Octopus (CD/Blu Ray) – Gentle Giant
Another truly great album of Gentle Giant’s that has been superbly remixed by Steven Wilson. Having recently purchased the CD/Blu Ray edition of The Power and The Glory and being blown away by it, the bands 1972 album Octopus very much was a must to buy next, and once again I am not disappointed, and overall I am over the moon by the treatment Wilson has given not only to the 5.1 mixes but the new stereo mixes. It’s a shame he has not done more of their albums like this, and I certainly would love to see the others get this treatment.
I know I stated in my last review of The Power and The Glory that is was my personal favourite album of theirs. I also stated that is was very hard to pick a favourite Gentle Giant album simply because I love them all, and since revisiting Octopus I can honestly say I am having second thoughts has to what is my favourite album of the bands. To be honest both albums along with Freehand and Acquiring The Taste have always been my main go to albums. Though no doubt there are classic songs on all their albums.
The title for the bands 4th studio album Octopus came from a suggestion of Phil Shulman’s wife Roberta having heard that the album was to contain 8 tracks. The word “Octopus” is also seen as being “Octo Opus,” which represents 8 musicals works. It was also the first album that the bands 3rd drummer John Weathers appeared on. Weathers remained with the band right up until the end when they split up in 1980.
It was also the last album Phil Shulman appeared on, having been with the band with his two other brothers from the beginning. Phil left the band to spend more time with his wife and family. He was the oldest of the 3 brothers, and just like them another very talented multi instrumentalist. Being part of the band was all a bit too much for him in the end, and he gave up music entirely. So it just goes to show that sex, drugs and rock n roll is not for everyone.
Before we go deeper into the album and more about the band, let’s first take a look at the packaging and artwork as usual.
The Packaging & Artwork…
Just like both The Power and The Glory and Three Piece Suite the discs come in a 3 panel Digipak which has a plastic jewel case disc trays to hold the discs securely. It also comes with a pocket to store the booklet. The 14 page booklet comes with both the linear productions notes and lyrics, and overall it a very well made package.
The album was officially released with 2 different sets of artwork by 2 different artists. Here in the UK and other European and international countries, the albums artwork was provided by Roger Dean. Not long after Dean had done the cover for Vertigo Records a legal issue emerged with the bands World Wide Artists management in North America and the company wanted a different album cover for Columbia Records for the release in both the US & Canada.
So whilst Derek Shulman was over there and in San Francisco he found a jar with an octopus in it and thought it was real cool, and brought it and gave to the art department at Columbia Records to use it for the new artwork.
US & Canada Album Artwork
The artwork for this release was credited to Charles White and that concept and design was credited to John Berg. The US & Canada artwork is also included on one of the reverse panels of this Digipak.
The CD/Blu Ray Release…
Both the CD/Blu Ray and CD/DVD Editions of Gentle Giant’s 1972 album Octopus were released on the 30th October 2015. It was the second of Gentle Giant’s albums that Steve Wilson decided to mix and do a 5.1 surround mix for. Though unfortunately unlike The Power and The Glory not all the original multi-track master tapes could be located and 3 of the albums tracks could only be upmixed to 5.1 via use of software.
Considering this album is missing 3 of the multi-track master tapes, and the bands 3rd album Three Friends was only missing 2 of the multi-track master tapes. Once again it has me thinking has to why Steve Wilson did not decide to do the same thing he has done here by using software to upmix those tracks that were missing, instead of releasing it along with the bands first 2 albums as a compilation album on the 2017 release of Three Piece Suite.
Another thing what I thought was strange, is considering that only 5 of the tracks on Octopus have genuine 5.1 mixes unlike The Power and The Glory to which all the tracks were genuine 5.1 mixes. Why on earth are most places charging £4 more for it?. I find that quite ludicrous and in most stores its priced at over £21 including Amazon.
I managed to get my copy brand new on ebay from a place in London called Speedyhen and got it for a much more respectable price of £17.30 including P+P. They do have a speedy service too and it arrived in 2 days despite some of the bad reviews I found on Trust Pilot about them. I could not fault the service and was well happy, and shall certainly give them a good review on Trust Pilot too.
The CD comes with the 8 original albums tracks, 5 of which are new mixes done by Steve Wilson. The remaining 3 tracks have been newly remastered by him and this was due to the fact that 3 of the multi-tracks master tapes were lost. It also comes with 1 bonus track to which is a medley of excepts from the album Octopus to which they played live at the Calderone Concert Hall in Hempstead, New York on the 3rd July 1976.
The total playing time of the 9 track CD is dead on 50 minutes. The 3 tracks that have been remastered only are “The Advent of Panurge“. “Raconteur Troubadour” and “The Boys In the Band“. The new mixes sound very good and to be honest you are not really going too notice that the other 3 tracks have been remastered only. But Wilson as always had the tendency to work close to the original mixes and does an exceptionally good job overall.
The Blu Ray.
The Blu Ray comes with an array of extras just like we seen on The Power and The Glory release. Once again you get the Instrumental only versions of the 8 album tracks, and the original 1972 mix of the album. The main feature is the 5.1 mix and once again all the mixes on the disc come with an high quality audio format of 24/96K.
By clicking on the “Audio Setup” by default it’s set to LPCM Stereo. So surround freaks like myself will have to click on the DTS Master Surround Mix before pressing “Play Album”. But of course you can also choose the audio options by simply hitting the audio button on your remote. I like the fact that when you click on an option in the main menu it simply pops up, so you can make your preferred choice instead of it loading to a separate screen to do so.
Unlike The Power and The Glory Blu Ray you do not get any 3D Animated videos whilst listening to the music. You do however get to watch a video of a real octopus moving around throughout the entire length of the album on the 5.1 mix. It was filmed by Yael Shulman.
They have also included the live bonus track mixed in 5.1 too for this feature only. When you play the original and instrumental stereo mixes of the album, you do not get to see the octopus. However you do get to see some different pictures for each track.
The 5.1 Mix.
The 5.1 mixes have been once again done superbly by Steve Wilson and it’s a shame that 3 of the album tracks multi-track tapes were missing for him to be able to do those as well. He has used Penteo’s software to create a simulated 5.1 mix with the other 3 tracks, and to be honest they sound quite good too. Though he was obviously never going to be able to place all the instrumentation and vocal harmonies where he wanted to in the mix like he could do with the other 5 tracks. No doubt those 5 tracks that have a genuine 5.1 mix benefit the better.
But overall not having the multi-tracks for those 3 tracks does not spoil the enjoyment of listening to the album and before long you will hardly notice any difference, and I still prefer this over the stereo mixes and they do sound quite stunning too. Wilson also mixed the live bonus in track in 5.1 too, and it’s not bad, but the studio mixes on the album are without the best quality overall.
Musicians & Credits…
Produced and arranged by Gentle Giant for Alucard Produtions Ltd. Recorded at Advision Studios London between the 24th July – 5th August 1972. Engineer Martin Rushent. Moog Operator Mike Vicars. UK Cover Design by Roger Dean. USA Cover Illustration Design by Charles White. New Stereo & 5.1 Mixes by Steven Wilson.
Kerry Minnear: All Keyboards/Vibraphone/Percussion/Cello/Moog/Lead & Backing Vocals.
Ray Shulman: Bass/Violin/Guitar/Percussion/Vocals.
Gary W. Green: Guitars/Percussion.
Derek Shulman: LeadVocals/Alto Sax.
Phil Shulman: Saxophones/Trumpet/Mellophone/Lead & Backing Vocals.
John Weathers: Drums/Congas & Percussion.
The Album In Review…
Gentle Giant’s 4th studio album Octopus was released in the UK on the 1st December 1972. It was not released in America or Canada until more or less a couple of months later in February 1973. Like many of the bands albums most of the material was written before they booked a studio to save on the expense and in general the band always had at least 75% of it done before recording it. The whole album was recorded in 2 weeks at Advision Studios in London.
The album Octopus was the bands shortest album at this stage of their career and weighed in with an overall playing time of 34 minutes, 4 seconds. Although most of the bands albums were not much longer in reality. This is actually the bands second shortest album out of all the 11 studio albums they made, with only their last album Civilian being shorter.
Octopus is also noted to have been made when the band where at their peak, and for many of their fans it also can be seen as one of their favourite albums, and its perhaps understandable with the strong material that was written for it.
Even Ray Shulman stated that it was probably the bands best album with the exception of Acquiring The Taste. For both the newcomer John Weathers and the departure of Phil Shulman the album is noted as their swan song. I myself certainly think it’s one of their personal best albums, and it does contain some really great strong compositions.
The Album Tracks In Review…
As with the biggest majority of Gentle Giant’s music both Kerry Minnear and Ray Shulman are the bands main music writers. What as not already been written and arranged before they go into the studio to record it, generally gets finished their along with the odd bit of improvisation. The lyrics for this particular album were written by both Derek & Phil Shulman.
The album Octopus was originally intended to be a sort of a concept album with 6 of the tracks being associated with each member of the band, plus 1 track for the roadies and the remaining track to represent to the entire band as an whole. But in the end they gave up on the idea and perceived concept albums as being quite naff. Although it did not stop them doing the next 2 albums that followed it based around concepts :))))).
So let’s see exactly what we have here as I go through the 8 original albums tracks individually in my review…
Track 1. The Advent of Panurge.
Rather a strange title and the word “Panurge” comes from Greece and is associated with a rascal or a rogue. Though in the is case it’s the name of a character from a series of novels written by the French author François Rabelais about Gargantua and Pantagruel who were a couple of giants of all things. No doubt giants was the inspiration here, and most prog rockers tend to look to books about strange things for their inspiration.
Kerry Minnear wrote the music for this opening track and he also is taking on the lead vocals for the song too backed up by two of the Shulman brothers Phil and Derek. The music supports the story where the two giants first bump into one another and it’s very much like a sort of quirky funky theatrical approach to it all.
To be honest trying to describe the music Gentle Giant present to you is not an easy thing to do. They incorporate that many styles and genres even into a short 4 and 3 quarter minute song like this.
No doubt a major part of their particular style does come from folk or medieval folk music with some baroque harmonies thrown into the pot. But what makes it more interesting is how they also incorporate different rhythmical changes, time signature changes, a bit of rock, classical and all sorts in the way it all progresses along.
There is no doubt they do it all in their own unique way, and no matter how bizarre and strange it may all sound. It’s very much a fine art that is so unusual, yet there is never a dull moment about it all.
Track 2. Raconteur Troubadour.
A medieval folk song about a travailing minstrel cheering everybody up with his jolly music to make the people dance is the subject matter behind the lyrics to this one. Once again there is some theatrics about this fine song and the band even incorporate some classical music passages with the lead breaks.
For those who think this is just another folk song, you seriously need to think again. The whole arrangement is very much a masterpiece. The very talented array of multi instrumentalists who made up the band Gentle Giant where that good at what they did, that they never had to hire an orchestra to play and arrange their music for them. The band effectively was an whole orchestra with the instruments they could play.
As good as many think The Beatles were, they were never this talented as musicians, and they had to have other people like George Martin onboard with them to arrange their music and an orchestra to play it for them. I am not denying that The Beatles wrote some truly great songs that appealed to a much wider audience, but in all honesty they were far from capable of writing and playing music like this.
“Raconteur Troubadour” is another one of the 4 songs on this album that Kerry Minnear wrote the music for, and it is without doubt a masterclass piece of work. Derek Shulman takes on the lead vocals for the song and it’s very much a high contender for the top spot on the album.
Track 3. A Cry For Everyone.
A change of mood and the band shift away from the more folky side of things and rock this one out a bit. Its the first of the 4 tracks on the album that Ray Shulman wrote the music for. His brother Derek is on the lead vocals again. I quite like how the band interact with one another on the lead breaks throughout this song, and Minnear’s array of keyboards get utilised very well throughout them too.
The songs lyrics were inspired by the philosophical literature writer Albert Camus. He was known for his literature on philosophy of the absurd and no doubt these lyrics are absurd as well :)))))). But I guess the point that is trying to be made here, is that we are all born to die, and there is no point in crying over it, so one might as well cry for everyone because they are all in the same boat so to speak.
Track 4. Knots.
Another one of Kerry Minnear’s musical contributions to the album and this one features Phil, Kerry and Derek doing some very well constructed counterpart vocal harmonies. It’s quite a medieval folk madrigal that uses 5/4 and other time signatures to piece it all together in a sort of a jigsaw way. The songs title and the source for the lyrics came from the Scottish psychiatrist and poet R. D. Laing. His book Knots consists of a series of powerful, witty, unexpected dialogue-scenarios that can be read as poems or brief plays.
“Knots” is a very high contender for the top spot on the album and another brilliant piece of work done by the band.
Track 5. The Boys In The Band.
The second of Ray Shulman’s musical compositions for the album is fact an instrumental piece and the only one on the album. This piece was originally intended to represent the band with the idea they had at first of making a concept album. In the end they abandoned the idea of the concept, but it still represents the band in a very good way. The piece has some superb diversity and progression about and it’s even got more of Jazz feel about it as well.
The guy laughing and the coin you can hear spinning on the table in the intro, is the bands recording engineer Martin Rushent having a bit of fun. This has to be another very high contender for the top spot on the album and its another brilliant track.
Track 6. Dog’s Life.
Well just as the last piece was intended to represent the band. “Dog’s Life” was originally wrote to represent the bands roadies. It’s the shortest track on the album and the music was composed by Ray Shulman and his older brother Phil features on the lead vocals for the song. It features some lovely acoustic guitar from Gary Green and is a very well orchestrated by Ray Shulman on the violin and Kerry Minnear on the cello.
The arrangement is quite Beatles ESC and quite stunning, and this is yet another top song on the album that could be in contention for the best track.
Track 7. Think Of Me with Kindness.
My personal favourite track on the album is another one Minnear’s compositions and this one he also sings. Just like the previous track its got that Beatles ESC feel about it and the orchestration and arrangement is superb even down to the brass section. This is songwriting at its best and Minnear’s voice is golden on it.
To be honest it was very hard to choose this song as my favourite and this album is literally full of contenders and contains very strong well written material all along it. Most of which are even far more complex in to how they have retained the simple simplicity on this song.
Track 8. River.
The album gets rounded off with the longest track on the album, though all the tracks on this album were no longer than your average pop song back in the 70’s. The “River” is another song that Ray Shulman wrote the music for and features Derek on the main vocals. The song has a bit of a folk rock feel about it and features a bit of a rocked up guitar solo in the middle of it. It’s another great song and winds up the album very well.
To sum up the album Octopus by Gentle Giant I would say it’s an album that contains some of the bands strongest well written material, that much so that I feel this is a stronger album than The Power and The Glory if the truth be told. This is what makes it hard to pick a personal best album of theirs.
The band were also pushing and expanding the boundaries at this stage of their career too, and were starting to incorporate other musical styles of rock and funk into their music, and they was expanding on their more familiar style of folk that was more noticeable on the bands first 3 albums.
Octopus is an album that perhaps marked the first real change and step into a slightly newer direction, and one that worked out really well for the band. Even though the band were still making music that perhaps would not of been accessible to a wider audience, some of music that was written for it is certainly more accessible I would of felt. Both “Dog’s Life” and “Think Of Me with Kindness” were more along the lines of really great songwriters songs that would certainly appeal to most people I would of thought.
To conclude my review of Gentle Giant’s 4th studio album Octopus and this more up to date Steven Wilson mix of the album. I would say that without a doubt that Octopus could very well be seen to many as the bands finest album, and they would not be wrong either. It is without doubt a remarkable album and I can honestly say that it sounds even more remarkable with Steve Wilson’s 5.1 mix.
I honestly think these new CD/Blu Ray Editions are bang on for the buck and well worth getting if you’re like myself and into multi surround sound. The new mixes on the CD are also really great, but the real value in a package like this is the Blu Ray and that’s where you will by benefit the most with this type of package.
My personal highlights from the album are “Raconteur Troubadour“. ” Knots“. “The Boys In The Band“. “Dog’s Life” and “Think Of Me with Kindness“. To be honest I could highlight every track because it really is a solid album and the compositions are sheer class on that score.
Gentle Giant were without doubt certainly one of the most superb and interesting bands that graced us with their superb music back in the 70’s and there was no band quite like them, and there has not been since either. I would certainly like to see Steven Wilson give the bands other albums the 5.1 treatment, because these editions I personally do not think can be beat.
Memories Are Sorrow, When There’s No Tomorrow…
The CD track listing is as follows:
01. The Advent of Panurge. 4:43.
02. Raconteur Troubadour. 4:03.
03. A Cry for Everyone. 4:06.
04. Knots. 4:11.
05. The Boys in the Band. 4:35.
06. Dog’s Life. 3:13.
07. Think of Me with Kindness. 3:35.
08. River. 5:54.
09. Excerpt From Octopus (Live At The Calderone Theatre) #. 15:40.