Monday, June 21, 2021

The Albums of 1971: Gentle Giant: Acquiring the Taste

Release Date: July 16, 1971

Active Members: Gary Green, Kerry Minnear, Derek Schulman, Phil Schulman, Ray Schulman, Martin Smith

Produced by Tony Visconti

Track List: Pantagruel's Nativity; Edge of Twilight; The House, the Street, the Room; Acquiring the Taste; Wreck; The Moon is Down; Black Cat; Plain Truth

Composed of all multi-instrumentalists Gentle Giant is often categorized as Prog Rock but in many ways their music defies easy categorization. Formed in 1970, at the core of the band were three brothers: Derek, Phil, and Ray Schulman. They came up in the mid 60s, fronting many soul bands most notably Simon Dupree and the Big Sound. Recording as The Moles in 1968, the single "We Are the Moles Parts 1 and 2" led many to believe they were The Beatles recording under a different name (with Ringo on lead vocals!). Frustrated with being pressured to follow pop music trends, the Schulman Brothers formed Gentle Giant as a means to defy commercial expectations and to follow their own muse. 

Gentle Giant's music became known for shifting into different styles often within tracks between blues, classical, jazz, rock, and soul. Their self titled debut was experimental in that style, but the follow up Acquiring the Taste became their manifesto. On the album sleeve the band included a statement, "It is our goal to expand the frontiers of contemporary popular music at the risk of being very unpopular." While mainstream success would elude Gentle Giant, they would find a loyal fan base who admired their unique sound.

"Pantagruel's Nativity" opens the album, setting the tone with its forays into jazzy interludes with a xylophone at the forefront, monk chants, and melodic guitar solos thrown in for good measure. The influence of Sci-Fi concepts on Prog Rock (or Space Rock) would meld perfectly in the 1970s, and this track could be theme for an imaginary Science Fiction film of the era. "Edge of Twilight" is a multi - layered lullaby. "The House, the Room, the Street" fuses rock with medieval folk coming in at the end, the blend of electronic and earth bound effects creating a disorienting effect. "Acquiring the Taste" is an instrumental on the mini moog synthesizer, sounding similar to the work of Wendy Carlos featured in A Clockwork Orange that same year. 

"Wreck" is meditation on a long forgotten shipwreck that incorporates rock and roll with hints of a Sea Shanty in the chorus. "The Moon is Down" alternates between folk and classical, while "Black Cat" is the most sensuous song with its gothic undercurrent. The track "Plain Truth" utilizes tape loops, string concertos, bluesy lyrics, and jazzy piano flourishes.

Appropriately titled, Acquired Taste will either be a feast or famine for the ears depending on the listener. After recording "Revolution No.9" John Lennon allegedly said "this will be the music of the future." A collage of different sounds and styles was the equivalent of abstract art coming from a soundboard, and that's the the vibe one gets from this record. It sounds both dated and new, in other words a niche record in the best possible sense. 

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