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Gentle Giant - In A Glass House CD (album) cover

IN A GLASS HOUSE

Gentle Giant

 

Eclectic Prog

4.36 | 1518 ratings

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Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer
4 stars 'In a Glass House' - Gentle Giant (81/100)

First of all, let me say that I am beyond glad that I decided to listen to Gentle Giant's discography in chronological order. They're one of the greatest examples I can think of in progressive rock of a band that continuously attempted to reinvent and evolve their sound as time went on. With that in mind, it's easy to understand why my experience with In a Glass House would be informed heavily by recently listening to GG's earlier work. With this album (their fifth, chronologically speaking) Gentle Giant maintained the fearsome technical proficiency and general busyness that defined the predecessor Octopus and most of that which came before. However, with the departure of longtime main vocalist Phil Shulman, the band gave their style a more focused (and even more serious-sounding) tone. While Gentle Giant become ever more deserving of being called out for King Crimson-variety self-involved pretentiousness with every album they put out, the focused compositions and reined-in weirdness put In a Glass House head and shoulders above Octopus. It may not be Gentle Giant's magnum opus, but it's relatively up there.

It's really to Gentle Giant's credit that I have to keep rethinking what I thought of previous albums every time I hear another of theirs. My dominant impression of Octopus was that it was too serious, and lacked the personality needed to justify the outlandish technical direction they were taking with their music. By comparison, In a Glass House makes Octopus look as fun as delightful as Acquiring the Taste. Even so, while my initial impressions with In a Glass House were just as muted as with its predecessor, repeated listens have made me love it almost as much as the first two albums.

Yes, the wacky 'everything but the kitchen sink' mindset that Phil Shulman brought to the band is missed (and in a way, this feels less like a Gentle Giant album as a result) but the weirdness is traded off for a much-desired sense of structural focus and moderation. Even in their greatest moments (most of which may be found on Acquiring the Taste) Gentle Giant struggled with relaying sense to their often- messy compositions. In a Glass House doesn't get them out of that hole entirely, but listeners who struggled with Gentle Giant's characteristically tactless flow should find this much better suited to their tastes.

On In a Glass House moreso than ever Gentle Giant warrant a comparison to King Crimson. The heavy European Medieval influence notwithstanding, Gentle Giant's mid-era stance as a serious band taking serious music seriously closely echoes what Fripp and Crimson were doing around the same time- the jarring tranquility of "An Inmate's Lullaby" even sounds like something the gamelan aficionado Fripp himself may have concocted. In a Glass House may feel less personally characteristic and more along the lines of a garden variety prog rock record, but Gentle Giant still instil themselves in the album by means of the sheer technicality which, in keeping with their legend, is almost unbelievably tight and complex. Even the would-be 'soft' track "An Inmate's Lullaby" comes off as angular and technical, especially for a celesta and glockenspiel-directed piece. The winding Medieval spiral-staircase of "Experience" is instantly gratifying, shocking, yet takes several listens to even begin to understand. Part of the enjoyment of the album's more byzantine passages (especially when first hearing it) is that sense of being out of control. Even with progressive rock, that is a pretty rarely-found impression.

The vocals and sporadic instrumental jumbles have both been toned down, and while at first glance I thought that might have been a bad thing for the album, it's actually resulted in some of the most memorable songwriting Gentle Giant would ever do. "the Runaway", "Experience" and "In a Glass House" are full of immortal riffs I would have never expected to hear from a band like Gentle Giant. "Way of Life" feels a bit rushed for its own good, and like many 'calm before the storm'-type acoustic ditties you see on the latter halves of prog records, "A Reunion" doesn't so much affect as pleasantly occupy the listener. "The Runaway" and "Experience" are two of the best slices of traditional progressive rock you're bound to find. It should also be mentioned that while Derek Shulman sounds a little out of his class doing leads (his vocals sound workmanly at best), the notable lack of wild harmonies helps to keep the focus on the instrumentation, where (at least for a band like Gentle Giant) it probably belongs.

In a Glass House is a very stately album- far, far, far moreso than I ever would have thought to hear from Gentle Giant upon being introduced to the self-titled and the wacky Acquiring the Taste. Only a few years since the debut, and Glass Giant had a much different taste to their sound. It's just as impressive, albeit not quite as viscerally fascinating as the early stuff. In a Glass House proves once again that Gentle Giant were one of the most proficient acts of theirs or any day. I may hesitate to call it a masterpiece (I'm not convinced that GG are good songwriters so much as inventive composers) but after the relative listener's disappointment I felt hearing Octopus and even Three Friends, In a Glass House shows a band's renewed vision at the top of their form.

Conor Fynes | 4/5 |

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