Gentle Giant

Gentle Giant

Vertigo, 1970

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


I’m fully convinced that the period from 1968 through 1975 was the time when bands were given the most freedom to be as creative as they wanted to be. There was no industry concern about whether an album was going to go triple platinum right out of the gate; it was a chance for music that might not have been otherwise heard to be given the opportunity to be exposed to the mass public. (Tell me that, in today’s day and age, artists like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Frank Zappa, Genesis and Yes would have been given anything more than the crappiest starter contract.)

Out of that collective freedom rose Gentle Giant, a progressive rock band from Portsmouth (by way of Glasgow, Scotland) that dared to thumb their noses at the boundaries of popular rock. Led by the three Shulman brothers, they carved their own path, daring the listener to come with them. Though they never achieved the levels of success like Genesis or Yes, they have maintained a solid fanbase.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Listening to their self-titled debut, one can understand what drove people to give them a shot on the ol’ turntable—but it also occasionally left one scratching their head as to just what the band was aiming to accomplish.

Leading off with “Giant,” the musical talents of the band are clearly on display. Vocalist Derek Shulman adds a layer of interest over the bass work of Ray Shulman and the keyboards of Kerry Minnear. While guitarist Gary Green also plays a vital role in the band’s sound, it seems like he wisely steps back and becomes part of the texture, rather than trying to take a lead.

Gentle Giant contains many such powerful moments, such as “Alucard” and “Nothing At All,” the latter reminding me of the more gentle side of bands like Genesis that could convey more power in the sublime moments than if the instruments were turned up all the way.

Yet there are times when one has to ask what Gentle Giant was trying to accomplish in particular works. Quieter moments like “Funny Ways” and “Isn’t It Quiet And Cold?” don’t have nearly the lasting power as other tracks on the disc—not that they’re bad songs by any means, just not as musically addicting as other efforts on the disc.

Fortunately, the weaker moments are few—and while they do end up dragging the album down a little bit, the stronger numbers remind the listener just why they put the album on in the first place. I do, however, wonder why they chose to close the album with “The Queen,” an electronic rendition of “God Save The Queen.” In a sense, the shortest track is the one that seems the least necessary.

It might not have even made a dent on the Billboard charts when it was first released, but Gentle Giant has more than enough material to warrant rediscovery by not only fans of progressive rock, but also individuals who are willing to go past traditional cookie-cutter radio pabulum. It’s not always the easiest journey, but it’s one you won’t end up regretting.

Rating: B-

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