Gentle Giant: Octopus

Steven Wilson remix of 1972 classic, featuring bonus track.

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With its Roger Dean sleeve and just the hint of a concept about its eight tracks (the number from which the title is derived), Octopus could be seen as a red rag to those who loathe prog and its supposed baroque indulgences.

Prog it is, there’s no doubt (though future Human League producer Martin Rushent cut his teeth on engineering duties here). However, Octopus represents all the virtues of the genre. It’s literate – opener The Advent Of Panurge alludes to the novels of Rabelais, while A Cry For Everyone is inspired by French existentialist Albert Camus.

It’s a meticulous, dazzling, polyphonic spree of intertwined vocals and instrumentation, Zappa-esque but undercut by a very British sense of humour and self-deprecation, carrying its musicianship (sax, mellotron, xylophone and more) lightly.

It was considered a heavy rock outing in its time but fortunately the guitar sections, the most dated of the album, are relatively sparing. Much more charming is Knots, its vocal interplay courtesy of the Shulman brothers Derek, Ray and Phil, a more intellectually coherent precursor to Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody.

Steven Wilson’s 5.1 surround sound remix, meanwhile, makes the whole thing feel like it was recorded yesterday in your living room.

David Stubbs

David Stubbs is a music, film, TV and football journalist. He has written for The Guardian, NME, The Wire and Uncut, and has written books on Jimi Hendrix, Eminem, Electronic Music and the footballer Charlie Nicholas.