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Ben Cohen (UK)

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I Lost My Head: The Chrysalis Years, 1975-1980
I Lost My Head: The Chrysalis Years, 1975-1980

56 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fabulous curate's (Faberge) egg, 13 Aug. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
OK, here's the conundrum: first off, this is a fantastic compilation - the final six Giant albums plus extras with extensive write ups - all for little more than the price of one CD - if this were Pink Floyd, you'd barely get a Wall souvenir coaster for that. And of the six albums (plus extras) contained therein, no less than three come from the Giant's toppermost of top drawers.

So why do I feel like the bellboy who delivered champagne to George Best's luxury hotel room (where a scantily-clad Miss World was lounging about on a bed covered in casino winnings) before asking the footballer `So George, where did it all go wrong?'

The thing is: those three top notch albums are the first three albums featured here - and after album six, the band split for ever. So, George...

Well, there's no sign of rot or pestilence on 1975's Free Hand. It is considered by many fans and critics to be their finest hour (I would argue for 1972's Octopus). The music couldn't be further from the clichés that prog gets tarred with: there's no noodly self indulgence here - this is concise, melodic and genuinely thrilling art rock at its finest.

Interview, a year later, is cut from very similar cloth to Free Hand; Slightly fewer acoustic flavours and even more intricate in its construction. The consensus is that this is the slightly weaker album (for what it's worth I prefer it).

With adjectives like `intricate' flying around, who would have thought that live double Playing The Fool (also 1976) would be such an exciting listen. The considered chamber-rock has been retooled to, er, rock - but intelligently.

Add a fine Peel Session and your entrance fee has by now been paid several times over.

Don't stop listening now, but things do turn a bit rum from hereon in. So, what happened? A bit of context might help: punk has arrived in the UK and Yes, ELP and Genesis are having hit singles with songs you could actually hum. Adult Oriented Rock (AOR) was still huge in the US - in short: there was big money to be made by becoming radio friendly. So Gentle Giant decided to iron most of the (small k) kinks out of their music for the sake of `market forces'.

The move was a commercial failure. Musically it was an interesting failure - three albums with plenty to enjoy..

1977s The Missing Piece mixed ballads, full-on rock and quirky pop - no style was entirely successful, though it's an enjoyable listen. Side two (as it was) has flashes of old school Giant - Memories of Old Days is, in particular, melancholic perfection.

Giant for a Day (1978) jettisons the `old school' for a whole album of soft rock/pop. The problem (ironically) was that Giant's stabs at pop were too simplistic. It has its moments, but this is arguably their creative low point.

Giant's swansong was Civilian in 1980. The band had reluctantly decamped to LA to make something `radio friendly' for the US market (The US radio - probably a computer - said `no'). The fact that the band was utterly miserable might just be Civilian's saving grace - Peter Frampton this aint. You can hear the despair in songs like Shadows on the Street and Inside Out; even the straightforward rock of Number One makes its mark by sounding genuinely P****d off. In short this isn't classic Giant but it's ripe for reappraisal.

Around the same time as Giant were recording Civilian, Peter Gabriel was working on his groundbreaking third album. A representative of his US label came to listen to the work in progress. His sole contribution was to ask if one song could sound `more like the Doobie Brothers'. Gabriel refused and was swiftly dropped by Atlantic. He quickly found another label and the hugely experimental (and not even slightly AOR) album went top 30.

`I Lost My Head'? I often wonder what would have happened if Gentle Giant hadn't lost their nerve when the man from Chrysalis came knocking. In the mean time, dive in and enjoy a delicious curate's egg. The champagne's on its way...
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 28, 2013 11:20 AM BST

Things to Come/Psi-Fi
Things to Come/Psi-Fi

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Definitive reissue for 70s synth-prog masterworks, 19 Nov. 2011
This review is from: Things to Come/Psi-Fi (Audio CD)
NB - This is for the Market Square 2011 2CD remastered reissue, released Nov 2011.

At last - the reissue that this fine brace of albums has long deserved - a remastered 2 CD set of the cult 70s synth rock band's only two releases. The packaging is exemplary (although the original album covers - both excellent period pieces - are shrunk to the size of commemorative postage stamps for the artwork) with extensive sleevenotes and reprinted ads and reviews. And this time there are no nasty edits formerly needed to squeeze them onto a single CD.

OK, some backstory: Ken Elliott and Keiran O'Connor already had a decent stab at rock's premier league as part of cult psychedelic/proto-proggers Second Hand. The pair reconvened as a pioneering `synth and drums' duo for this brace of albums in the mid 70s.

Things to Come was marketed as a synth-tastic Tubular Bells, which doesn't quite capture the album's essence. It's a mix of prog-ish instrumentals peppered with a handful of songs. The instrumentals win the day - at their best they are exquisite; Keyboardist Elliot`s day job writing TV music gives him a way with a tune not shared by many of his prog contemporaries. Much of Things to Come could be the soundtrack to a fantastic Gerry Anderson show that never got broadcast. While some of the lyrics and Elliott's slightly strained white soul vocals have dated less well, the likes of Smog Fog and Sunset and the dystopian soundscape Premonition are truly chilling.

Instrumentals are in shorter supply on the follow-up, 1975s psi fi. Thankfully, the songs were much more fully-realised this time. The lyrics - more futuristic dystopias but with slabs of tongue in cheek interplanetary hedonism thrown in - also win the day by never taking themselves too seriously. psi fi is a mixture of densely layered Wakeman/Tony Banks instrumental prowess, with eerie sci-fi soundtrack flourishes, camp glam rock swagger and even Cantebury-sound jazziness on the exquisite Manifestations. It *should* be a space age dog's breakfast, but Elliott has packed a full consignment of decent tunes and keeps the dramatic twists, turns and sonic textures coming thick and fast - all beautifully buffed up to a shine by the remaster.

The review that turned me onto Seventh Wave as a 12 year-old boy, predicted that their `melodic rock use of synthesisers' was the start of a musical revolution that would sweep away the old musical establishment. Sadly Seventh Wave were too ornate and `old wave' to ride the crest of the musical tsunamis that followed. But if you have ever read one of those articles from the 1950s/1960s that confidently predicted that "in the 21st century we will all travel in flying cars, eat pills for lunch and wear tin foil clothing" you will understand that sometimes the `future' that doesn't quite come to pass is often rather more thrilling than the one that does.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 7, 2011 2:50 PM GMT

A Foot in the Door: The Best Of Pink Floyd [2011 - Remaster]
A Foot in the Door: The Best Of Pink Floyd [2011 - Remaster]
Price: £7.37

55 of 62 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Flawed but fine toe in the waters of Floyd, 14 Nov. 2011
Reviewers are asking - not unreasonably - "what is the point of this album?" As a number of people have pointed out: if it's a Floyd compilation you're after, then the decade-old (eek!) 2CD set Echoes contains almost twice as much music. And now it's been deleted - ho hum!

I think I may have the answer to the question though: this is a compilation for Alice.

Alice is the name of my delightful ex. She worshipped Radiohead and Blur. My liking for 70s prog largely mystified her, though. However she `got' the Floyd - or at least Dark Side of the Moon (a sort of 70s OK Computer) and Piper at the Gates of Dawn (heartily ransacked on Blur's Parklife album).

If I had slipped the Echoes compilation into her Christmas stocking she would have stalled at Set the Controls and the eponymous Echoes. She would have yawned theatrically at relative makeweight Marooned. A Foot in the Door would have worked perfectly, though. There are no deep-space freakouts (which I personally adore) and a focus on the concise accessible gems from Dark Side, Wish You Were Here and The Wall (the selfsame albums getting the fullest reissue push. Draw your own conclusions)

Shockingly, only See Emily Play remains on board from the Syd Barrett era - potential Alices may wish to supplement this compilation with Floyd's classic 1967 debut album Piper at the Gates of Dawn - a non-stop psychedelic tea party of literate whimsy and only one deep space freak out...

So, if it's a career overview you're after, then seek out the splendid Echoes compilation. However, Foot in the Door is an all-killer-no-filler compilation for the cautious beginner and the driver that craves a swift succession of musical knockout punches on their car stereo. The title sums up its strengths nicely - to mix metaphors it dips a cautious toe in Floydian water. It answers the marketers' current rhetorical question "Why Pink Floyd?" with a concise answer: "It's the songs, stupid!"
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 27, 2012 9:47 AM BST

Love Wins: At the Heart of Life's Big Questions
Love Wins: At the Heart of Life's Big Questions
by Rob Bell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.99

96 of 104 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Is your rhino wearing a suit of armour?*, 19 May 2011
Back in 1515, German artist Albrecht Durer produced a famous woodcut illustration of a rhino (yes, this is a review of Love Wins!) Having been nowhere near a rhinoceros he based it on a written description of a rhino and an anonymous sketch.

Durer gave his rhino plates of armour and an extra small horn, based on the limited information he had.

As centuries passed, artists got a the chance to draw and paint the rhino from first hand. But, in spite of the evidence of their own eyes, many artists persisted in portraying it as wearing a suit of armour. Why? It is argued that Durer's woodcut became so established as the 'definitive rhino' that even real rhinos themselves couldn't compete with what had become the accepted portrayal of rhino-ness.

So... Love Wins...

A plea from the heart: do not dismiss what Rob Bell is saying out of hand because his portrayal of the Gospel looks unfamiliar to you. If you have decided exactly what the Bible says about the life to come before you even open it, you will constrains God's words with your own preconceptions. In other words you will plate it in suits of constricting armour. Scripture is not best served by being squeezed into suits of armour.

Whatever your preconceptions - positive or negative - may I urge you to approach Love Wins with your mind open. Bell has done rather more theological homework than his detractors suggest. And while you read Rob's book, be prepared to pick up your Bible with an open mind too - don't just say 'scripture plainly teaches' - it's the very least that scripture deserves that you don't presume upon it.

* Advance apologies to any art historians or semiologists if there are any inaccuracies in my retelling of the Durer story.
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 2, 2012 4:30 PM BST

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