Saturday, January 28, 2012

A Gift to Myself: Gentle Giant's "The Power and the Glory"

When the internet started “breaking” relatively obscure progressive rock bands from the 70s in the 00s, there was a subtle sense of urgency. At that point, Gentle Giant albums had never had an adequate CD pressing in the US, and there was a feeling that their recordings, and those of other obscure bands like them, were like endangered species that would soon evaporate from existence. Very often rare imports were the only solution. There was quite a bit of debate about the quality of various pressings: i.e. one pressing had mistakes in the mix while another did not use original artwork, etc.  Devout Gentle Giant fans were often very opinionated about which one was ideal.

So when I got into Gentle Giant and found a resource for acquiring their albums, I got several of them in succession - too quickly, perhaps, to really appreciate each recording. By the time serious reissues of their work came out, I had already been through a feeding frenzy that put a good portion of their catalog in my collection and left me a little burned out. There was one album, though, that I did not obtain at the time, figuring that if I ever went on another Gentle Giant rampage, it would be a gift to my “future” self.

That gift was The Power and the Glory, and the future is now! Thanks, “past” me!

After I revisited Octopus last fall, I finally ordered The Power and the Glory, slapped it on a pair of headphones and, on a temperate January afternoon, took a walk around Zilker Park with the Little One strapped to my chest. It represents Gentle Giant near the peak of their creative powers. Their towering abilities were a bit alienating for a significant portion of the general public, which is a bit of a shame. The band’s incredible musicianship wasn’t necessarily employed for the sake of mere flash, but for the satisfying challenge of creating and executing fiendishly complex music.  For a person like me, who finds rewards in unraveling the mystery of musical performance, The Power and the Glory is simply stunning.

Playing The Game by Gentle Giant on Grooveshark

When I discovered Gentle Giant in the early 00s, all of the amazing video footage that is now readily available today was nowhere to be found, and it has enhanced my admiration for the band tremendously.  Despite their somewhat cringeworthy “baroque and roll” costuming, they were obviously committed to pushing rock music to its very limits without ever quite crossing over into 70s jazz fusion. Their unique and distinctive style was reified in live performance, and for the curious, there are many clips out there that seem to have captured them well.

The Power and the Glory, as a “time capsule” gift to myself, was made even sweeter by the 2009 remaster. The album sound clear as a bell, much more so than the version of Three Friends that I have. It transcends the time period in which it was recorded. I always knew that neo-prog fav Spock’s Beard was significantly influenced by Gentle Giant, but I did not realize to what degree until listening to The Power and the Glory. The clarity of the remaster updates the album’s sound and reveals the extent of Spock’s Beard admiration.

Sadly, The Power and the Glory will most likely be the last album by Gentle Giant that will make it into my library. Past a certain point in their career, their albums became a bit painful to digest. Pressured by the advent of punk and the success of Genesis’ increasing commercial popularity, they tried to sell out and they just did not have it in them. The Power and the Glory, however, is doubtlessly a high point in an incredible creative arc that they traced across an adventurous musical period.

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