Review Summary: Making prog just a little quirkier...
Music is riddled with tremendously talented artists that quietly pass under the radar of popular culture and fade from a collective memory outside a small but devoted fan base. Progressive-rockers Gentle Giant
unfortunately found themselves uncomfortably crammed into this little niche, finding fans of the progressive genre aware of their presence, but still overshadowed but a select number of their peers. Gentle Giant has often been cast in a light as something of a younger, less popular sibling to the likes of say, a band like Pink Floyd or King Crimson. This little brother was really no less talented or innovative, but had the unprivileged disadvantage of following in an already traversed pathway.
The progressive genre is a pretty unforgiving one, so it’s not hard to imagine a band like this getting swept away under acts like the aforementioned prog-kings. It’s a pretty quirky style of music, with a pretty loyal following and some casual listeners that are much harder to please. This is probably where GG lost a lot of their popularity; with ground already being covered by established acts, the band put new spins on the music. Putting its goal as to “expand the frontiers of contemporary popular music at the risk of becoming very unpopular”. Though they won the hearts of their fans by doing just this, it also served as a means of alienation as well.
Formed in 1970 by the multi-instrumentalist Shulman brothers, Phil, Derek and Ray after meeting a pair of fellow musicians with a variety of talents, and the quintet quickly set off to recording their debut offering. Coming from a variety of musical backgrounds and all possessing the gift to play multiple instruments, Gentle Giants sound swiftly left the (loose) confines of the progressive rock of the era. The resulting LP, Gentle Giant
, released in the same year, was an eclectic mix of blues, rock, jazz, soul, bluegrass, and more, and the band was quickly regarded as one of the most experimental acts in the game. Consisting of seven diverse tracks totaling thirty-seven minutes, the record is a treat for fans of quirky progressive music that steps more than a little outside the norm, while retaining quality musicianship.
It’s pretty tough to argue the uniqueness of Gentle Giant without really experiencing it. Progressive rock is always a tough sell, and most fans have waded through more than enough pretentious bunk in an attempt to find some quality listening. Despite the fact that this band sounds like the 70’s precursor to Mr. Bungle
, flirting with more styles than one can rhyme off in a music review, Gentle Giant has managed to stave off pretention for the majority of their career; their debut outing is a pretty good example of a band that really didn’t take itself all that seriously. This doesn’t translate into piss-poor compositions or something that doesn’t feel like it’s worth your time, but rather a fun musical outing that can make you think, but really doesn’t have to to be enjoyed. Oh yeah, and the extended jazz number with the drums and keys in the middle of Nothing At All
is pretty damn dynamite, too.