Review Summary: Among the most accessible early Gentle Giant albums, this album's also one of their finest.
Gentle Giant's early work was always intent on pushing the limits of popular music, "at the risk of being very unpopular" (as their second album Acquiring the Taste states in its booklet). Indeed, every album the band released had revealed new musical avenues to explore. The band could go from folk, hard rock, progressive rock, blues, you name it. After three excellent records under their belts already, Gentle Giant released a gem of an album that's a bit overlooked these days: 1972's Octopus.
Octopus is an album that explores plenty of new themes and ideas not present in Gentle Giant's early work, but puts them in a much more concise package. This brings some extra perks and flaws for the record, but overall the sense of direction makes the album triumph in the end. The shorter songs mean that the band can concentrate and focus their efforts more, thus eliminating some of their occasionally overbearing segments from the first three albums.
That's not to say the experimentation isn't still there; take "Knots" as an example in this case. The song begins with an acappella section that seems disjointed yet works quite effectively. Then the band come together slowly to eventually clash instruments for a Queen-esque climax, overdubbed vocals and all. Then the next bridge leads into the Yes-styled chorus, overall making for quite a diverse listen. Other examples of their experimental side here include the Medieval-inspired "Raconteur Troubadour" and the instrumentally diverse "Dog's Life."
Indeed, the band experiment and flirt with very different styles, but as I said above, this album is much more accessible; This is especially seen in the song lengths, no song even reaching six minutes. Also, there are more hard-rocking songs than before, like the powerful opener "Advent of Panurge" and "A Cry for Everyone." "Advent of Panurge" especially has a powerful chorus, balanced out by keyboard/organ interludes to give a good contrasting feel to the song. "A Cry for Everyone" starts out in a more straightforward fashion, with traditional guitar and drums doing the average 4/4 time signature before developing into a more normal GG track.
If I had to pick the main flaw, it would probably be the length of the overall album. Octopus clocks in at 34:24, and it certainly feels that short. If there were maybe a few more songs, the album would certainly feel more complete, and not as much like a long EP. Also, some songs, like the aforementioned "Dog's Life" feel a bit tacked on to just make the album longer.
Either way, Octopus remains one of the finest early Gentle Giant albums, if a little short by other prog albums' standards. The songs are more concise and focused, and that certainly doesn't take away from the quality of the music within. This album's recommended for any prog fan, or even fans of classic rock in general.
Advent of Panurge
Boys in the Band
Gentle Giant were (for the album):
Gary Green - Guitars, percussion
Kerry Minnear - All keyboards, vibraphone, percussion, cello, Moog, lead and backing vocals
Derek Shulman - Lead vocals, alto saxophone
Phil Shulman - Saxophones, trumpet, mellophone, lead and backing vocals
Ray Shulman - Bass, violin, guitar, percussion, vocals
John Weathers - Drums, percussion, xylophone