Gentle Giant Octopus- 1972
RMR Album Rating- 5
Gentle Giant’s “Octopus” was by far the biggest disappointment of all my progressive rock purchases.
I had not heard any of Gentle Giant’s music prior to buying the album, but I could not wait to get it, because on paper it had all the ingredients of a winning progressive rock recipe. I had heard that it was Gentle Giant’s best, which most fans think it is; I had heard that the complexity of instrumentation was out of this world, which it is; I had heard that all the players were unbelievably talented, which they are, and it was released in 1972, which was the peak of progressive rock. So, man was I ready for a great listening experience. Well, that’s not what I got.
Yes, the album has all the factors that I mention above, but I quickly realized that those factors only make a good album on paper. To use an analogy, I can follow a recipe to bake a cake, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the cake is going to be any good, and Gentle Giant’s “Octopus” flavored cake just doesn’t taste good to me at all, and here’s why.
It does have complex instrumentation and crazy time signatures (a hallmark of progressive rock), but it comes across sounding like they want to be complex, just for the sake of being complex, and they do this at the expense of melody and rhythmic hooks, and for me— regardless of the genre of music— there has to be melody and hooks. Otherwise, the music just doesn’t resonate with me. Another major problem are the vocals. Derek Shulman sings like he’s a stage performer at a “Medieval Times” restaurant. This might resonate with some people, but it just sounds ridiculous to me. Lastly, there is no emotion in the playing at all. This is the biggest problem because if a band doesn’t add an emotional component to their playing, than the listener is not going to have an emotional experience while listening, and that’s what great music is really all about (in any genre).
As for the songs, “The Advent of Panurge” and “Raconteur, Troubadour” start off the album. They are commonly cited as the best two tracks on the album, but they don’t resonate with me at all, and as I mentioned before, they sound like something you would hear at a “Medieval Times” restaurant (Click here to listen to Raconteur Troubadour). My favorite track on the album is “A Cry For Everyone.” It is a more traditional progressive rock song, and the vocals are by far the most normal of the album. (Click here to listen to A Cry For Everyone). As for the other songs, “Think of Me with Kindness” is a nice ballad, but it’s nothing special. Then lastly, the worst of the bunch is “Dog’s Life.” I would be embarrassed to play this for anyone. It has this very serious instrumentation going on, but the lyrics are about a dog, and they could have easily been written by someone in kindergarten. (Click here to listen to Dog’s Life, but be prepared to laugh).
So, there you have it. As I’ve said all over this site, progressive rock is my favorite genre of music, but it has to be good and resonate with me on an emotional level, and this album just doesn’t do that.
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