Great friends come in three, right? Maybe not, the Three Stooges were sad bastards who were forced to hang out together because of mental handicap, and rage problems that made society shun them. Countless trios have dissolved over the course of history, but Hall & Oats, Bill & Ted, Cheech & Chong, still go strong today (sure thereís the odd Wham! or Regis & Kathie Lee to sour the reputation, but still.) Such is the concept of Gentle Giantís third album, and their debut concept album. Itís the story of three boys who begin as best friends at childhood, choose different career paths (construction worker, artist, and yuppie), and when they reunite after so many years as adults, they no longer understand or relate to each other, because of their different ways of life. Truly heartbreaking. If it were just two friends, this probably wouldnít have happened. Just like if Gentle Giant only had two brothers, instead of three, they probably wouldíve gotten the mainstream attention they so badly deserved.
Gentle Giant had a unique, complex sound of classical with hard rock. They found their way to more mainstream ways later, but this album still features many classic Gentle Giant traits. Songs split in two different moods, one loud, one quiet. The crazy winding interludes with long forgotten instruments. Gregorian chant-style singing. Led Zeppelin type jamming and a big, bluesy solo that come unexpectedly. The problem on this album is how it was all brought together. At some times in the album, the song is entirely linear, structure-wise, becoming too repetitive for Gentle Giant. Other times on the album, everything zooms by too quickly, the brilliantly quirky bridges, or sections of the song, leaving the listener lost, or uninterested. Three Friends
ís pace is hard to adjust to for any listener, really. The bursting creativity that the band had in their early years is out of control on the album.
Nonetheless, Gentle Giantís virtuoso arrangement still pull through. Their strange instruments are almost unidentifiable at times; the beginning of Working All Day
has an instrument that has such a unique sound, that itís hard to say whether a synth or guitar-like string instrument was used. These old-fashioned, and forgotten instruments mould the medieval sound into Gentle Giantís various modern styles. Other influences the album brings are widely varied, but are featured only for a short time, or under the current of the main influence. Over the whack of genre mixes everywhere, Three Friends
once again proves to be a difficult listen to focus in on.
Overall, Gentle Giantís sound truly can only be defined in one way; taking heaps of loud, upbeat, outspoken music, mixed with mounds of quieter, sophisticated, orchestral music and mixing into one epic, eclectic, complex mega pile. This is also characterized by the two main vocalists Phil, and Derek Shulman. Phil sings all the quiet parts, often in choir style with many backing voices. Derekís voice is gruff, and resemble the likes of mid-seventies King Crimson vocalist John Wetton. He, of course, sings all the harder songs, ditching the choral chants of brother Phil. He would make certain songs on the album sound like a meat and potatoes rock tunes if it were not for the exceptional amounts of backing instruments spicing everything up. In fact, Working All Day
is too much of a rock song for Gentle Giant, while other songs are split between quiet and loud, itís all loud here. Itís for a good cause though, as Kerry Minnear performs a great organ solo, proving that every prog band needs to show off every once in a while.
The other downfall for Three Friends
is the way the vocal melodies on the album works. Regardless of the vocalist, the voice always wraps around the music exactly, thereís no uniqueness added, besides whenever the boys get into a trademark Gentle Giant chant, to the music. The vocals hold no melody of their own, they just follow every note of the music, adding to the repetitiveness some points in the album have. Of course, the vocals are the only truly repetitive quality to the album, and can be seen as the weak point in Gentle Giantís masterful composing. Three Friends
is an extremely hard album to digest at first. The first time I heard it, it was just a total mess, and I lost interest. For anyone getting into Gentle Giant, check out Acquiring the Taste
, to get a taste of an entirely original band fully in control. Once the overwhelming feeling of so much music crammed into one album has past, itís a great Gentle giant album. Until then, be prepared for a potentially frustrating album.