Review Summary: Magnificent.
Gentle Giant were sort of the "odd-man-out" group when it came to popular 70s progressive rock bands. While maintaining a solid fanbase, they never really achieved the stardom that bands such as Rush or Yes received; when you start listening to the band's music, it quickly becomes evident why this was the case. In the liner notes of their second album Acquiring the Taste, the band stated: "It is our goal to expand the frontiers of contemporary popular music at the risk of being very unpopular." During their prime, they'd follow this quote and shun the commercial world as the commercial world generally shunned them in return. It's really quite unfortunate though, as the group made some of progressive rock's finest works; they'd mix technicality and multi-faceted arrangements with an emotional weight and depth rarely seen in progressive rock. Nowhere does that seem more wonderfully represented than in their 1975 masterpiece The Power and the Glory.
The record is a concept album about a man who wants to use his political power in a beneficial way. However, as he becomes more power-hungry and dictatorial, the man ultimately becomes no different than the leaders who came before him. It's a pretty typical concept, but it also allows for Gentle Giant to get creative with their themes and musical settings. For instance, the opening track "Proclamation" has a very frantic discordant section in the middle, suggesting panic stemming from either the previous leader or the position of this new leader in the story. Also, every song references the previous song by title; so for instance, "So Sincere" would put "Proclamation" somewhere in its lyrics, "Aspirations" would put "So Sincere" somewhere in its lyrics, and so forth. It's a clever way to tie each song and theme together, all leading to the climactic "Valedictory" which displays the complete reinvention of the main character; the song is essentially a more distorted and dark version of "Proclamation," leading the story and album to come full circle. A great concept indeed.
Musically, Gentle Giant were better than ever here. You've got the typical sudden changes and instrumental shift displayed in other albums by the band, but there's a greater sense of cohesion at the same time. The concept and certain compositional choices led to this album being a bit more streamlined than In a Glass House (contrary to popular belief, this album is not as complex as you might think), but in a good way. While technically challenging numbers such as the multi-layered violin-led "So Sincere" or the incredibly nimble, dissonant-sounding (for the most part anyway) "Cogs in Cogs" are on the album, a song like "Aspirations" is a completely different tune. Instead it's a heartfelt ballad that's very quiet and keyboard-driven; also unusual for Gentle Giant is how the 4/4 time signature is the main beat of the song. Almost as if it's... conventional??? Well, it doesn't go that far; there are still a few odd breaks and diversions here and there that add the band's unique touch to the music. You've also got "No God's a Man" which goes for a similar slow pace with occasional instrumental diversions, as if separate musical "conversations" are putting their stamp on the atmosphere of the song. And that's what makes this album work so well... it has a very healthy mix of simplistic accessibility and complex multi-faceted technical moments. It's a perfect combination of the two, and the band are very keen on not giving the listener too much of either at a time. For every "So Sincere," there's an "Aspirations" to follow. It's so pleasing to the ears to hear two musical thoughts collide into one cohesive whole. "Playing the Game" and "The Face" have a tendency to be a bit weaker and less played (by me, at least) than other songs on the album, but they have their own share of highlights too. The 6/8 portion of "The Face" is a great shift from the main 4/4 melody played during the verses. The violin's a highlight here just as it was in "So Sincere," working well as a lead instrument against the complex rhythm parts.
This is an amazing record. Not only is it a very technically accomplished progressive rock effort, but it also has a cleverly-executed concept and numerous emotional moments to balance out the virtuosity. It may be a bit tough to find this in stores, but I'm sure it's pretty cheap online. No matter how you get it, just get it. If you like progressive music, you won't be disappointed in the slightest.