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Gentle Giant - Giant For A Day CD (album) cover


Gentle Giant


Eclectic Prog

2.29 | 430 ratings

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Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer
2 stars 'Giant for a Day' - Gentle Giant (46/100)

To put it plainly; Gentle Giant went from tackling ambitious album-long concepts, philosophical themes and referencing Rabelais, to writing songs about banging groupies. Not that I mean to imply Gentle Giant were particularly nuanced lyricists to begin with, but there is a sharp contrast between, say, "The Nativity of Pantagruel", and "Rock Climber", a skuzzy rock n' roller about some of the unexpected benefits of being a prog-turned-pop rocker. Giant for a Day completes Gentle Giant's transformation into a would-be pop rock act, so it should be scarcely surprising that it's earned such a bad reputation. Indeed, I think any album that dared to 'turn' one of the most cerebral prog bands in history into bite-sized party rock would be hated, regardless of how good it really was. Having apparently brushed up on their newfound pop sensibilities following the mess that was The Missing Piece, Gentle Giant have made an album that is truly mediocre, virtually to the point where I may be able to use it as an example of a perfectly mediocre rock album. Is it the worst Gentle Giant album ever, as most fans seem to declare? I don't think so, if only for the fact that there's nothing here quite so bad as some of the AOR cuts off The Missing Link here to cringe through. It is, however, the least involving and involved Gentle Giant album by a wide margin, and given that much of their career flourished on the basis of seemingly overwhelming complexity, that is a pretty sorry statement in of itself.

Gentle Giant are far from the only progressive rock bands that decided to fly the coop and migrate towards a pop-oriented sound, though they may have been among the first to feel the heat of a late '70s prog- hating public. Say what you will about pop compared to the would-be 'superiority' of prog, Yes and Genesis saw fit to reinvent themselves for the 80s in a pretty amazing way, and opened entirely new doors for themselves as a result. It's little wonder that Gentle Giant couldn't do the same. While Genesis had Phil Collins to pick up the slack and take charge, and Yes enlisted the help of pop genius Trevor Rabin to guide them successfully throughout the next decade, there wasn't anyone in Gentle Giant with the proper set of skills to write a good pop song. Sure, they had tried over the last few recordings (possibly even including their last 'great' record Free Hand) but they were never able to make good music without their bells, whistles, and instrumental fireworks.

It's downright puzzling that Gentle Giant decided to cut prog out of their sounds entirely with Giant for a Day. Their main influence here appears to be the classic rock n' roll from two decades prior, mixed with a handful of surprisingly pleasant acoustic tunes. Nothing here is ever truly bad (Gentle Giant were too skilled a band to have ever devolved entirely) but a lack of inspiration is always audible in music; in pop music, doubly so.

The cheerful driving energy of a lot of these tracks doesn't really feel fun or infectious so much as predictable, maybe even a little contrived. There's a surefire identity crisis with "Rock Climber" in particular; if Gentle Giant had spent the weight of their career making pretentious avant-prog played with a million instruments and inspired by Renaissance-era toilet humour, would it not stand to reason that Gentle Giant wouldn't have had a great deal of experience with trashy groupies?

Maybe things were different in the '70s- it's just been my experience that sexual lust doesn't like to go hand in hand with MiniMoogs and time signature changes.

The truth be told, the rock songs here feel hollow- pleasantly listenable, but there's nothing to get me hooked, either from an intellectual or emotional level. A very surprising exception to that actually comes in the form of the acoustic songs Gentle Giant have included here. "Thank You" and "Friends" go a step further, condensing Gentle Giant to little more than an unplugged guitar and the voice of Derek Shulman, and you know what- it works! Especially when heard with the crackle of a vinyl player, there's a warmth to the acoustic pieces here I wouldn't have dared expect from Gentle Giant, on this or any other of their albums. It's a shame they're so brief. Barring that, the title track is pretty decent (recalling the New Wave approach they would further adopt with Civilian in 1980) and "Spooky Boogie" seems to be meant as some sort of instrumental eulogy to their progressive style. It's a pretty uninventive reprise of some of their past instrumental ideas, but might be worth a fan's gander for sake of the retroactive nostalgia.

Giant for a Day ain't that bad. It's not good either. Going one step further, it's not much of anything. The majority of the personality and charm invested into the making of this album may be found on the cover. Having found a copy on vinyl in a discount bin (appropriately), there have been times I was tempted to fetch the scissors and be a giant for a day. Truth be told, there's some cold symbolism in removing the band's trademark mascot from the music. True to what many others have said of this album, barring Derek Shulman's voice it would be impossible to tell this was Gentle Giant based on the music alone. I find it bleakly ironic that well under a decade before with Acquiring the Taste, they had proudly declared themselves to be playing against the grain of popular music (at the risk of becoming terribly unpopular, so they said.) With this album, they gave it up and finally tried to be popular, and as a result became even more unpopular. Lots of people are still enjoying Acquiring the Taste. I don't see quite so many enjoying Giant for a Day. Go figure.

Conor Fynes | 2/5 |


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