Review Summary: "Hail to Power and to Glory's way"
After a group releases what fans consider to be their magnum opus, subsequent releases are usually met with considerably mixed reviews. This generalization held true for Gentle Giant after they released “In a Glass House” in 1973; their next release, “The Power and the Glory,” is sometimes held in high regard as a continuation of “In a Glass House” and is also sometimes ridiculed as being an unsuccessful “In a Glass House II.” In reality, “The Power and the Glory” is neither – rather it is unique enough to separate itself from “In a Glass House” quite well. Conceptually and lyrically the album has a very interesting progression and musically the album is immaculately executed. Probably the strongest and weakest points of the album come from a compositional standpoint; “Proclamation” is possibly one of the greatest tracks that Gentle Giant ever released, but there are moments in tracks like “So Sincere” that leave the listener either confused or annoyed.
“The Power and the Glory” gets a reputation as one of the most complex and impenetrable progressive rock albums, but not rightfully so. There are many other moments in the Gentle Giant catalogue that are far less accessible than this. There aren’t harmonies so outlandish that they are beyond comprehension, there is nothing outside of a standard time signature, and the orchestrations are not as notoriously obscure as they have been on other Gentle Giant records. Although harmonically the album incorporates dissonance frequently, it isn’t nearly as abstract as people make it out to be. Most of the tracks on the album have a groove or other strong rhythmic pattern that carries the music very adequately even when melodically the music begins to stray. It is also important to note that many of the stranger harmonic choices on the record start to make much more sense with each repeated listen.
The band mates can do no wrong in their execution of the material. The overall feel that is communicated as well as the technical proficiency of the musicians is superb. Some extremely difficult syncopations and meter changes are performed in the utmost natural manner. Each instrument fits very nicely into the texture of the entire group, without any player who disrupts the surface too much. There are great 70’s keyboard tones, soulful guitar playing, rock-solid bass playing, great ensemble drumming, and vocals that are very stylistic of old school progressive rock.
Lyrically the album is rather sound as well, although the full value of the lyrics of each track and the way they connect to one another takes a few listens to appreciate. There are many instances in which the band will quote directly from other songs on the album, which is the primary source of continuity with the record. The concept of the album is essentially centered on someone who believes they will use political power to achieve a greater good than the current situation. However, when put in the situation, the individual is powerless but to grow into the clearly defined mould of the past ruler; the person inevitably becomes the very role that he sought to defeat. The album ends with another ruler coming into power, possibly to fall victim to the same fate as the previous two.
So what is the album’s greatest downfall? Like stated earlier, some tracks are written awkwardly. “So Sincere” and “Cogs in Cogs” both have the same disjointed, fragmented compositional technique but it works for “Cogs in Cogs” where “So Sincere” can be pretty disappointing in places. Other tracks like “No God’s a Man” are plagued with the same issue – there is just a dry, uninteresting quality that creeps into the music and eventually can just ruin the tracks and make them irritating. Not all is bad though, as the relationship between “Proclamation” and “Valedictory” is incredibly well-done and clever all at the same time; the first time the material is heard it is in its pure form, but on the reprise it is distorted to represent the perversion of the character in the concept. If nothing else from the album, listening to these two songs side-by-side is well worth the time.
In the end, Gentle Giant have made a great progressive rock album for progressive rock fans. For those who don’t naturally have an ear for progressive rock music, it would be best to just avoid this and aim for something a little catchier. But for fans of E.L.P. or King Crimson or Yes, this could grow into one of your most treasured records.