Dig and Discover: Gentle Giant - Free Hand
ARTIST: GENTLE GIANT
ALBUM: FREE HAND
LABEL (YEAR): CHRYSALIS (1975)
FOR FANS OF: RUSH, GENESIS, YES
Words by Chris Gaduzo
Apparently Gentle Giant's aim was to "expand the frontiers of contemporary popular music at the risk of becoming very unpopular". I don't really know how much of that was achieved, but what is for sure is that Gentle Giant left behind a handful of albums that even now are still pretty impressive, if not slightly confusing.
Free Hand is probably their most accessible, and when I say accessible, I mean the one that's easiest to listen to. Sure, songs like 'Just The Same' and 'Free Hand' display Gentle Giant at their most conventional, but even in this form it is still mind boggling. The instrumentation seems so disjointed upon first listen, but like most prog, after a few listens the genius of it really comes across.
Most, if not all members of Gentle Giant were classically trained, and this shows in their affinity for bringing classical arrangements to an already too-eclectic-to-be-viable musical mix. However, this is what makes Gentle Giant so brilliant. Perhaps the best example is 'On Reflection', most of which consists of complex a cappella arrangements, before overlapping guitar and keyboards take over, building on the melody that was being sung earlier.
I wouldn't say Gentle Giant turned progressive rock on its head, but they went further than anyone else in terms of incorporating as much as possible into their music - this is probably why they never got much more than a cult following. However confusing their music might be, Free Hand is the sound of Gentle Giant totally consolidating their sound and producing the most cohesive set of songs they would ever write.