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Gentle Giant: Acquiring the Taste

In keeping with their interest in Renaissance forms and all things giant, Acquiring the Taste wastes no time in reintroducing listeners to Francios Rabelais' infamous character. Pantagruel is a giant, fathered by Gargantua, who became the focal point of a series of five novels first published in 1532. Like the sometimes scrambled structures GG favored, Rabelais also published under the anagram and nom de plume Alcofribas Nasier, and with his creation of Pantagruel he unintentionally provided one of the principal metaphors Gentle Giant would return to many times. "Pantagruel's Nativity" opens the album by demonstrating that so much that remained somewhat disconnected on their self-titled first album has suddenly become intensely coherent. The shifting themes of "Pantagruel's Nativity" show a remarkable sophistication in structure, thematic development and variation. Perhaps as significant as the adoption of Pantagruel as a key element of GG's escutcheon, the chorus displays one of the very first instances of the epicyclic rounds which will become such a defining characteristic of Gentle Giant's oeuvre, here set to a powerfully evocative and swirling melody that effectively captures the mood often set by Rabelais: one of laughter amid terror and sadness.

The form of Acquiring the Taste is actually a sort of undeclared suite built not so much on the figure of Pantagruel as it is on the emotional triggers of the human condition Rabelais captured nearly 500 years earlier – triggers still pertinent today. Using Rabelais' theme of laughter amid sadness, the pieces largely interconnect among the states of day into night, waking and sleeping, living and dying. "Edge of Twilight" links ahead four tracks (side two of the original lp) to "The Moon is Down". These two crepuscular pieces share lyric and musical themes and tend to bookend the pieces in between – their phrases seemingly echoed in "Wreck" as well – and add a tightly knit sense of coherence to the entire record. Akin to evensong, the mood is evocative of the suspension of time as perception adjusts to a changing circumstance. The principal lyric content of "Edge of Twilight" refers only to undefined "whispers", while "The Moon is Down" takes us to complete darkness and sleep, echoing Rabelais' again by closing with "... sad is the laugh of the clown, now the old moon is down." A cliché sentiment, but at least used to purposeful effect.

Three other pieces again deal in the impressionistic translation of places and actions. "The House, The Street, The Room", set up by "Edge of Twilight", confuses sleeping with waking and sketches out the way in which identity shifts in parallel with changes in place. The musical shifts and the staggering, pause ridden rhythms all support a sense of dislocation and unrest. "Wreck" has an appropriately pelagic feel, heaving forward and washing back as the music and lyrics loop through the swells and troughs of death at sea. "Black Cat", built on an energetic pizzicato riff, again occurs at night and enters the animal mind. It will someday be joined by a like meditation on dogs.

The remaining pieces point back and forward. The title track is a short instrumental played entirely on a multi-tracked monophonic Moog. It tends to sound more like a product demo, showing off various voicings and degrees of period-defined glissando and generously peaked filters. Its time-capsule aesthetic would seem ideal for latter day fans of the analog sound. More difficult to qualify is "Plain Truth". Another powerful closer, it pretty well stands alone here, still dealing with an aspect of the human condition but not being as clearly related to the previous tracks. Relying more on force than the preceding and predominant interest in finesse "Plain Truth" is the most direct piece here as it looks ahead to some of the existential and psychologically themed pieces still to come on Octopus and In a Glass House.

With Acquiring the Taste behind us we are only a few months away from Three Friends, their third – but truly first stylistically complete album. Which also happens to bear one of the worst pieces of cover art ever published...


Track Listing
1) Pantagruel's Nativity
2) Edge of Twilight
3) The House, The Street, The Room
4) Acquiring the Taste
5) Wreck
6) The Moon is Down
7) Black Cat
8) Plain Truth

Added: May 22nd 2007
Reviewer: Kerry Leimer
Score:
Related Link: Gentle Giant Website
Hits: 2247
Language: english

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