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


Gentle Giant


Eclectic Prog

4.36 | 1522 ratings

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3 stars While many fans list Octopus as the band's best, there's also a good contingent of Gentle Giant fans that rate this as number one. In a way, I can see where they're coming from - the concept and lyrics are good, the ideas are complex and twisted without becoming irritating, the arrangements are as creative and untrivial as ever, etc. Yet while after many listens I can see all these positives, this album has nowhere near the same amount of impact on me that Octopus always has, and I don't think that additional listens will change that.

The main problems stem from the fact that the band decided to abandon the "slam tons of ideas into a short time period" approach for a "let's make the songs based on these ideas long" approach. Yup, the number of tracks has been cut to six, and four of them last over seven minutes; this is hardly a bad thing in and of itself, but in terms of keeping my interest throughout, the songs don't measure up to the lengthier excursions of, say, Yes. There are simply far too many moments on this album where the arrangements, while just as impressive technically as before, lull my head into a stupor and force me to fight the urge to nod off. It also hurts that the vocal parts aren't that good even by Gentle Giant standards - except for the lovely (and perfectly appropriate) delivery that Derek gives in "Inmate's Lullaby," it seems like the band (Derek especially) just included the sung parts for the sake of including them, without bothering to put any conviction behind them (which is a shame since, as mentioned earlier, the lyrics are just fine).

Still, every track on here has decent enough 'raw materials.' They may not be put to the best use, often interrupted with quieter parts that add little to my listening enjoyment, but I would be lying if I said that, when looking at the track listing, any of the songs make me gag and lament my precious lost seconds of life. I'm not big on "Way of Life," which has a cool dancable (ha) foundation but little else (that is, little else that I like - there's a lot going on in the track, it's just that not much of it makes me care), but I gotta admit it's funny to hear such a thing on a prog album (especially when I know that the band saw it as complex prog and not as proto-disco). Aside from the pretty (but underdeveloped) "A Reunion," though, everything has at least a few solid chunks of quality. "The Runaway" starts the album on an extremely high note, with a rhythmic groove formed out of samples of glass breaking (not making this up), then turns into what could be an excellent intense piece (with great tight work from everybody) with a fine vocal melody, but is instead dragged down by the total lack of effort from the vocals and extreme excess in the mid-song jam. Cut this to five minutes from seven, and I'd be a happy man - as is, I'm just a mildly content man.

The tracks bookending the second side are also quite good, though each has passages that I definitely think should have been left on the cutting-room floor. "Experience" starts off much like something from Octopus (both in style and quality), then eventually enters a fine groove (with a great guitar and bass line), but also meanders into generic (and in this case boring) medievalism too many times for my liking. Still, what a great groove, even if Derek's voice adds little. As for the title track, it more or less bypassed me the first eight times I listened to the album, but I think that was just a function of me being tired. A lot of it seems somewhat like Gentle-Giant-By-Numbers to me (though that's not necessarily a bad thing), but it gets great in the second half, where we suddenly get this killer hard rock groove that has bits of steel guitar here and there that closes out the album.

For all of the ambiguous praise that I can give most of the album, though, there is actually one track that I can't whine about. "An Inmate's Lullaby" is a perfect look inside the mind of somebody locked away in a mental institution, with odd processed Derek vocals, the best use of vibes you'll ever hear, and just such a bizarrely pleasant atmosphere that I can't help but love it. I actually almost get the feeling that Peter Gabriel, when putting together Birdy ten years later, took a listen or two to this track (if he didn't, and I'm guessing he didn't, the resemblance is freaky) - substitute the vibes for marimbas, lay on a grumbling static synth pattern and muffle the singing, and you wouldn't be that far from that mid-80's soundtrack.

So basically, it's a good album (and just short of a **** rating from me). Unfortunately, it's a noticable slip from the band's previous accomplishments - the complexity of melodies and arrangements is just as high as ever, but the ability to make the casual listener care about it is on the decline (though not gone by any means). If you're a hardcore prog fan, you might adore it, though.

tarkus1980 | 3/5 |


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