Observations on The Power and the Glory

From The Gentle Giant Home Page

This essay was written by Dan Barrett in response to a friend's comments about not liking The Power and the Glory. The friend had previously heard Three Friends and not liked it at first, but eventually grew to love it.

Essay

I didn't like The Power and the Glory when I first got it either. Even after 3-4 listenings, I still didn't like it. I even returned the album (which I had borrowed on cassette from a friend). A few weeks later, I had a craving to hear it again, and then I was hooked.... Now it's my favorite album in all of rock! (No lie!)

I remember you didn't really like Three Friends at first either... and The Power and the Glory is even more challenging to the ear. Three Friends has some really lush and beautiful sections. The Power and the Glory is a different kind of animal: the beauty is in the intricacy of the counterpoint and the controlled use of dissonance. A tune like So Sincere would have been way out of place on Three Friends. (Or on just about any other album in rock. :-))

You wrote that "The songs often lose their continuity, and I just can't seem to latch on to anything meaningful or moving." Here are a few things I've noticed about the album, in case they'll help:

I think the vocal melody in Aspirations is truly beautiful. In some ways, it is reminiscent of leit motifs in romantic classical music. I love how he sings a glaring tritone between the fifth and sixth notes ("As the dust settles see your dreams") and resolves it so nicely in the next few notes.

So Sincere is in 4/4 time. I'm not making this up. :-) I know that it probably sounds totally wacked out and meterless, but underneath, it is very rhythmic. If you can "feel the beat" for the whole first verse before the drums come in, the experience is quite polyrhythmically cool. (Once you know the second verse well, with the drums, it'll be easier to "feel" the first verse without the drums.) In fact, until you do feel the beat, you may find this one hard to like. It'll come with time....

So Sincere is absolutely one of GG's toughest tunes to understand. Maybe even THE toughest. And it comes early in the album -- they have no mercy on the listener. :-) At least the more accessible Aspirations follows it to soothe your ears. I can think of only 1 other GG tune that rivals So Sincere for difficulty: Design from In'terview. I think Design took me even longer to like.

So Sincere also shows off GG's sense of humor. Listen to the last note in the song. That's got to be the stupidest way to end a song I've ever heard! :-)

The more I hear Playing the Game, the more I love it. At first, I thought it was only average/OK. Now I think it's a great, driving rock song. Lots of polyrhythms going on, like the instrumental section immediately after "...I'll never ever lose," but the whole thing remains accessible. Cool organ solo too.

There is so much going on at once in Cogs in Cogs that it's brain-numbing. :-) In my mind, the intertwined vocal counterpoint conjures up images of gears of many sizes, all interlocked and spinning, especially in the middle section ("The circle turns around, the changing voices calling..."). Which is probably the intent of the song.

Those dissonant vocal harmonies in Proclamation, singing "Hail to power and to glory's way" really present, um, a listening challenge. :-) Now I love them, but they definitely took some getting used to. I especially like how they sing "HaaAAAILLLLL..." and bend the notes upward from one dissonant chord to another. Weird!

The moment in Valedictory, when the chorus sings "...and to glory's way" for the last time, and Derek's voice soars above it and sings, "Must be a REEEEASONNNNNN...!", holding the last syllable... sigh! That's one of the most exquisitely beautiful dissonant moments in progressive rock, in my opinion. I feel like the whole album builds up to that single moment of release.

Give it time. Give it a few months. :-) And most of all, give it full playings from beginning to end. That's the best way to hear it....