53 of 54 people found the following review helpful
A fabulous curate's (Faberge) egg
, 13 Aug. 2012
This review is from: I Lost My Head: The Chrysalis Years, 1975-1980 (Audio CD)
OK, here's the conundrum: first off, this is a fantastic compilation - the final six Giant albums plus extras with extensive write ups - all for little more than the price of one CD - if this were Pink Floyd, you'd barely get a Wall souvenir coaster for that. And of the six albums (plus extras) contained therein, no less than three come from the Giant's toppermost of top drawers.
So why do I feel like the bellboy who delivered champagne to George Best's luxury hotel room (where a scantily-clad Miss World was lounging about on a bed covered in casino winnings) before asking the footballer `So George, where did it all go wrong?'
The thing is: those three top notch albums are the first three albums featured here - and after album six, the band split for ever. So, George...
Well, there's no sign of rot or pestilence on 1975's Free Hand. It is considered by many fans and critics to be their finest hour (I would argue for 1972's Octopus). The music couldn't be further from the clichés that prog gets tarred with: there's no noodly self indulgence here - this is concise, melodic and genuinely thrilling art rock at its finest.
Interview, a year later, is cut from very similar cloth to Free Hand; Slightly fewer acoustic flavours and even more intricate in its construction. The consensus is that this is the slightly weaker album (for what it's worth I prefer it).
With adjectives like `intricate' flying around, who would have thought that live double Playing The Fool (also 1976) would be such an exciting listen. The considered chamber-rock has been retooled to, er, rock - but intelligently.
Add a fine Peel Session and your entrance fee has by now been paid several times over.
Don't stop listening now, but things do turn a bit rum from hereon in. So, what happened? A bit of context might help: punk has arrived in the UK and Yes, ELP and Genesis are having hit singles with songs you could actually hum. Adult Oriented Rock (AOR) was still huge in the US - in short: there was big money to be made by becoming radio friendly. So Gentle Giant decided to iron most of the (small k) kinks out of their music for the sake of `market forces'.
The move was a commercial failure. Musically it was an interesting failure - three albums with plenty to enjoy..
1977s The Missing Piece mixed ballads, full-on rock and quirky pop - no style was entirely successful, though it's an enjoyable listen. Side two (as it was) has flashes of old school Giant - Memories of Old Days is, in particular, melancholic perfection.
Giant for a Day (1978) jettisons the `old school' for a whole album of soft rock/pop. The problem (ironically) was that Giant's stabs at pop were too simplistic. It has its moments, but this is arguably their creative low point.
Giant's swansong was Civilian in 1980. The band had reluctantly decamped to LA to make something `radio friendly' for the US market (The US radio - probably a computer - said `no'). The fact that the band was utterly miserable might just be Civilian's saving grace - Peter Frampton this aint. You can hear the despair in songs like Shadows on the Street and Inside Out; even the straightforward rock of Number One makes its mark by sounding genuinely P****d off. In short this isn't classic Giant but it's ripe for reappraisal.
Around the same time as Giant were recording Civilian, Peter Gabriel was working on his groundbreaking third album. A representative of his US label came to listen to the work in progress. His sole contribution was to ask if one song could sound `more like the Doobie Brothers'. Gabriel refused and was swiftly dropped by Atlantic. He quickly found another label and the hugely experimental (and not even slightly AOR) album went top 30.
`I Lost My Head'? I often wonder what would have happened if Gentle Giant hadn't lost their nerve when the man from Chrysalis came knocking. In the mean time, dive in and enjoy a delicious curate's egg. The champagne's on its way...
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