Read my reviews of albums by Gentle Giant:
1970: Gentle Giant (8/10)
The prog rock musician’s prog rock band – even on their first album they’re making music like few other bands. “Giant” for example, is almost proto math rock at times, and who else in the world was making music like this in 1970? At their best and knottiest, they are extremely compelling.
My two biggest quibbles:
The ballads – it’s a requirement of ’70s prog rock to have horribly sappy ballads on their records. These aren’t the sappiest Gentle Giant would write, but they give a general indication of their bizarre need to do so throughout their career. I’d rank it lower if the ballads were like some of their later ones but, fortunately, they’re not.
The biggest problem is “Nothing at All” which has this interminable middle section which is mostly drums and flange (and a keyboard, I think). Like, who thought this was a good idea? It’s so much a product of the time.
Still, it’s an auspicious debut and proggier than any other prog rock band at the time.
1971: Acquiring the Taste (10/10)
The term ‘progressive rock’ at some level suggests some really forward thinking music. So I guess there’s a little bit of irony that, in order to move forward, a whole bunch of rock musicians went to the past to create the genre. But that music still sounded pretty radical and forward-thinking to most rock fans. I’d argue that few if any of the major prog bands were as radical in this sense (in the sense of using very old musical ideas in modern popular music) than Gentle Giant. And this is them at their very best. (Though I waiver between this record and Octopus for their best.)
This is prog rock that is probably too proggy for most prog rock fans – the riffs are long, complicated and not exactly memorable, the melodies are unusual (for rock music) as are the voices that sing them, and the songs are interrupted by weird musical interludes that might feel experimental to someone who was unfamiliar with “classical” music.
This is one of the great prog albums in my mind, but, like the title says, it really is an acquired taste. It is willfully difficult and inaccessible in all the best ways. And honestly, there’s nobody like these guys at their peak. They’re peerless.
Once you tire of all the famous prog bands, listen to this record and have your mind blown anew.
Albums from 1972 by Gentle Giant:
Three Friends (8/10)
This record feels like a step back from Acquiring the Taste if only because of how crazy that record is. Listening to this record without knowledge of their other albums, though, one would be surprised to hear such a thing as, compared to just every other major prog album of the period, this is out there stuff – Gentle Giant were the most brazenly virtuoso prog band, willing to show off just how much they learned in music school, with few concessions to contemporary rock music.
This record is a strong prog rock offering compared to much of what was out there in 1972, but it’s probably the weakest of their early albums, feeling only a hair more ambitious than their debut, and lacking that album’s shocking introduction of their talent.
This is probably the best album that Gentle Giant, the most proggy of the first wave of prog bands, ever made. I usually waiver between this and Acquiring the Taste (as I suspect most fans do). Octopus contains some of their most daring music but has enough melody to overcome the typical jarring changes in tempo and the riffs that are way too long. It also has perhaps their most direct (and cheesiest) ballad, which is not something most of the other records boast.
I’ve always found that it’s their really, really traditional singing which is the biggest barrier to entry for most people, and this record is no different. But it’s the way they combine that singing with all their other musical ideas that feels more organic on this record (particularly on “Knots”).
This remains a band that is absolutely not for everyone but if you are going to give them a try, this is probably the record to listen to.
1973: In a Glass House (8/10)
To me, this sounds like a band growing with the times. The synthesizers sound way more modern – hell the entire record sounds better than any of their previous records in terms of production – and there’s a song that sounds like you could dance to it, if you really wanted to. (I was tempted to call it a “disco beat” but that’s not quite right. It has more in common with the robotic beats that would become so common in post punk in 6 years or so.)
I don’t buy the concept for a second, and I’m not sure this is their best set of songs, but the band sounds better to me overall, there’s more of a rock feel overall as well (to my ears) and it’s just very much in my wheelhouse.
It’s not their best album by any means, but it strikes me as one of their better ones.
1974: The Power and the Glory (???)
The only one of their classic albums I somehow have never listened to.
1975: Free Hand (8/10)
Gentle Giant get a titch more accessible on this record, with a few songs (well, okay, parts of songs) that non-prog fans might even enjoy.
Honestly, it’s been so long since I’ve done a listen through the first seven albums that I’m not sure I can really think about where I would rank this one any more.
But I do feel like this is the Gentle Giant record I might recommend to neophytes, since it really does seem more accessible to normal rock listeners than much of their earlier music.
1976: Interview (7/10)
The idea that this is the first weak Gentle Giant album just doesn’t match what I’m hearing. Yes, I’m not sure the concept holds up all that well – this is a musical “interview” or something – but the band is still quite capable of making their nutty, extremely inaccessible prog. The songs feel like maybe their lacking strong enough melodies. And it sure is short. But I can’t say I dislike it anyway, as it’s still very much GG doing their thing, something I think I’ll always appreciate.
1977: The Missing Piece (???)
I have not listened to the last few Gentle Giant albums due to my fear of them being awful.