Octopus Review by Jason Rubin
Considered by many to be Gentle Giant's best album, Octopus represented a key transitional time for the group. This was simultaneously Phil's last and John's first album as members of Gentle Giant. The result is a fascinating blend of the old and the new.
The Advent of Panurge revives the story of Pantagruel, the giant in the famed novel by Francois Rabelais, begun on Acquiring the Taste with Pantagruel's Nativity. If you've never read the book, you should: the lyrics to this song are pretty faithful to the actual meeting between Pantagruel and Panurge. Like Pantagruel's Nativity, the song shifts back and forth between "gentle" and "giant." Instantly, John's firmer beats provide the pulse that gives the tune more balls than the group had evidenced on its first three albums.
Raconteur Troubadour is a fantastic song, the pure medievalism of the band's early years in rich display. The contrasts between the vocal melody and Ray's violin countermelody, not to mention Ray's great bass work, and the richness of Derek's vocal make this a minor masterpiece, covering a lot of musical ground in only four minutes.
A Cry for Everyone is a bone-cruncher, the highlight being Kerry's multi-synth solo section. The musical interludes between the verses, with Kerry's organ joining Gary, Ray, and John, are a potent and propulsive mix. I'm not sure if Phil even plays on this one.
Knots is an uncanny creation, featuring stunning vocal and instrumental arrangements. Again, if you haven't read the book of the same title by R.D. Laing, you should. There are even more complex examples in the book than those adapted for the song. John makes his presence felt with a manic xylophone solo over Kerry's crazed piano.
The Boys in the Band, in my opinion, is the best instrumental the band recorded. It truly gives everyone a chance to show off, and frankly, I find I appreciate different band members' contributions more with almost each new listen. With the unusual (even for Giant) intro of a laugh and coin spin, the song perfectly blends all aspects of the group's combined musicianship.
As the liner notes themselves say, Dog's Life offers the highly unusual combination of a medieval reed organ and string section. Still, this song is the slightest of the eight "tentacles" on the album.
Think of Me With Kindness, for all its tenderness and simplicity, is irresistible. Kerry's vocal is gorgeous and the dynamics are perfectly exploited for sheer emotional effect. Phil plays some simple but effective trumpet during moments of heightened intensity.
River is the "experimental" tune, but I never got into it that much. It's the only song of decent length, but it has kind of a dull, plodding melody, accentuated all the more by John dragging the beat. I also don't appreciate the souped-up drums in the middle of the instrumental section; I would have preferred a straight drum solo or percussion arrangement. Gary's solo is nice and bluesy, however.
As I said, many consider Octopus the best Giant album. I disagree. I think it's a tie between In a Glass House and Free Hand. But Octopus definitely comes next, an impressive end to one phase of the band's evolution, and an inspiring start to the next.
- Jason Rubin