The cover interprets the album name in an all too literal way. Perhaps there was a misunderstanding between the band and artist with what needed to be achieved on the cover. Perhaps more ELP and less Rolling Stones was needed. Or maybe just not a tongue ready to gorge on what seems to be a very small ass
. Or perhaps it’s a metaphor: Gentle Giant are ready to lick away the crap in music and drool in a new era. Well none of that matters now because the band is generally forgotten besides Pitchforkmedia’s tribute to this gem, or more so the cover, in their “The Worst Record Covers of All Time” article. At least they weren’t put in the same section as Jim O’Rourke’s Eureka
, where a naked middle aged cartoon man “gets intimate” with a bunny. But unlike O’Rourke’s bestialised cover, Gentle Giant’s Acquiring the Taste
remains something that should be discovered by the people.
The typical prog label that is slapped on other bands simply does not work here. I’m not exactly sure why, the Moog synthesizers, Mellotrons and bearded men are there, but the pompous sound is not. Well, there’s hints of elitism in their liner notes but let’s just ignore that... The album soars in composition, the music twists and winds, a single melody is loosely maintained through the quick interludes and breakdowns. But they do not sound like a jam band, or the type of prog band that writhes and turns with just bass, synth, drums and guitar. Gentle Giant heavily incorporate classical music into their music, but the catch is: it doesn’t bore to tears. The base of Acquiring the Taste
’s songs is very hard rock driven, complex bass lines and dirty blues guitar riffs, but laden with various instruments, a lot of them somewhat unexpected.
The hard rock influence is also unexpected, through the opening track Pantagruel's Nativity
, beginning with a peaceful Mellotron, wandering trumpet and flute, and quiet acoustic guitar as vocalist Phil Shulman projects a rather angelic voice. It’s a rather textural experience, before the Moog synthesizer ushers in a new mood lead by a burst of guitar, the riffs reminiscent of Black Sabbath. But the mood is maintain, as the guitar steps down and lets the “richer” instruments also play in, the Moog and horns occasionally popping in. In the end, the opening song proves to be a rather daunting intro to the album, the mood is maintained the same, but the interchanging of instruments is so subtle and elegant, yet quick, that the listener doesn’t even notice that seven minutes have gone. Such is the nature of the longer Gentle Giant songs, almost arrogant dissonance, counteracting music moods, and an overall dark feel.
The classical and baroque influences come on Acquiring the Taste
’s quieter yet more symphonic moments. The instrumentation that leads The Moon is Down
is especially elegantly crafted with clavichord, harpsichord, violins, saxes and quiet arpeggios from the guitar create a euphoric sound rarely heard even in the most complex music. It’s amazingly strung together by a single, classically-inspired, droning melody. Still the mysterious darkness remains intact, similar to King Crimson in their epic songs like Epitaph
, an emotionally volatile song yet beautifully strung together by the Mellotron.
Through the elegant pseudo-classical moments on the album also come pure hard rock moments, similar to Jethro Tull’s Aqualung
, hard rocking, but stylized with other influences. Wreck
is the best example of this, the verses sound like a pub song with shouts of “Yeeaaaahhheeeyyyyyhoohoowww” and a powerful riff driving the song. But like the rest of the album, there’s always an elaborate backing when it’s not upfront, the violins always creeping under the guitar’s powerful tone. Of course it being a song from Acquiring the Taste
it must have an outlandish interlude, where suddenly medieval style flutes and harpsichords take over before coming to a dramatic climax with the Mellotron and relaxing guitar from Gary Green.
Acquiring the Taste
is truly a strange progressive trip, going in the direction of a nightmarish Jethro Tull. The song structures are quirky and unpredictable, musical changes are bound to happen quickly but still loosely maintaining a theme. Acquiring the Taste
sometimes slows down too much, but the intrigue of what may come up usually keeps any boredom away. This is Gentle Giant’s second album, a departure towards more experimental, but more focused and musically superior direction. Gentle Giant never truly perfected the experimental sound and whimsical, yet volatile moods, they moved towards somewhat safer territories in future releases. Never has hard rock and Gregorian chants mixed so boldly in one record, but with such a cohesive sound that doesn’t compromise with the element of surprise.