Pretentious - For the Sake of It
About the Album
This was a Vertigo compilation of music from the first six albums:
The song selection is different from Giant Steps... The First Five Years, even though both compilations focus on the same six albums.
- submitted by Gary Pfeifer
- Nothing At All
- Why Not?
- Edge Of Twilight
- Pantagruel's Nativity
- The Advent Of Panurge
- Raconteur Troubadour
- The Runaway
- An Inmates Lullaby
- So Sincere
- Cogs in Cogs
Compilation & Coordination: Leon Campadelli
- transcribed by Henry Benson
Now you might think that in titling a retrospective 'Pretentious', a record company is poking a last barb at the departing backsides of a band who saw fit to leave them a couple of years ago. You'd be wrong. The joke is borrowed from the band themselves. Gentle Giant, dedicated musicians that they are, have never taken themselves that seriously. They've always been one of the bands to cop flak from rock pundits who reckon Chuck Berry said it all, and so on an American tour they took the key put-down word of that school of criticism and spelt it out in huge neon letters above the stage while they played their set: 'PRETENTIOUS'. It displayed a certain defiant confidence I think, a classy way of saying "Up yours!"
Well, presumably if you've got this far you don't regard the ability to read music as a matter for the confessional (though it could be put in mitigation that Gary Green and John Weathers never did suss out their minims from their semibreves). But if you're interested in this compilation you probably haven't got much of the Giant's early work in your collection. So let me bend your ear for a moment on the subject of some lovely music from one of the great British bands.
These tracks are taken from their first six albums, 1970-74. The chucking-out process would have been agony to me but it turned out that this selection was very nice to hear and sharpened my focus on yet more aspects of Gentle Giant's matchless talent.
Like: the polar tension and balance between the lead vocals of Kerry Minnear, all grace and romance, and Derek Shulman, bare-assed and raunchy even on the most demanding melody (check out Pantagruel's Nativity); the group's unique vocal harmonies overlapping and interweaving sinuously, never pretty-pretty, dangerous as a nest of snakes (Knots); their remarkable Englishness expressed through the harshness and excitement of rock, not ducking away into folkie cutesiness or sentimentality (get the send-up Battle-of-Britain-type interlude in Raconteur Troubadour). They come out with the most startling combinations of instruments. With their preposterous skill on guitars, keyboards, horns, woodwind, strings and percussion they can sound like an orchestra but most of the time they hold back, search, choose. The outcome is endless edge-of-the-seat surprises: the raunchy Hammond surging through the outro of the otherwise Old-English-inflected Why Not?; the jab-in-the-ribs piano work intruding on the sweet, light opening verses of The Advent Of Panurge; the infinitely sly combination of Derek's sax and Ray Shulman's violin in the political song So Sincere.
Ah, you're caught, you see, trapped, you have to listen. And then, cosmic moment, you even start to hear the words and discover that Giant score there too in the most neglected part of rock composition. The lyrics are muscles flexing and driving to hit the obtuse angles of Giant's jagged rhythms and melodies. Mythic dramas, schoolday frolics -- they have the feel. Then at their best in Knots and An Inmates Lullaby they are so clear and true on everyday's everybody's confusion and craziness that the lyric sheet could stand alone...but I can't say that I object to Gentle Giant developing the picture with their beautiful music really. Still don't take my word for it. I'm biased on account of I love them. Pretentious? They stopped pretending when the Shulmans decided they could no longer stand being Simon Dupree and the Big Sound (remember them?).