Vertigo 1972 / Alucard 2015
Concept album that never was: a resurgence of multi-tentacled prog monster – still menacingly beautiful after all these years.
Among the towering achievements of British art-rock from the ’70s, “Octopus” stands out as a meeting point between elitist accessibility and exquisite sophistication. It was there that GG finally solidified their various interests into what would become the band’s formula – if this word can be applied to a monumental, if transparent, mix of genres as refracted through ensemble consciousness. Such collective thinking might have gotten in the way of creating a suite with a piece dedicated to each members of the sextet, to the group as a whole and to their roadies – eight numbers in all: “octo opus” – yet untied creativity to delve into a literary sea to feed on the likes of Rabelais and Camus.
All this resulted in a stylistic release from the inherent British bent of the band’s first three LPs and a shift towards continental kind of rock-hard folk, a pinch of Stockhausen-like minimalism contrasting the lushness of instrumental attacks. That’s why Steven Wilson‘s mix, a basis of the record’s 2015 reissue, only deepened the dynamic bas-relief and added breathing space to the chamber tightness which always was there. Movingly captured by mad madrigal-like vocal twine on “Knots” where polyphony, the main feature of the album, is molded in the most natural way, venting the aforementioned wild creativity, here’s a time-capsule that holds medieval magic reimagined for a modern era. Striking as it is, covert artwork – both UK and USA versions of the sleeve – doesn’t reflect the slightly claustrophobic adventure lurking down there.
This trip could be condensed into a short story – bonus “Excerpts From Octopus” from a 1976 concert is a testament to the band’s ability to recreate their masterpiece on-stage – but the album oozes the same elegant spontaneity, many overdubs notwithstanding. Thus, in “The Boys In The Band” – a vestige of the initial concept – that tosses the coin to bet on the ultimate sense of freedom, vibes vie for rhythmic focus with John Weathers’ drums, while melodic lines gel into unison with synths only to weave their separate ways into a jazzy narrative.
The full imaginary panorama bursts out in vivid color on “Raconteur Troubadour,” with Ray Shulman’s violin and brother Phil’s brass embellishing the solemn-to-frivolous dance, yet it takes a cautiously hushed introduction of “The Advent Of Panurge” – a link to “Pantagruel’s Nativity” from 1971’s “Acquiring The Taste” – to get, via fusion splashes, into the thick of things and feel the nuance and texture of instrumental interplay. Once the volume is established, “A Cry For Everyone” bares Gary Green’s guitar riff to cut through Kerry Minnear’s organ and spike Derek Shulman’s voice with drama and urgency, but the same pipes turn mellow for the acoustic compassion of “Dog’s Life” and “Think Of Me With Kindness” which expands from a romantic hymn to a glorious anthem.
Still, the country and blues strains in “River” take the drift to somewhat merrier, and heavier, waters – waters just as deep: enough for a giant mollusc to hide and attack an uninformed intruder. For those familiar with the beast, it would be a new rendezvous. A thrill of exploring the masterpiece of an album is guaranteed for all, though.