Astonishingly daring debut album, not as focused or overpowering as King Crimson's first but still crashing down barriers and steamrolling expectations. The mix of medieval harmonies and electric rock got stronger on subsequent albums, but the music here is still pretty jarring. Kerry Minnear was probably the only prog rock keyboard player of the era who allowed his synthesizers to sound like themselves and not mimic orchestras; Gary Green's guitars are alternately loud and brittle or soft and lyrical, and always surprising; and the presence of saxes and trumpets (courtesy of Phil Shulman) was unusual in any rock band of the era -- all of which explains how Gentle Giant managed to attract a cult following but hadn't a prayer of moving up from that level of recognition. "Funny Ways" was the softest prog rock song this side of Crimson's "I Talk to the Wind," but a lot of the rest is pretty intense in volume and tempo changes. "Nothing at All" by itself is worth the price of purchase.
by Bruce Eder
Gentle Giant were one of the biggest driving forces in the classic years of prog, and this is where it all started. While the album is not as complex or experimental as later efforts would be (they would even experiment more on their sophomore effort, Acquiring The Taste), this one still shows the brothers Shulman starting off with good footing. For the most part the album sounds a lot bluesier than most people would remember the Giant sounding, and heavier in general. There's a lot of emphasis on the guitars and rough vocals on this album, with little room for slow segments (which they still manage to squeeze in anyways), the instrumentations are impressive as usual, and thanks to the large number of musicians/instruments available on the record they were able to come up with some very unique moments.
The album starts off rather surprisingly. While the soft organ may seem familiar to some who have heard some of Giant's later work the heavy guitar riff and aggressive vocals will be very new (yes, even if this is the band's first effort). Giant is a heavy track with a fun horn section and surprisingly aggressive tones throughout. In the middle we also have a slow section which is limited to cymbals and drums as well as a subtle bass section before it explodes back into full motion for the conclusion of the song. A classic Giant track already! More heavy moments come in mixed sections throughout the album, Alucard is driven by an impressive sax section and creepy harmonized vocals, a lot of distortion characterizes the song and the slow section in the middle makes for a great ending when the song picks up the pace once more. The incredibly bluesy Why Not? opens with familiar keyboards humming a tune before the guitars burst through the wall (as if to say, ''OH YEAH!'') and hard rocking blues riffs fill the air for a good five minutes. The screaming chorus section is also wonderfully aggressive.
Of course, it's not all 'heavy as hell'. Most of the other songs on the album are quite chilled, and many sound like the styles that Giant would later come into. Tones of Acquiring The Taste shine through on Funny Ways, a quirky little number with harmonized and soft vocals, not quite to the experimental point of, say, Knots, but impressive none the less. A pleasing violin guides the song through to the piano parts in the middle of the song, which then lead onto the end. Isn't It Quiet And Cold feels similar in vein, a light and bouncy track with more soft and quirky vocals. Vocal melodies in this one are quite catchy along with the wonderful violin section, plinky guitars and other instruments int he background enforce a very light hearted tune.
Most people viewing the track times on the album will also notice something unfamiliar with Gentle Giant, a 9-minute feature tune. Nothing At All brings Genesis quick to mind with it's soft opening, but those comparisons dissolve quickly when Giant starts moving. It's a slow tune, in contrast with the rest of the album, and the echoy slow drums in the middle make for a memorable moment.
A good but not essential album. Gentle Giant certainly got out of the gates running, but their later albums would be much more impressive. An over-use of the slow sections crammed into the middle of songs does seem a little bit out of place and makes for a craving for a song which doesn't lose momentum soon creeps in. While speed changes in a song certainly are 'progressive' it does become annoying when they change something that was otherwise 'a good thing'. Still, some great tunes on the album will please fans, and anyone who wants to see a more raw/aggressive Giant will not be disappointed if they look here. 3 funny ways out of 5! better moments to come from Giant, but a good start.
by King By-Tor ~ progarchives.com
1. Giant (6:22)
2. Funny Ways (4:21)
3. Alucard (6:00)
4. Isn't It Quiet And Cold? (3:51)
5. Nothing At All (9:08)
6. Why Not (5:31)
7. The Queen (1:40)
Total Time: 36:57
Gary Green - lead guitar, 12 string guitar
Kerry Minnear - keyboard, some bass, cello, lead vocals, backing vocals, some tuned percussion
Derek Shulman - lead vocals, backing vocals, some bass
Phil Shulman - sax, trumpet, recorder, lead vocals, backing vocals
Ray Shulman - most bass, violin, some guitar, percussion, backing vocals
Martin Smith - drums, percussion
[ Rip and Scans by CrunchyFrog ]