A wonderful first album by Gentle Giant
Jeffrey J.Park | Massachusetts, USA | 09/24/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Although it is the overwhelming technical virtuosity of Gentle Giant that I respond most favorably to; I have to admit that this 1970 debut (along with Acquiring the Taste, 1971) is an absolute favorite. I really can't nail it down to one single thing; my guess is that it is some combination of the haunting melodies; baroque period classical; loads of mellotron; and the more "rocking" nature of the music. In general, the complexity is there, yet it is stripped back a bit more than that on albums like Octopus (1973) and the overall sound is very warm.
This initial lineup included Derek Shulman (lead and backing vocals); Ray Shulman (electric bass; violin; guitars; lead and backing vocals); Phil Shulman (saxophone; trumpet; recorder; lead and backing vocals); Kerry Minnear (Hammond organ; mellotron; mini-moog; acoustic piano; cello; tuned percussion; lead and backing vocals); Gary Green (electric and acoustic guitars); and Martin Smith (drums and percussion). Supporting the group is Claire Denis (cellist on Isn't it Quiet and Cold?) and Paul Cosh (tenor horn) on Giant. Even off of the starting block, this was a group of superb skills and there is some great ensemble work on this album. The individual playing is great too and there are some ripping solos on the Hammond organ and electric guitar. The vocal harmonies are also very sophisticated and would become a hallmark of the classic Gentle Giant sound.
The seven tunes on the album range in length from 1:40 to the comparatively lengthy track Nothing at All (9:08) and present a nice mixture of English progressive rock, classical, Magical Mystery Tour period Beatles; English proto-progressive rock (Procul Harum/Moody Blues), and even a tiny smidge of the European avant-garde. In general, the trademark Gentle Giant complexity is present on this album, although presented in a somewhat rawer and simpler format. There is greater emphasis on "bittersweet" melodies, and at the opposite end of the spectrum, wild solos on the electric guitar (Jimi Hendrix style) and even some heavy riffs (Why Not?). Speaking of which, Why Not? Is a fantastic tune that features some great jamming and even lapses into a sizzling blues-rock workout - something that would have been unheard of on albums like The Power and the Glory (1974) and especially Free Hand (1975). The occasional use of synthesizers is also a pleasant surprise and they would be featured to an even greater extent on Acquiring the Taste. Although very different in sound to the other tracks, Isn't it Quiet and Cold is very lighthearted and a lot of fun to listen to. The album closes with a very Jimi Hendrix-ian adaptation of The Queen. Simply great stuff from beginning to end.
All in all this is warm and inviting debut album that is very highly recommended along with the superb Acquiring the Taste. For those folks that are interested in the trademark Gentle Giant complexity, the albums Octopus; In a Glass House (1973); The Power and the Glory; and Free Hand are all excellent examples."