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sábado, 17 de octubre de 2015

Gentle Giant - Three Friends (1972)


Artista: Gentle Giant
Álbum: Three Friends
Año: 1972
Género: Rock progresivo ecléctico
Duración: 35:21
Nacionalidad: Inglaterra


Lista de Temas:
1. Prologue
2. Schooldays

3. Working All Day
4. Peel the Paint
5. Mister Class and Quality?
6. Three Friends

Alineación:
- Kerry Minnear / Teclados, vibráfono, percusión, Moog, voz
- Ray Shulman / Bajos, violín, guitarra de 12 cuerdas, voz

- Gary Green / Guitarras, percusión
- Derek Shulman / Voz
- Malcolm Mortimore - Batería
- Philip Shulman / Saxos, voz


Three Friends es el tercer álbum de estudio de Gentle Giant. Lanzado en abril de 1972, precede por apenas 9 meses a Octopus, para muchos el mejor disco de la banda. Si bien ya en Acquiring the Taste podemos ver un trabajo unitario que permite llamarlo, al menos musicalmente, un álbum conceptual, Three Friends lo es en toda su extensión. El conjunto de seis temas de mediana extensión relata una historia concreta y la acomete musical y poéticamente con plena intención. Dice la banda en las notas del disco que la idea surgió de una conversación, de esas que inevitablemente todos tenemos, acerca de los amigos de la infancia, del colegio, y de los accidentes de la vida que terminan por separarnos y depararnos destinos tan apartados entre sí. Los créditos de composición se dan al grupo: los tres hermanos Shulman y Kerry Minnear por igual.

¿Qué fue de aquellos amigos con los que compartimos aventuras, travesuras, despertares sexuales y descubrimientos? Claro, en nuestros días las redes sociales han venido a modificar esta circunstancia porque nos poenen en contacto con esos viejos conocidos cuya pista habríamos perdido de otro modo. Pero lo que cuenta Three Friends sucede de todas maneras. Para los compañeros del colegio, los amigos de la cuadra, los amores de la adolescencia, todas esas cosas que unían e identificaban, desaparecen con la madurez. Tenemos la costumbre de evaluar y juzgar estos trucos del tiempo en función de si "nos fue mal" o "nos fue bien"; si tuvimos o no "éxito", etc., pero el punto de vista de Three Friends no pasa por ahí, sino por la descripción de las circunstancias que desviaron los caminos de los viejos amigos a pesar de la intención infantil de ser amigos para siempre.

El arte del disco (acreditado a Rick Breach; probablemente autor de los dibujos exteriores e interiores) es muy acertado y descriptivo: la carátula muestra a los tres amigos sentados en semicírculo alrededor de un ave tranquilamente posada al centro. El nombre de la banda y el título del disco aparecen entrelazados por un listón amarillo que los une, y en la cabeza de cada uno de los personajes vemos formas y colores psicodélicos que representan posibilidad y futuro, sueños y cosas compartidas. Pero en la contra, el semicírculo se invierte y los amigos están dándose la espalda mientras el ave, arriba, vuela llevándose el listón. En las cabezas de los personajes ya no hay color sino dibujos lineales en negro que representan el derrotero seguido por cada uno de los amigos: un martillo para el amigo que se convierte en un trabajador asalariado, el frente de un carro elegante para el hombre de negocios exitoso y una paleta de pintor para el artista. La música nos narrará esa historia, pero sin realmente juzgar o hacer juicios de valor entre los distintos derroteros: no hay uno mejor que otro, sino que todos han perdido algo porque han desatado esa amistad que los unió de chicos y en su madurez cada uno vive sus propios demonios.





 

La edición para Estados Unidos de este disco, como sucedió también con Octopus, tiene una carátula diferente: al ser Three Friends el primer disco de Gentle Giant que busca audiencia masiva en América, los señores de marketing (quién sabe qué tienen en la cabeza) decidieron lanzarlo con la carátula de Gentle Giant, el primer disco de la banda, que muestra el dibujo del Gigante Gentil sosteniendo a la banda en sus manos. Con esta absurda decisión, los administradores de la música traicionaron el sentido conceptual del disco (la versión que compartimos es americana y por tanto, como verán en los scans, lleva la ilustración del gigante y no incluye las de los tres amigos).

Como en toda buena historia, hay un prólogo que nos da la "clave de lectura": el primer track, "Prologue" habla de esa amistad temprana y del paso del tiempo que la romperá, llevando a cada uno a contar su historia para justificar esa ruptura. La música arranca con las características síncopas rápidas del grupo, para seguir con un esbozo melódico en compases irregulares y con un manejo armónico totalmente heterodoxo, con modificaciones semitonales muy interesantes. Disminuye la intensidad para abrir paso a las voces que introducen coralmente la historia. Ambas tesituras se combinan a lo largo de la pista. Las partes más rápidas recuerdan la técnica de faseo del minimalismo de Steve Reich, pero funcionan solo como puentes entre una parte melódica y otra. Líricamente destaca el planteamiento de lo que habrá de separar a los amigos: el destino (o fatalidad), la destreza (o aprendizajes de cada cual) y la suerte, el azar.

El segundo corte "Schooldays" entra en materia describiendo los días de colegio. Hay un juego más o menos improvisativo entre guitarra y vibráfono que da pie a las palabras con el ingreso de percusiones y bajos. Las voces son, como en el primero, dulces y corales y la melodía es muy agradable, indecisa entre modos mayor y menor y dinámica al grado de parecer modal. Luego hay un recuento de las cosas que los chicos hacían juntos: frases breves como en enumeración, y una conclusión nostálgica que se pregunta, mientras la música cambia a una forma más fuerte y misteriosa, ¿por qué cambian las cosas? Se menciona el juramento que de chicos nos hicimos con los amigos de serlo por siempre y surge la pregunta, ¿cuánto dura "siempre"? Esa música misteriosa describe como si fuera impresionista, la separación que inminentemente llegará. La metáfora de ese principio de separación es extraordinaria: tiene que irse cada uno a hacer la tarea, solo. La canción se reduce hasta un límite de casi silencio y cierra recuperando un tema instrumental en ostinato con solo de vibráfono.


La tercer pista, "Working All Day" nos cuenta la historia del primer amigo después de la separación. Es el del martillo; el hombre es un trabajador, un obrero, cuya vida consiste en trabajar y trabajar, conseguir el salario y gastarlo, y volver a empezar. La música es totalmente diferente aquí: la voz es fuerte, rasposa (el timbre particular de Derek Shulman) y la estructura es dura, casi un hard rock progresivo. Hay en las palabras del protagonista resentimiento social: "Cuando era chico, tenía ilusiones, pero los sueños no son suficientes / Es fácil decir que todos somos iguales, luego mirar alrededor y comprobar que eso no es verdad". Instrumentalmente, el protagonismo del vibráfono ha sido sustituido por una combinación de saxos y Hammond, sobre bases distorsionadas de bajo y guitarra, y en un compás fijo de 6/8, pero en las partes cantadas se combina uno de 3/4 con uno de 5/4 y luego aparece con fuerza un 4/4 para cerrar.

La cuarta, "Peel the Paint" es con seguridad la mejor del disco (si hubiera que elegir). Cuenta la historia del artista, que se siente libre y en búsqueda, pero pide: "saca la pintura y encuentra debajo a la misma bestia salvaje". Es también la más "rockera" del disco, fuerte, pesada, con una voz gritona que se queja y descubre la falacia detrás del arte. Se combinan riffs que no le piden nada a un Zeppelin, con las síncopas clásicas del Gigante Gentil. Hay un gran solo de guitarra sobre batería que devuelve la influencia del blues con la que nació la banda, y se desdibuja en riffs con delay y eco. El cierre es casi terrorífico: debajo de la carne el espejo refleja lo que eres: muestra el rostro, el rostro perverso del pecado.

El quinto tema es irónico desde el título: Cuenta la historia del tercer amigo, el exitoso hombre de negocios, "Mister Class and Quality?". Como nota curiosa, aunque la hoja cue indica que dura 3:22 minutos, es un error en la hoja de marcadores del master, error que también estaba presente en ciertas versiones del vinilo; en realidad la canción continúa hasta el minuto 2:29 de la última pista (si lo escuchas en mp3 tendrás un gap que te romperá el tema), es decir, dura en realidad 5:40 aproximadamente. Es el más directamente 4/4, aunque lleno de juegos sincopados. Si el primer amigo se convirtió en bestia de trabajo y el segundo en complicado y perverso artista, este amigo se ha convertido en un auténtico cretino: presumido por sus cosas materiales y orgulloso de ser el tipo de hombre que se necesita para dar y llevar las órdenes que hacen que el mundo marche. "Casa, carro y linda esposa obtenidos gracias a que sé dar y llevar las órdenes". En la última estrofa hace una referencia a lo que representan sus dos viejos amigos: "Nunca pude entender al artista ni a los perezosos obreros".

El cierre, titulado "Three Friends" (que comienza en realidad en el minuto 2:29 de la última pista), concluye con coros sinfónicos: una vez tres amigos, hoy parte del pasado. Y la obra conceptual queda completa: una auténtica suite rock-sinfónica, con todos los elementos que hicieron de Gentle Giant la enorme banda que fue. Es interesante observar que, llegado el momento de cerrar el ciclo en 1980, Gentle Giant desaparece sin volverse a reunir nunca después pues cada miembro siguió su propia trayectoria separada laboral y geográficamente (este disco es quizá un tanto premonitorio). Si bien hay un intento de reformar a Gentle Giant con algunos de sus ex miembros que se lanzó en 2008 como Rentle Giant y luego como Three Friends, no han sido respaldados por ninguno de los Shulman y contaron con una muy breve participación de Minnear (están activos, actualmente de gira por Canadá y anuncian en su sitio en internet un concierto en la ciudad de México para el 21 de noviembre próximo).


Los siguientes videos son "Prologue" y "Schooldays" interpretados por Three Friends:



Hay más videos de Three Friends en su blog oficial.

Acá "Peel the Paint", el gran tema de esta placa:



Las reseñas de la otredad, empezando con la nota en el sitio oficial de Gentle Giant:
Gentle Giant's third album was their first concept album, as stated in the liner notes:
"The idea of this album came about simply from normal conversations within the group. You know how people often reminisce about old school friends and wonder whatever became of them; or the people who surprise us with their successes or failures. Anyway, the theme in this album is based on three people - friends at school but inevitably separated by chance, skill and fate."
The three school friends grow up to become a road digger (Working All Day), an artist (Peel The Paint), and a white-collar worker (Mister Class and Quality?) who can no longer understand each other's lifestyles. But regardless of the storyline, the music is astounding, ranging from raucous rock to exquisite choral work, and ending with the stunningly beautiful title song.

Reseña de Mathew Reynolds en el sitio oficial:
Three Friends is my all time favourite album ever. I saw Gentle Giant twice (the Glasshouse and Freehand tours) and any reservations I had that they wouldn't come up with the goods live were completely and utterly misplaced.
From what I've read, I don't think the band rated this album much, so I'm sure they would be surprised to think anyone would rate it as their best. I have also read on another site that they didn't perform much of this album live because it didn't go down too well and I can sort of understand this. Maybe they played it at a time when they were still building their fan base; I reckon if they'd revisited a few tracks live in 1975/76 they would have had a different response. It's also worth a mention, that Malcolm Mortimore who plays on this album is my favourite Giant drummer, much as I rate the others, he just seems more inventive to me.
The opener Prologue starts with the best drum roll ever which leads into an inventive extended riff/theme. The song verses contains some interesting alternately voiced vocal effects and a trademark "And now for something competely different" middle section. These sections don't always work, the song "Think of me with Kindness" from Octopus is a beauty sullied by the same tendency, but in Prologue it works for me. It's as perfect an example of a marriage of whimsical organ, synth, bass, guitar and gentle drumming I've ever heard, the song fades out to the opening theme.
Next up is Schooldays, a perfect evocation of the experience of a genteel holiday spent at a British Seaside resort, think St Ives, Penzance, Aldeburgh rather than Blackpool. So nostalgic it transports me to my childhood/adolescence every time I hear it. Exquisite jazz tinged Guitar/Vibraphone interplay, and nice soft vocals eventually give way to a velvety, double-chocolate Grand-Piano section during which Kerry Minnear goes all "Slow Movement Concerto on us". Here he demonstrates that he can do melody as well as anyone. This progresses to a fast jazzy section and an ending only Giant could have conceived. If you know this song and you've heard it 1000 times already, listen again and focus on Ray Shulman's bass playing, it's out of this World!
Working All Day is announced with contrapuntal passage which has had a variable pitch-shift trick played on it by a tape machine. It's a good enough song, heavy production coupled with Derek Shulman singing as only he could, like Peter Gabriel with Balls. I don't have much else to say about it except it contains the best Organ solo I've ever heard. It's totally emotive and used to make my spine tingle every listen in my younger days, and still touches a nerve. Why did Kerry Minnear never bother much with emotive Hammond solos after this? Apart from a brief flirtation in the middle section of "Playing the Game" from "The Power and the Glory", during which the Organ sounds like an early solid-state attempt to recreate the Hammond sound to me. In my mind, the Working All Day Organ solo sounds like a full-on love affair and any subsequent solos say,"I won't get hurt like that again".
Peel The Paint shows us early Giant Rocking at their best. OK, the riff doesn't fit under the hands as well as a Zeppelin riff, but augmented by the Macho Sax and Hammond and benefiting from a heavier production than later albums, it oozes power from every pore. Derek Shulman gives a rip-roaring almost wreckless performance and the Guitar/Drum solo sounds to me like Hendrix stripped of the crappy bits. When I was younger, I used to think this solo must have been scored it's so good, now I'm of the opinion that it must have evolved from several takes in the studio, surely it couldn't be just one take. I like the big ending to this song as well, they didn't do this often and generally I'm not a big fan of big endings, but this one is just right.
The intro to Mister Class And Quality starts with a quote from the Three Friends which is the next track. If I was being picky, I'd say that the intro doesn't gel with the rest of the song but I've grown to love it, like a Cat with 3 legs and a limp. The song proper is moderately paced and foursquare with a nice Derek Shulman vocal. Midway through, you get the sense the band have a few tricks up their collective sleeves as they set the scene for a carefully chaotic instrumental section. This is proceeding very nicely when out of nowhere, even though it's been hinted at before, comes a comical synth passage which culminates when most of the the rest of the band stop playing and the synth plays an ascending arpeggio ending on a long note. Don't ask me what it is it about this that is so unique, so Giant and so unexpected? It's like under-stated slapstick and so bloody funny. After this, comes a quasi-improvisational section containing some nice blues Guitar, occasionally doubled by voice, the section gets a bit blurred as if it's screaming for resolution, even though it doesn't outstay it's welcome. It's rescued by the 3rd and final verse, the last line of which sounds to me particularly plaintive, the instrumental suffix of the verse leads directly into the last song.
If Schooldays was the memory of a Holiday, Three Friends conjures The Beach complete with Seagulls, Waves, Deckchairs, people laughing and flying Kites, as well as Afternoon Cream-Tea, Ice-cream and even the bag of chips at the end of the day. With the Organ set firmly on the "Coastal Resort" Voice and the Strings sounding to me like they've been carefully voiced with the Organ part (I might be wrong), the Hymnal harmonies conjure up a moment of pure nostalgia. This is one track which even Giant can't write an end for; they have to repeat and fade-out in the yearning outro to end all yearning outros.

Reseña de Jason Rubin en el sitio oficial:
Sporting a new drummer, Malcolm Mortimore, Gentle Giant recorded its third album, Three Friends, in 1972. It was the first of several concept albums the band would make in its career. As an album it's good, although with only six songs the concept isn't particular well-realized. The idea is that there are three friends who go to school together and play as children. Then they grow up and enter the real world, and find their career paths - blue-color construction worker, artist, and business executive - have separated and isolated them.
This is all set up in the first song, "Prologue." It is somewhat of a tour de force for Kerry and his keyboards, which carry the tune. Gary's guitar is subdued and Malcolm is very busy, maintaining the drum style that Martin Smith set on the first two albums. The instrumental section builds up in a way very reminiscent of "Proclamation" from The Power & the Glory.
"Schooldays" is a very quiet song but if you listen carefully there are great riches. The theme is played in unison by Gary (using a classic jazz guitar sound) and Kerry on vibes. Kerry and Phil do a great job on vocals, one on the left channel, the other on the right. Organ, bass, and hi-hat propel the choruses, which lead to heavy acoustic piano chords that actually evolve into a sensitive classicalish part that introduces a lovely vocal part by Kerry. It's worth noting that a fourth Shulman, Calvin, also appears on this song.
The next three songs spotlight each of the three friends. The first is "Working All Day," which Derek infuses with the perfect blend of toughness and bitterness. Some great lines: "When I was young I used to have illusions, dreams ain't enough/Father was tough, he didn't care for learning, hell life is tough/Easy to say that everybody's equal then look around see it ain't true." From about 2:25 to about 3:55, Kerry gives one of his all-time great solos on organ.
"Peel the Paint" is presented in two parts, very much like "I Lost My Head" from Interview, with which it was paired in a medley of both songs' second parts on Playing the Fool. The first part is very sparse musically on the verses, which feature a low-key vocal from Phil that recalls "Black Cat Ways" from Acquiring the Taste. Bridging the verses is a lovely theme played by Ray on violin. On Under Construction, you can hear Kerry counting off this section and the breaks for Malcolm's benefit. The second part comes rumbling in with guitar, sax, and organ. Derek shrieks the vocal and the highlight of the tune eventually emerges: a two-and-a-half-minute balls-to-the-ball duet jam with Gary and Malcolm. This is ferocious and muscular playing, red hot and solid. You can even hear Derek shouting his support at one point.
"Mister Class and Quality" is the rich friend's tale, and compared to the others, he is portrayed as conservative, callous, and dull. As he has less personality than the others, Derek's vocal also has less of an edge. Ray's violin directs the melody. Malcolm is understated but effective. A fairly long instrumental section remains pretty mellow, with various keyboards and subtle guitar lines. Eventually, however, the bass drops out and Gary gets to put out another gutsy solo. This heads back to the theme and last verse, but abruptly, the song goes straight into the closer, "Three Friends," which is just a short epilogue and musically doesn't really go anywhere. It's a frustrating end to an album that never seems to sustain the high moments.
When it's good, Three Friends is very, very good; but when it's not, it's just not.
 
Esta vez a George Starostin, el reviewer de la prosa achispada, casi le gustó:
For their third album, Gentle Giant decided they were going to expand their conceptual horizons - and ended up writing a mini-rock opera. Not that the album really feels as a rock opera, mind you; for the most part, I sense the concept as merely as an excuse for loads and loads of pleasant, but rather unrelated jamming. The concept itself is rather simple and not all that thought-provoking: basically, they tell the story of three friends (how did you guess?) that were friends in school and later went their own ways, one of them becoming a road worker, the other a painter, and the third a businessman or whoever. Apparently, they never met after school, and that's the way it goes. So there's a 'Prologue' (not an overture), a song devoted to their school experience, a 'personal' tune for each of the friends (why does that remind me of Quadrophenia?), and an epilogue. And the whole thing is just about thirty minutes long; Gentle Giant always made their albums short, that's why there's so many of them.
Not that I don't like the album - I consider it one of their best, in fact, if a little misguided and erratic in places. Since there are but six songs, it's rather easy to concentrate on each of them separately, no matter how musically twisted they are. 'Prologue' is really the least interesting of the bunch; starting out as an organ-based jam, it quickly sets 'the background' with half a minute worth of lovely vocal harmonies, and then degenerates back into the same kind of jam with Gary Green taking over the leading role and playing some decent, but still lacklustre guitar. 'Schooldays', though, is nothing short of a GG masterpiece: the introductory duet between Kerry's vibes and Gary's fluent guitar sounds not unlike the kind of music the archangels must be playing for the Lord God above, and the complex vocal harmonies, arranged as a call-and-answer session ('the bell rings - and all things - are calling'), are incredible; I wonder if they ever managed to pull them off onstage. Probably did. While seven minutes might be a little long for this song, I rarely ever feel so: the tune evokes beautiful memories, and it's really a very nice choice to make if you ever want to go back to your childhood. But children grow up, and start going their own ways. 'Working All Day' presents the 'elder brother' who hasn't managed to achieve much; he's represented by a menacing, grumbly fusion-style composition, this time based around guitar/brass interplay, with lots of fat saxes all around the place and a nice organ solo. While the song is not the most impressive on the record, it's at least a compact and memorable composition, so that lovers of order and structure will be attracted to it. Me, I'm more interested in the artist's confession, the multi-part suite 'Peel The Paint'. It begins fairly inoffensive, with a lightweight classical-influenced pastiche sung by Phil Shulman as he sings about all the joys and pleasures of the artist's profession - 'lost in the hush, no need to rush, time waits for him who creates with the brush'. Then, all of a sudden, hoopla! the bassline gets menacing, and the song transforms into an aggressive jazz-rock thunderstorm, with Phil passing over the vocals to Derek who shatters the illusions - 'peel the paint, look underneath, you'll see the same old savage beast'. The song then ventures off into a million directions, all of them fascinating, with Gary soloing like mad and various echo and tremolo effects on the instruments that create an effectively 'evil' atmosphere, not in the Sabbath meaning of the word, but rather in the 'church style', if you get what I mean. Shucks, I don't quite get it myself. 'Mister Class And Quality', then, introduces the most successful of the three friends, and again, the tune is rather throwaway, as compact and short as it is. Even the lyrics are trite. 'The world needs steady men like me to give and take the orders'. Sure thing. So skip it and concentrate on the title track, a kind of 'epilogue' for the album. Again, it's multi-part, and again, it's a good one - strange how I actually like the most complex parts on this album and dislike the simplistic ones. Hmm. Maybe it's time for me to try my hand at a review for those whacko guys at www.prog.net. (Don't go there! You'll get hernia! I warned you!) Anyway, 'Three Friends' again goes from an aggressive jazzy jam to a majestic part with lots of atmospheric synths, Mellotrons and church organs which makes a suitable conclusion for the entire 'concept'. Actually, I don't mind that the idea was such a trivial one; on the contrary, I'm quite glad that Three Friends is a concept album. The concept gives all of the songs a sense - while the general melodies and jams are indeed tighter and richer and more emotionally resonant than the ones on Octopus, it's the concept that really organizes them and breathes real life and content into what would otherwise be a passable set of self-indulgent improvisations. Unfortunately, the boys were not too wild about the concept themselves, I suppose, and they did not venture out to implement the same tactics on their next release.

Mr. Wiki:
Three Friends (1972) is a concept album by the British progressive rock band Gentle Giant. The group's third album was also their first American release to chart, peaking at #197 on the Billboard 200. It marked a change in drummers from Martin Smith to Malcolm Mortimore.
It is Gentle Giant's first concept album, dealing with three childhood friends whose lives take them very different places. However, each of the three friends are not satisfied with their new lives and eventually reunite into a team to achieve their goals more easily. It was also their first self-produced album. The two former albums were produced by David Bowie and T.Rex producer Tony Visconti.
Gary Green's guitar solo on "Peel the Paint" uses an echoplex belonging to Mike Ratledge that Green's brother Jeff, a roadie with Ratledge's band Soft Machine, had borrowed.
The song "Schooldays" starts off with the sounds of a schoolyard playground in England. Ray Shulman told Songfacts about the song: "We started off using the sound effects of the schoolyard so it would be very nostalgic, and that's a whole song about being at school together, and how these friends went their own different ways. One goes into manual labour, one goes into clerical work, and one is an artist." 

For the US and Canadian releases, on Columbia Records, the album cover was changed to a modified version of the design from the self-titled UK debut Gentle Giant. The album title and band name were added over the forehead of the giant image and the colour tinting of the cover was changed. 
The US CD edition on Columbia also has the marker for track 6 in the wrong place. On this version track number 5 ends early at 3:23 instead of 5:51 while incorrectly extending the length of track six from 3:04 to 5:32.

Bruce Eder en Allmusic:
Gentle Giant's third album (and their first self-produced effort, Tony Visconti having run the sessions on the two previous records) was another advance, this time in the direction of a harder rock sound -- everything sounds turned up here, especially the guitars, the bass, and the electronic keyboards. Three Friends hardly sacrificed any of the group's progressive intentions, however, and there are some softer moments here, such as the playful, sprightly first half of "Schooldays"; the harmonies and arrangements still had a distinctly medieval feel, and the melodies, though a little harder to discern here (which made them even more appealing when they did become obvious), were quite engaging. This is supposed to be a concept album, about the relationship between three friends across a lifetime, and the original notes and lyrics have been reprinted, but none of that is necessary in order to enjoy the songs here.

 Kerry Leimer en Sea of Tranquility:
It's never a bad idea, whenever possible while exploring the early days of progressive rock, to look first to the third album. Not particularly true of King Crimson's old Lizard, but true of Caravan. True of Egg. True of Genesis. True of Soft Machine. True of Van der Graaf. True of Yes. And true of Gentle Giant.
From a mostly disposable premiere to a highly promising second album and this fully realized third, Gentle Giant found their quintessential and unique voice packaged in one of the worst album covers known to late Twentieth Century popular music. As far as "concept albums" go, the idea exploring the changing relationships of three friends from childhood to adulthood is one that is perhaps quintessential to Dickens' era, and thereby not unique to any since. The words lag far behind the music and are still bit little shaky as these four lines from "Schooldays" atest: "The days past; The play's cast; Remember; September..." and so on. The lyrical insights that sketch out the characters are generally banal, with nothing of import revealed about the laborer, the artist or the businessman. But what does finally come off, top to bottom, is the music.
The album is comparatively short and drawn on an appropriately intimate scale. The pieces introduce themes that reappear throughout, but never in the pat "leitmotif" style of the grand romantic-era compositions. And even though the words are themselves mostly uninformative, the lyrics do acknowledge the importance of verbal rhythms and a phonetic match to the music. As dumb as the quote is above, once set into the music a gentle and complex percussive interplay occurs between the softly concussive syllables of "Remember; September" and the instruments that does in fact lift the whole piece well up from ordinary. This suits the music's embrace of dynamic range, unwilling as it is to bury delicacy with range crushing compression.
Intimating the often democratic approach GG adopted to writing and performing, pretty well each musician has his moment up front, even going so far as an actual guitar solo – a very rare animal in GG corpus – driving "Peel The Paint" into an eccentric but controlled fury. Not as prevalent are the epicyclic turns so clearly on display during key moments of Acquiring the Taste. While Octopus or In A Glass House are often singled out as the band's peak accomplishments, the compact focus, brevity and concision of Three Friends makes it an excellent point of entry for the uninitiated. After three decades it proves itself to be a defining period record without an overwhelming sense of plain old period.

Bruce Rusk en The Daily Vault Music Reviews:
Of the first three albums by progressive rock masterminds Gentle Giant (in chronological order; Gentle Giant, Acquiring the Taste, and Three Friends) Three Friends was and still is my favorite. That's possibly true because of the harder edge they created on that release, probably more so because they came together as a more solid group, tighter and more polished than the previous two albums. These songs showcase the combination of esoteric styles and complexity that makes GG unique, yet they remain very accessible to the casual listener as individual songs. Somewhat less dense than the extravagant, complex work that would become their trademark, Three Friends is probably the most mainstream set of songs they ever wrote -- not that anything GG ever did can be considered mainstream, but this comes close.
The core for most of GG's tenure was Gary Green (guitar), Kerry Minnear (keys, vibes, percussion), and the multi-talented Shulman brothers; Ray (bass, violin), Phil (sax) and Derek (lead vocals). The revolving door of drummers found Malcolm Mortimore on skins at the time Three Friends was recorded. In addition to their formidable instrumental talents, every member is given a vocal credit, and it shows in the complex harmonies and vocal acrobatics that appear liberally on any GG recording.
Three Friends is a concept album. Some people shy away from concept albums, for various reasons. Many to this day still sit scratching their heads over the likes of Genesis' Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, or Jethro Tull's A Passion Play, trying to fathom the murky metaphorical depths of those cryptic writings. Fear not gentle reader, in Three Friends the concept is very simple; three friends grow up, and then grow apart, following different paths and philosophies. Loosely following the philosophies of Marx, the three friends represent the three factions of society in its simplest form. The first becomes the Marxist proletariat -- a common laborer; the second, the aesthete -- an artist; the third, a bourgeois intellectual -- the white-collar capitalist. Storyline aside, the music is what carries this album, from soft pastoral pieces featuring gentle strings and choral arrangements, to blistering hard rock.
Three Friends begins with a "Prologue," built upon Gary Green's bold guitar work and an insistent bass line laid down masterfully by Ray Schulman as we are introduced to our three friends, and to some of the musical themes that appear in latter tracks on the disk. The inclusion of thematic elements cross-pollinated across many tracks is one of the attractions of their excellent compositions. "Prologue" gives way to "Schooldays," dominated by a quirky, syncopated electric piano and vibraphone, and vocal harmonies that would make Brian Wilson smile and nod.
In the next three tracks, we catch up with our three friends, the first of which becomes a blue-collar laborer, and is introduced in "Working All Day." The track starts off with an acoustic guitar couplet, which quickly dissolves into a muscular bass and sax fueled foot-stomper, perfectly matching the lyrical theme of the jaded, life-hardened highway worker with the instrumental theme. The laborer shows his disdain for unrealistic ideals "When I was young I used to have illusions / Dreams ain't enough," and satisfies himself with his lot in life:
"Working all day, I'm digging up the roads, just working all day Dig for my pay and spend it where I like. I've nothing to say Drown in my sweat but money buys escape. I've got no regrets."
The second friend becomes an artist, introduced in "Peel The Paint." To the world at large, he is respected and held in esteem as ostensively being purer of character and demeanor due to his artistic sensibilities. The song paints its own musical image of the artist, with a cool coffeehouse groove and gentle strings. "Peel The Paint" portrays the artist as genteel and cultured, but under the pastoral exterior is a "savage beast" capable of the most base and venal acts. As this is revealed lyrically, the music becomes harsher, and builds to a ferocious denouement as the truth is revealed in Derek's vocals, building in intensity and rage:
"Peel the paint / Look underneath / you'll see the same, the same old savage beast Strip the coats / the coats of time / and find mad eyes and see those sharpened teeth."
In reality, he is no more or less pure than any of us, the beauty of his work not being a reflection of his own psyche, as many believe.
The last of our three subjects, the capitalist social climber, is told in "Mister Class And Quality." Our last friend reveals the real crux of this whole concept/story, alienation of people based on class, ability and opportunity. Our capitalist presents these social gaps most succinctly:
"Never understood the artist or the lazy workers The world needs steady men like me to give and take the orders."
In summary, Three Friends is probably the most accessible GG album to the casual listener with its rock-based arrangements, and I find myself wondering why GG never found a similar degree of success as their contemporaries like Yes, Tull, Genesis or ELP. With equal talent as both musicians and composers, it's a shame they never broke out the same way their prog-rock brethren did. Three Friends is sure to please the ears of prog-rock fans, and would be a perfect introduction to Gentle Giant.

Una interesante y extensa entrevista con la banda se puede leer acá.
Y en Progarchives, por supuesto, hay una buena lista de reseñas. 

¡A disfrutar! (y recordar a los viejos amigos, ¿qué será de ellos? ¡Ah! Están en facebook... pero no les creo que sean tan "felices").

6 comentarios:

  1. Este comentario ha sido eliminado por el autor.

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  2. ¡A disfrutar! (y recordar a los viejos amigos, ¿qué será de ellos? ¡Ah! Están en facebook... pero no les creo que sean tan "felices"
    ¡¡OUCH!! Jajaja, pero que final tan poco ortodoxo, que sincera reflexión y excelente reseña. ¿Es que la comunicación real desaparecerá?, ¿es cierto que las redes sociales rompen nuestra privacidad?, las redes ocultan el estado real de las personas.
    En conclusión no existe una comunicación real en este lugar (internet)… ¿Mis amigos serán felices tal como ellos lo apuntan en su Ciber-Perfil?
    Pero bueno, discusiones que poseen pocos interesados, entonces volvamos a la realidad…
    Gracias por este eclecticismo (en todo sentido) Calle Neptuno

    D’nilson Jamil

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  3. Espectacular reseña de CalleNep... y buen comentario anexo de Dnilson, muy interesante su reflexiòn de los ciber perfiles...
    Gracias muchachos...

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  4. Bueno, lo que hacemos aquí es comunicación real y cabezona porque nos une la música!!! (y no tenemos que aparentar nada) ¡Gracias por sus comentarios compañeros!

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  5. Muchas gracias por este aporte y por los otros de Gentle Giant!. La única crítica que les hago, constructiva, por supuesto. Es que el disco está en una sola pista, me ha ocurrido lo mismo con "Indio" de Virgem. Para quienes no tenemos intención de grabarlo en un CD es un problema, ya que hay que separar uno por uno los temas y con este tipo de música sabemos que se complica en ocasiones. Digo esto porque quizás quien ripee el disco lo pueda llegar a tener en cuenta para una próxima vez. Saludos!

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  6. Garage: es que para eso es que tienes el archivos CUE, no te hace falta dividirlo a mano.

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