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Gentle Giant - Interview CD (album) cover

INTERVIEW

Gentle Giant

 

Eclectic Prog

3.76 | 730 ratings

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hegelec
3 stars This follow-up to Free Hand was, according to the band, a rushed effort. One particularly striking account has Kerry Minnear sitting alone in the basement of the recording studio, hurriedly composing the last remaining vocal parts to "Design" on manuscript, which were to be immediately rushed upstairs and recorded in order to finish the track on time.

I believe this haste is evident in the final product. A minor complaint is that the instrumentation is pretty spare and gritty, and not quite as diverse as on previous efforts. Drums, organ, guitar, bass, and electric piano form the core of the sound on Interview. This is rather a pity; Ray's violin, to take the most obvious example, is sorely missed on many tracks. But more importantly, I find the compositional aspect of this record to be a little rough around the edges. Yes, the pieces are all assembled according to proven formulae, but the individual parts do not always fit as snuggly or naturally as on previous efforts, or sometimes are simply not as shrewdly-crafted as I have come to expect from this band. For example, while the Giant's polyphony is probably at its most exposed and sinewy on Interview, the individual lines occasionally lack the flow and autonomy which characterises really good counterpoint.

Take the title track. The meat of the song is very compelling, boasting a fantastically bouncy, hocketed rhythmic interplay which drives the whole thing forward. But then I consider the odd-ball midsection, which is built on top of a curiously syncopated bassline over which an electric guitar (sitar?) unfolds a disjointed counterpoint. This guitar line is, quite frankly, confusing to the ear in this context -- it's not at all clear where it's going or why it's going there. It is only at the end of the song, when this same line is reprised on synth over the main theme, does it nestle into the scenery and finally make sense. It's clear that this line was back-composed -- it was written for the end of the song and only later inserted into the middle (or had the midsection written around it). As great as the rest of the track is, the midsection strikes me as maddeningly ad hoc, serving no deeper purpose than to make the end of the song sound more impressive by virtue of the track's musical "foreshadowing". While this is a neat trick, it is not executed well.

And so it seems to be with much of the album -- though for every track, I will admit that there is at least one excellent musical idea to carry the song. From what I can tell, the second side is slightly better than the first. At least, side 2 contains the album's two utter classics in "Empty City" and "I Lost My Head". The former is a mournful, mist-soaked ballad that Kerry was apparently on a role with in those days (compare "His Last Voyage" from Free Hand) -- and there's a punchy chorus which features a really tasty sax riff counterposing Derek's surprisingly aggressive vocals. The latter is a two-part track: the band starts out with a quieter, subdued section with mediaeval inflections before segueing into a full-on funky, heavy, riff-driven rockout. If this binary construction seems familiar to some Giant fans, that's because it is -- think "Peel the Paint" or "Experience" or "In a Glass House", which were all fashioned in a similar manner. But god damn it, it's a winning scheme! Plus the melodies/riffs on this track rank up there with Giant's best.

Verdict: There is much to like here, but I can't in good conscience call this "Essential", or even "Excellent" (at least without qualification). While the playing is perfect, and there are plenty of musical nuggets floating around, many songs bear the mark of hasty construction. Only "Empty City" and "I Lost My Head" stand out as truly accomplished compositions. Hey, call me picky, but this is Gentle effin' Giant; I'm merely holding them to the standard set by their previous albums. A firm 3 1/2.

hegelec | 3/5 |

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