Acquiring the Taste review by Jason Rubin
Acquiring the Taste, Gentle Giant's second album, may well be their most outrageous. Seeking to firmly establish themselves among the rising progressive heavyweights of the day - particularly Yes and King Crimson - the group pulled out all the stops. And Kerry Minnear was the linchpin, turning in one of the most remarkable displays of versatility in popular music history. From the percussion section he wrote, arranged, and played on "Edge of Twilight" to the solo Moog showcase on the title track to the string quartet he wrote, arranged, and participated in on "Black Cat," Kerry almost single-handedly "expanded the boundaries of contemporary popular music" - as quoted from the credo printed in the notes.
The album begins with "Pantagruel's Nativity," in which the band play off their name by alluding to the grotesque giant of the Rabelais novel, Gargantua and Pantagruel. Kerry sings the verses beautifully, while Derek takes on the ballsier choruses. Kerry then takes a vibraphone solo, which gives way to Gary (who was what, 20 years old at the time?) on guitar. Martin Smith's drumming is inventive and jazzy throughout.
"Edge of Twilight" also features Kerry on lead vocals, as well as a slew of keyboards and cello, and, of course, the percussion mentioned above. There is the famous odd credit: "Gary Green - Didn't play on this one." Ray does chime in on Spanish guitar, though, as he does very effectively on the next cut, "The House, The Street, The Room." There is a very odd, sparse instrumental section performed twice on this song, made up of short phrases from a variety of horns, recorder, guitars, and keyboards. This leads up to an absolutely blistering solo by Gary.
"Acquiring the Taste" is a short but remarkable instrumental performed solely on Moog synthesizer. It is arranged and voiced perfectly by Kerry, sounding like a small orchestra.
"Wreck" is a dark rocker about a shipwreck. It predates the subject of Free Hand's "His Last Voyage" and features a false ending, which was also later used on "Playing the Game" from The Power & the Glory. Gary has some great leads and producer Tony Visconti chips in with sweet recorder parts, but the key to this track is the vocals: Derek and Phil on unison leads, joined by Kerry on the "hey, yeah, yeah, hold on" response. It's very intense.
"The Moon Is Down" opens with a noir-ish sax intro by Phil and Derek that suggests a smoky, barely empty, late-night jazz dive. More great vocals by Derek and Kerry on this one. The instrumental section on this tune is one of my favorite moments from any Giant song. Acoustic guitar, bass, and piano build slowly to Phil and Derek's saxes in unison, followed by Kerry's electric piano and mellotron. It's a lovely, bright part of a cool, dark tune.
"Black Cat Ways" has a beautiful opening as well. With Ray on violins and viola, and Kerry on cello, the string quartet paints a lyrical melody that leads to a soft, slightly eerie vocal by Phil. The string quartet section in the middle is punctuated by unusual percussion, including skulls, maracas, and claves. Gary's wah-wah makes a neat impersonation of a cat meowing at the end.
In the tradition started by "Why Not" on their debut album, "Plain Truth" closes the album with a bang. While it's exciting to hear Ray wail on electric violin, I find the tune drags when he gets to just jam alone. But before that, Derek does a great rocking vocal, Ray holds up his bass duties with his usual solid tone, and Gary jams hard. At 3:16 of the 7:36 tune, the song breaks off and Ray noodles on violin (with bass going underneath: a neat trick!) for two minutes until the band comes back full strength, which builds to the chorus again. The last minute of the song is Ray alone again until the final flourish. This was a big concert highlight and while I have a few tapes of shows from that time - and while I have the utmost respect for Ray as a player - he's not such a great improviser, and the song has always been something of a let-down for me.
But change was in the air, and when next the band convened in the studio, it was with a new drummer - and a concept.
- Jason Rubin