Three Piece Suite (CD/Blu Ray) – Gentle Giant
Well the chances of getting anything new from the great prog rock band Gentle Giant is never really going to happen, especially has they very much ceased being a band and gave up decades ago now. However that’s not to say that something can be done in the studio in the way of revitalising their old albums and breathing a bit of fresh air and a new lease of life back into them. Something that surround freaks like myself and many others are very well aware that can be done in this day and age, and this is my personal incentive when it comes down to buying something like a product such as this that I already have, all over again.
Three Piece Suite is not the first of the bands material to be given this new 5.1 treatment, and in relation to both the albums Octopus and The Power And The Glory that were given the 5.1 treatment by Steven Wilson over the past couple of years. This particular release unfortunately is a bit of a compilation of the bands first 3 albums, rather than an actual album. It was unfortunate that many of the original multitrack master tapes of the bands first 3 albums were lost. So they decided to do a compilation out of the multitrack master tapes that did manage to survive, to give you this 5.1 presentation.
Does it work one may ask? Is it really worth buying a release such as this?. Well you can find out in my detailed review of this compiled album.
The First Time I Acquired The Taste…
I have to confess I never got into Gentle Giant till very late and back in the 70’s from what little I did get to see and hear of them, their music never spoke to me at all back then. It was not until around 2008 that I really got to acquire my taste more for them and this would of been basically down to the fact that today’s music just never says the same thing to me, especially when it comes to progressive rock. I very much still live in the 70’s and every now and then I have to go back to it, to see if there was something that I missed when looking for something new to buy for my record collection. There is a stack of really great stuff I missed from that decade, and the fact that I did in all honesty I see has a good thing. Because 70’s prog rock cannot really be touched today, even by many of the dinosaurs who are still around who made it originally and are still making records.
I decided to start from the beginning with Gentle Giant by buying their very first self titled debut album. It’s an album that still till this day still sounds very strange. But it was their strangeness that made them quite different and set them apart from many others. It’s also this strangeness that made me continue to buy their records in the chronological order that they originally released them.
The bands first 3 albums basically follow the same path regarding the music they are presenting you with. The main element of their music is very much more leaning towards the folk side of things. It’s the other elements of instrumentation that really orchestrate it all like an orchestra and give it the diversity to go in many other directions. They even threw in a bit of avant garde for good measure. There was no doubt these guys can play, and most of the band members are in fact multi instrumentalists who want to throw everything they have into the pot.
The very fact that the band do throw in an arsenal of instrumentation is the very strange part, and one in reality that is not really fitting to the original piece of folk music they originally set out to play in the first place. This is the factor that changes it all and makes their music have more of a bold statement, but also perhaps made it more inaccessible, especially to the first time listener in relation to the many other bands that was out there at the time.
This is a band that in reality that not only broke the rules, but bent and reshaped them, and in reality this is why they did not achieve more success in their heyday. It’s very much music that one has to give the time to grow into, and once they do, they will reap the reward this band had to offer with the great music they churned out.
Three Piece Suite CD/Blu Ray Review…
Three Piece Suite by Gentle Giant was officially released on the 29th September. It was originally supposed to be released a week earlier on the 22nd but got held back a week. I myself did originally have it pre-ordered on Amazon a good month before, but cancelled it due to lack of funds that week, and brought it a week or more later for the same price of £17.97.
I have to confess I am very much an albums man and not one for compilations at all. So this is not the sort of thing I would buy in general. My only real incentive here was the 5.1 mixes I am afraid. I would also say that this particular release is perhaps aimed at surround freaks and not the sort of thing that would offer you a lot more, despite the array of bonus material you get on the Blu Ray disc here.
The compiled album of Gentle Giant’s first 3 albums known as Three Piece Suite is perhaps not a compilation of the best tracks from the bands first 3 albums, but rather a compilation of the only multitrack master tapes they could find to be able to do a new stereo mix with and a 5.1 mix with these tracks only.
The Packaging & Artwork…
The packaging is very much made in the same way the King Crimson 40th Anniversary releases were made, in that it uses two thin layers of cardboard glued together to make the sleeve. Only this does not come in a box like the King Crimson releases did. The discs are mounted on sturdy plastic holders that not only adds strength to the packaging, but also offers you far more better protection for the actual discs, in that you can retrieve the discs without getting finger marks all over them, and because it’s a smooth shiny surface it will also prevent scratch marks unlike storing them in cheap cardboard wallets.
It also comes with a very well detailed booklet, to which can be slotted and stored very nicely in the little pocket they have made on the bottom of the left hand side of the cardboard sleeve. Overall the packaging is done perhaps on the cheap for its price point, but never the less does an adequate job of it all. But in reality for the price of £17.97. It should really have been constructed out of thicker hardbound cardboard and with the booklet fixed inside. It would of also added a lot more value to its presentation if they would of done so too.
The artwork is perhaps a bit corny but well apt to the title of the album. The cover was designed by Carl Glover for Aleph Studio and the bands bass player Ray Shulman was the guy who provided the furniture which displays all 3 original album covers.
Back To The Review…
Three Piece Suite contains 11 tracks in total spread over a playing time of 5 seconds over the 67 minute mark. But 2 of these tracks are bonus tracks, so in reality only 9 of the tracks here are from the original 3 albums that Gentle Giant made.
The 11 tracks on the CD are all new mixes done by Steven Wilson. As with all new mixes they may not be for purists, especially for those who brought the bands albums well over 40 years ago and know exactly what it should sound like. But one thing I will say about Steve Wilson is that he very rarely will go over the top on them, and tends to keep them as close to the original mix has he can.
To be honest I quite like what Wilson does in most cases and it can make an improvement in some circumstances but not all the time. To be perfectly honest I always tend to keep my original albums and will get the best out of both worlds regarding the new mixes and the old ones. But the one thing you always get with such releases like these that come with a DVD or a Blu Ray. Is the fact that they do also include the original mixes. So for me personally the new mixes are also an added bonus.
Here is a breakdown of the tracks from the original albums you do get, and they are placed on the disc in chronological order.
From the 1970 self titled debut album Gentle Giant you get 3 tracks out of the 7 original tracks that were on the album. They are “Giant“. “Nothing At All” and “Why Not?”.
From the 1971 album Acquiring The Taste you only get 2 out of the 8 tracks that were on the album, and they are “Pantagruel’s Nativity” and “The House, the Street, the Room“.
From the 1972 album Three Friends you get a generous 4 tracks out of the 6 that were on the album. They are “Schooldays“. “Peel the Paint“. “Mister Class and Quality?” and “Three Friends“.
So has you can see this s hardly a best of compilation you are getting here, and it’s missing some of the best tracks from at least two of those albums. It’s only the bands 3rd album Three Friends that is missing the least here, and although I do like all of the bands first 3 albums. It’s unfortunate that my favourite album out of the 3 here Acquiring The Taste is the one that’s missing the most.
The other 2 bonus tracks you get are a 7 inch single edited version of “Nothing At All” and an unreleased track entitled “Freedoms Child“. It’s a track that the keyboard player Kerry Minnear originally wrote in mind for a television program. The band added Beach Boys style harmonies to it to try an make it work better, and in the end decided it was not fitting with the new direction they was heading in at the time, and never used it.
The Blu Ray.
Upon loading the Blu Ray it presents you with an easy accessible menu and an animated revolving triangle that displays all 3 album covers of the bands original 3 albums. It’s quite like an hologram in that you can see through it and you can also see all the album covers at the same time.
The Blu Ray features 10 of the 11 tracks that are on the CD with 5.1 surround versions once again mixed by Steve Wilson. The only track that got omitted from the 5.1 treatment was the 7 inch edited version of “Nothing At All“. It also contains instrumental versions of the same 10 tracks.
The top of the menu contains the 5.1 section and by clicking on audio select it presents you with the 2 choices for the 5.1 mix and also the option to play it in stereo if you wish. By default it’s set to my preferred choice the DTS HD Master. All the audio comes in high quality formats of 96K 24 Bit.
Has a matter of a fact everything even including the bonus material comes in the same high end format of 96K 24 Bit. The bonus material is in stereo only though. Speaking of the other bonus material on the Blu Ray. It also gives you the complete original stereo masters of the first 3 albums.
The 5.1 Mix.
The 5.1 mix by Steve Wilson is very good and there is no doubt that Gentle Giant’s music tends to lean itself more to having the 5.1 treatment with its vast array of instrumentation played by the many multi talented instrumentalists in the band. This is music that very much can be brought back to life and sound far more superior and more vitalising and fresh spread over 6 channels, and Wilson has utilised them very well and has not gone over the top with the mix.
There is no doubt these 5.1 mixes are the best there is of the tracks from the bands first 3 albums. It’s just a shame they never had all of the multitrack master tapes to be able to do the complete albums in 5.1. The fact that Three Piece Suite is a sort of compilation of the bands first 3 albums, I am not going to go into the details of the individual tracks with my review here.
In reality Three Piece Suite by Gentle Giant is perhaps a package that is aimed more towards 5.1 freaks like myself and those fans who are collectors, and like to have everything of the artist, even down to buying the same thing with a different cover that was released in another country. It’s certainly not a compilation aimed at introducing you to the band Gentle Giant and no way would it work that way either.
Regarding my first original question in the introduction. Does it work one may ask? I would have to say NO!. Simply because it’s strange hearing the tracks this way, and there is way too many of the best tracks from the 3 albums that are missing. Like I said my only real incentive for buying this package was for the 5.1 mixes only. Regarding my second question in the introduction. Is it really worth buying a release such as this?. Once again I would have to say NO!. Even though I will say the 5.1 mixes are excellent.
The fact they have also included the 3 original albums on the Blu Ray is perhaps more of a strategic ploy to entice you to spend your money on it. They had to give you something extra to make up for all the missing tracks. Even though the albums do come with high end audio quality. Does it mean that I will be using this Blu Ray to play those original 3 albums from now on?. I really do not think So! Because I prefer the individual album and the individual package it comes in I am afraid.
Had they have had all the multitrack master tape tracks in the first place to do the 5.1 mixes. They would have been put out separately and would of cost you 3 times the amount of money for them buying them individually. But that is something I personally would of preferred. Looking at the 3rd album Three Friends. The fact that they had 4 of the 6 original multitrack master tapes. They could of put this album out as an individual release and done a Pseudio 5.1 mix with the other 2 tracks. I know it’s not the same as a genuine 5.1 mix and I have a few albums that have been done this way, and they still work a lot better than what they have done here with this release.
To conclude my review of Three Piece Suite by Gentle Giant. There is no doubt that the biggest majority of reviews will point towards this release being a Fantastic release, and the best way to hear what there is out there with even what little you do get in the way of the tracks from the bands first 3 albums that have been mixed in 5.1. I would even say regarding the 5.1 mixes they are very much right. But for me personally presenting an album in this way does not really work for me. No doubt the album Three Friends is almost complete and does contain the best tracks from that album. But regarding the first 2 albums, you are going to be missing a hell of a lot here, and the best tracks from them albums without a doubt too.
I think for its price point it’s about right with all the extras you are getting in the bonus department. But I could not personally recommend it despite the excellent 5.1 mixes Steve Wilson has done. It just does not work as an album does I am afraid and you would be better off spending your money on the CD/Blu Ray releases of the albums Octopus and The Power And The Glory even though they contain very little in the bonus department in comparison to this release. But least they are complete albums.
The track listing of the album is as follows:
01. Giant. 6:26.
02. Nothing at All. 9:06.
03. Why Not?. 5:32.
04. Pantagruel’s Nativity. 6:57.
05. The House, the Street, the Room. 6:08.
06. Schooldays. 7:41.
07. Peel the Paint. 7:36.
08. Mr. Class and Quality?. 5:51.
09. Three Friends. 2:56.
10. Freedom’s Child #. 3:58.
11. Nothing at All (7 Inch Edit Mix) #. 4:54.