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Gentle Giant: Gentle Giant

Let's put 1970 into some musical context. King Crimson has just said goodbye to us for the very first time, its parting notice being the teetering In the Wake of Poseidon. And before the ink is dry on Greg Lake's resignation, Emerson Lake and Palmer put out their nearly perfected Nice album, initiating their long and often painful decline into near-kitsch. Pink Floyd has yet to be utterly derailed by its future obsession with Motown-y back-up singing and releases the more sensible, Ron Geesin-influenced Atom Heart Mother. Genesis tries real hard to enter the mind of a pretend wolf with Trespass, demonstrating how much heavy lifting they have yet to do, not to mention the still impending and oh! so fateful hiring of Phil Collins. Van der Graaf Generator abandons the Raft of the Medusa that is The least we can do is wave to each other which proves to be their very own murky-sounding Trespass-style transition to deliver some sharper work with H to HE. Caravan is one release away from their own classic: If I could do it all over again, I'd do it all over you has all of the charm but not all of the substance of next year's Land of Grey and Pink. And you could say two groups demonstrate a sudden mastery over their individual musical truths: Soft Machine, between what we need and what we just want drops their landmark Third and Yes makes you clap with their career-extending The Yes Album. The ground was obviously being prepped from some rather heavy construction.

In and among the famous and obscure arrives Gentle Giant with the requisite George Underwood cover art; David Bowie / Tyrannosaurus Rex producer Tony Visconti; embarrassing liner notes with the heading "A Tall Tale" featuring the still memorable quote from the Giant hisself: "Be ee the boys as were makin' that good sound?" referring no doubt to the opening's "Here we come, walkin' down the street" Monkees look over here, it's us promo-cum-song "Giant"; and closing with the vapid filler "The Queen", which proves much less interesting than Bonzo Dog Band's trail-blazing "Cool Britannia".

Period silliness aside, Gentle Giant's first album, like so many from 1970, is one of those not-quite there but on the way somewhere albums. Their trademark ability to tightly interlock multiple themes or their penchant for asymmetrical musical rounds isn't yet evident. Neither is the lyrical focus that would emerge through the unusual combination of current day personal and social comment and Renaissance "do what thou wilt" early-music referents. Instead, the musical themes mostly shift and string together, end-to-end, and rarely interact. The lyrical themes are adolescent at best, striving to impress while remaining either sentimental or aloof.

"Funny Ways", an especially labored piece here, is one that they returned to often. In future tense, it will demonstrate their ability to continually refine and polish an idea in this case over the period of a few years and ultimately shape it into something remarkable. "Alucard" is a Dracula tune whose lyric setting is a rather uninteresting thought-experiement about how it feels to have a vampire nearby. It's only importance is its intimation of another distinct GG penchant, in this case one for fragmenting phrases. "Isn't it Quiet and Cold" feels like a music class assignment in mood-painting which, while not bad, turns out to have no real connection to the future work. "Nothing At All" is ostensibly about a girl, almost regressive seeming by today's standards. It lacks the simple lyrical clarity of a "Handbags and Gladrags" you're-nothing-without-it-or-me message. But again, while the lyrical idea is weak it may be the most musically ambitious piece here, reflecting a restlessness in arranging that exhibits numerous atmospheric changes, tempo and key changes as well as dramatic changes to the instrumental line-up. "Why Not?" asks the musical question uh, sorry not sure what the question is. But definitely the rocker of the set, with a few breaks that glimpse a third future hallmark of Gentle Giant the admiration for the timbre and feel of madrigal.

For a group that became dedicated to difficult and uneven measures this premiere is pretty well four-square and simply just plain uneven. It turns out to be a record on the not so long way to something much, much stronger. And, frankly it probably belongs in the collections of completists only. Had nothing followed Gentle Giant, this disc probably wouldn't still be around.

Track Listing
1) Giant
2) Funny Ways
3) Alucard
4) Isn't It Quiet And Cold?
5) Nothing At All
6) Why Not?
7) The Queen

Added: May 20th 2007
Reviewer: Kerry Leimer
Related Link: Gentle Giant Website
Hits: 2874
Language: english

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