument, then one by one they go back to their own drum. Sensational, no one else in music could do it like Giant.

Side four opens with the title track from Free Hand, with a rocked-up bridge section featuring great guitar work from Gary Green



The album concludes with something familiar, "Peel The Paint" from the Three Friends album (I wish they played more of this album but alas, they didn't) but not for very long, "Peel The Paint" quickly gives way to another song from yet another album I hadn't heard yet. I really don't know how I missed "Interview", unlike the first two albums and In a Glass House, Interview was released here in the US, but somehow I just missed it. In any case, I Lost My Head concludes this great live album. All of the great Prog bands of the 1970's released multiple disc live albums, Yes, Tull, Genesis, EL&P, but I'd take this live album over any and all of them.

From this point forward, I'm a little hazy on the order of discovery, so I will review them chronologically. The last Giant studio album was definitely the last Giant album I heard, the albums between this live album and the final studio album may or may not be in the order I heard them. And a couple of the reviews will not be positive. The next one will be positive with a few reservations, their eponymous first album, which I will copy from another thread and paste here next. Coming up, in minutes, the first album.
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Old 05-28-2014, 04:11 PM   #13 (permalink)
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Default Gentle Giant (1970)

The following was posted to the Prog Rock Album Club thread, although I notice now that I will need to insert YouTube vids:

************************************************** ************************************************

I asked for membership here last summer and haven't posted here since. TBH I think about it from time to time but generally I tend to have difficulty writing in a scripted, template format. And I won't be doing so today. But the topic is Gentle Giant, and I could write an encyclopedia on this topic (if it wasn't so difficult for me to type). So I will post here now.

My first reaction to this when Neapolitan linked me to the above post last night in plug was "That's the wrong Giant album". Not that their first album is a poor album by any stretch, on the contrary, had they never released an album from 1972 on I would think of them as a fine second tier progressive rock band. It's just that what they released between 1972-1976 IMO places Giant in the same discussion as the Tull-Yes-ELP-Genesis prog rock icons of the 1970's.

Since the topic of this discussion is the eponymous first album, I will review it as I see it. It displays the brilliance of arrangement, the multi-instrumentality that none of the other prog behemoths of the era could hope to attain, and the layered vocal style that would become their trademark, but it does lack the cohesion of that form that they so brilliantly honed through the pinnacle of their career. They even discuss this on their last great album (before money-driven record executives forced them to become more "pop", which produced two IMO terrible albums and one, their final album, which to my ears succeeded in melding the trademark Giant sound in a more commercially viable song structure, even though to a man the members find Civilian their worst album, I disagree, I think it's pretty good and do play it from time to time, but I digress...). From the title song of the Interview album:

"What can we tell you?
At the beginning had no direction,
Any other way
After the fourth one, realization,
Finding our road, the same as if today"

(I disagree with one element of that lyric, I think Giant truly found their legs on the third album, Three Friends, which I reviewed here)

The opening track is "Giant". We start with Kerry Minnear playing a Hammond style organ, softly leading into the full band. This is a perfect example of what I've been saying about the rudimentary Giant sound, the elements in place but not yet fully realized in the cohesive form that would follow. I like it for what it is but knowing what was ahead it comes off as comparatively ham-fisted. I don't mean that as a knock, they just hadn't fully crafted their arrangements yet.



IMO the best song off their first album, and one of the only if not *the* only song from this initial offering that was performed live throughout their career is the ballad "Funny Ways". And when I say performed live I mean faithfully, as laid down in these grooves (I have this album on vinyl and I'm listening to the transfer as I type here). This song is the one flawless track off this first album IMO.



Next is "Alucard". Again, the prototypical Giant form is apparent, the unique Giant layered vocal style makes it's first appearance on this track. The biggest problem for me with "Alucard" is that there is a kind of annoying dissonance to parts of the song that keeps me from really enjoying it. Dissonance would become a Giant trademark on future albums, songs like "Knots" and "Design" would make absolutely brilliant use of it, but again here it's not fully developed.



"Isn't It Quiet And Cold" might've found it's best fit on 1973's "In A Glass House". I really like the use of violin, especially the pizzicato sections. Their first featured use of percussive melodic instrumentation such as xylophone and glockenspiel appear in this track.



"Nothing At All" would be in the level of "Funny Ways" on this album were it not for the decision to place an extended drum solo ala "Moby Dick" as an extremely clumsy bridge section. It just doesn't work. I'd love a chance to edit that section out. What were they thinking?



(a quick sidebar on drummers. Martin Smith, who sadly passed in 1997, is the man behind the skins on the first two albums, Malcolm Mortimore takes over on the watershed third album, and from the fourth album forward the drummer was John "Pugwash" Weathers, an outstanding musician but maybe the ugliest man in music history)

The next track is "Why Not". This is again decent enough but suffers from the same under-developed nature as most of this first record. It has a lovely mid-section and the first use of recorders (this type of recorder) that would become a mainstay of future albums and in particular future tours, I was fortunate enough to catch two of those tours (1972 and 1976). Then they unfortunalely meld into a blues outro that just doesn't fit at all



The album concludes with "The Queen", their rendition of "God Save The Queen". This was shortly after Woodstock and the famous Hendrix rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner", so I guess this is Giant doing some kind of tribute to that. TBH they should've left this track on the cutting room floor.



"Gentle Giant" is not where I would recommend starting for someone new to this great prog rock band, but I would recommend it over anything from 1977's "The Missing Piece" or especially 1978's "Giant For A Day". Start with "Three Friends" (review linked to earlier in this review), then dig into all the masterpieces that followed, "Octopus", "In A Glass House", and "The Power And The Glory". Then just below those but still brilliant, "Free Hand" and "Interview" (which does contain one very skippable track but is otherwise outstanding). They also released one of the best (and definitely least overdubbed) live albums ever made in "Playing The Fool". There have since been many DVD's released, I have "Giant On The Box" and it's amazing.
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Old 05-28-2014, 07:50 PM   #14 (permalink)
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I didn't want to include these in the main review, but I found two student performances of songs from Free Hand that I wanted to post here, something that NEVER would have occurred in the 1970's, demonstrating that great music, even if unpopular during the artist's time, eventually finds it's way to recognition



How cool is that? I remember doing lame "wildfire" or whatever covers in student music performance.
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Old 06-01-2014, 01:46 PM   #15 (permalink)
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Default Acquiring The Taste (1971)

Giant's second album was a significant leap forward in their development of what they would become from 1972 forward, they didn't make most of the inconsistencies that kept their first album down a notch from their pre-1977 catalog. In fact they proclaim in the liner notes:

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...It is our goal to expand the frontiers of contemporary popular music at the risk of being very unpopular. We have recorded each composition with the one thought - that it should be unique, adventurous and fascinating. It has taken every shred of our combined musical and technical knowledge to achieve this. From the outset we have abandoned all preconceived thoughts of blatant commercialism. Instead we hope to give you something far more substantial and fulfilling. All you need to do is sit back, and acquire the taste.
They succeeded in every way possible on this, including their staggering unpopularity.




This is a deliberately suggestive cover, the only sex joke I've ever known Giant to make. The unfolded cover reveals that it's a peach, not a butt




The opening track, "Pantagruel's Nativity" (like "The Advent of Panurge" from Octopus, inspired by the books of "Gargantua and Pantagruel" by François Rabelais) is easily good enough to have been included on any subsequent album between Octopus and Free Hand IMO. The Giant trademark style is completely in place here




The use of discord becomes vastly more developed from the first album on "Edge of Twilight", a little short of offerings such as "Knots", So Sincere" or "Design" but still pretty damn close

I could use the usual music-over-album-cover YouTube here but I found a Muppets video & I just HAD to use it




Next is "The House, The Street, The Room", this is one majorly tripped out song with a bridge section that's about as heavy as Giant would ever be. NIGHTMARISH fan vid here, kinda Carroll meets Lovecraft animated by Tim Burton minus the production values




On the original vinyl record, the title track opened with one of those happy-accident things, a tape splicing error that started Minnear's keys below pitch, then the note bends upward to the correct pitch. I am accustomed to this opening and I looked for a YouTube that contained it. I was only able to find the "fixed" version that just sounds weird to me, but it was only about a second of the song anyway. This is a majorly lovely little outro to side one, and is used in the aforementioned "Excerpts From Octopus" track on Playing The Fool (but on two guitars played by Gary Green and Ray Shulman)




Side two opens with "Wreck", a good arrangement but the sea shanty element to this doesn't work *nearly* as well as the previously reviewed "His Last Voyage" from Free Hand, an example of how this album was oh-so-close to the fully developed Giant but juuuust barely short. I do love the recorder bridge but not so much the fade-out that leads into it, a little lazy by Giant standards




Another almost-developed-but-just-a-little-short track follows, "The Moon Is Down", this is still really good

*EDIT: I'm out of my fucking mind, this is one of the best songs on the album. Carry on...




The exact same thing can be said for"Black Cat", the bridge section being my favorite part but I enjoy the whole piece




The album concludes with "Plain Truth", like a lot of AtT it's really good but just a notch below what they would produce on the albums between 1972-1976. There is an instrumental bridge section that goes on a little long IMO. Also, I don't know if I would've used it as a final track, as good as AtT is there is a lack of "flow" that would be found on subsequent albums.




Their next album (Three Friends) completed the development of their unique sound and style which they never let go until 1977 when a failed attempt commercialism reared it's ugly head. The next album that was released in the UK but not stateside, and the best such at-the-time undiscovered record by my favorite widely hated prog band of the day, came out in 1973 but I didn't hear it until the end of that decade. In A Glass House review will be next.
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Old 06-07-2014, 04:01 PM   #16 (permalink)
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This is some pretty significant news on the Giant front

The Power And The Glory (5.1 & 2.0 Steven Wilson Mix):Amazon.co.uk:Music
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Old 06-08-2014, 09:59 AM   #17 (permalink)
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Just wanted to put it out there: This is a great thread, Paul. I've had to pleasure of talking to you a number of times in Plug, but had not gotten around to reading this thread. Keep up the great work! Interesting content in here, and its not only limited to you talking about the albums, but also shows and other interesting experiences. Love the thread on a great and unfortunately very underrated band. Keep it up.
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Old 06-08-2014, 11:01 AM   #18 (permalink)
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Thank you Cicatrice.

As for Giant being underrated, that was certainly true in their own time but as time passed their music held up extremely well and they are now considered to be right at the apex of the progressive rock of their time. Their great albums (I have 2 more to review before I have to dig into their falures) sell every bit as well now as the other great prog albums of the day such as Yes, Tull, Genesis & EL&P. The buzz surrounding the Steven Wilson remix of TP&TG is large & that will really do well.
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Old 06-08-2014, 12:34 PM   #19 (permalink)
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Default In A Glass House (1973)

When I first heard the amazing live album "Playing The Fool", side three opened with Derek Shulman proclaiming "This album was called...In A Glass...House!" followed by the sound of glass breaking, then more and more until it became a clattering rhythm. I was stunned, what? There's a Giant album I haven't heard? The quest was on to find this album, as what was playing on that third side of the live album was outstanding.




So the album was found in the import bins (their stateside label at the time, Columbia Records, rejected IAGH on grounds that they felt it was not commercially viable, which was why I never heard of it until PtF came out years later) and it became one of my absolute favorites. In fact, mainly on the strength of worldwide sales but also US import sales plus domestic sales once it was finally pressed stateside in 1978, IAGH remains the top selling Giant album, even exceeding Free Hand (although the announced release of the Steven Wilson remix of TP&TG may have an impact on this).

Another thing I didn't know was that this was the first album after the departure of Phil Shulman, not TP&TG as I'd previously thought. I never made a big deal out of this because, well, they didn't seem to miss him, at least from my perspective. They sounded like the magnificent Giant with or without him. However, for that reason, many members of Giant were not pleased with IAGH at first.

"The Runaway" opens the album as it did side three of PtF




Love this, every minute of it, in particular the recorder bridge

Then, one of the great, most ambitious tracks in the entire Giant catalog, although it doesn't make that apparent on an initial listen, "An Inmate's Lullaby". What makes this track unique in all the Giant collection is that there are ONLY melodic percussive instruments. No bass, no guitar, no violin, no woodwind, but interestingly enough no trap drum either. Well, there is a bit of a reprise of the final notes of"The Runaway", but about eight seconds in the main body of the song starts. The only drum per se are kettle drums, used melodically.

I'm actually going to post two YouTube's of this amazing piece, first the standard music-over-album-cover tube here




But also this version, which really captures the theme of this song but does so in an extremely disturbing way. Graphic images in this fan vid

Spoiler for extremely disturbing graphic early 20th century asylum images:



"Way of Life" picks up the pace next, and then some. This track closes side one with an eerie extended organ outro




Side two opens with "Experience", the other song I'd already heard from the live album. Minnear's keys begin the piece, but midpoint this becomes a rocker, kicking it up in an incredible transition from their trademark medieval hybrid to hard driving guitar rock




Next comes the album's quiet moment, and a wonderful one at that, "A Reunion". Any other band would've hired a string section to pull this off, only Giant could do it themselves




The title track closes this great album, what can I say about this track that I haven't been saying all through this thread, it is prog perfection




At this point in 1973 they had a few years of creative brilliance left in them. My next review will be the last one, then sadly I'll have to discuss how they went horribly wrong. But thankfully I have one great effort left to review, Interview is next
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Old 06-11-2014, 08:38 AM   #20 (permalink)
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Brilliant thread now that I've had a bit of time to go through all the reviews again. As far as GG are concerned, I'm in that minority camp that considers Acquiring The Taste to be their best album from start to finish, followed by The Power & The Glory and perhaps Free Hand. Then again, I'm just a sucker for anything with a haunting atmosphere, and ATT has a lot of that.

As I mentioned to you before, you should definitely check out U.S. band Advent and their album Cantus Firmus from 2006 if you want to hear what GG might have done in the neo-prog. era. I'll be keeping an eye on your new reviews in the meantime.

Here's a link for your convenience: http://advent-prog.bandcamp.com/album/cantus-firmus
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