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53 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fabulous curate's (Faberge) egg, 13 Aug. 2012
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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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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 13 Aug 2012 15:51:22 BDT
A. R. Durham says:
Great review Ben. Agree 100%, except that I am one of the mob that thinks Free Hand was GG's finest hour. How does this collection sound? Is it one of the umpteen re-mastered versions? I have got lots of different GG versions but will have to buy this set because of the Peel sessions. How are they?
For what it's worth - the recent vinyl releases of Free Hand & Interview are the best I have heard. Shame there isn't anything else in the vaults.......
Carry on the good work & continue spreading the word - the world will find out about GG eventually....

In reply to an earlier post on 3 Dec 2012 15:36:02 GMT
Last edited by the author on 3 Dec 2012 15:37:52 GMT
Alexander says:
Hi! All albums included here are the re-mastered versions and sound great! Albums remastered by Fred Kevorkian at Avatar Studios, NYC from the original 1/4 inch tapes through 24bit 96k Hi-Resolution transfer. Mastered by Peter Mew at Abbey Road studios, London. Some bonus tracks previously unreleased on cd. My only quibble is that despite 16 page booklet contains all information that is relevant to each original album and informative essay by Daryl Easlea, it does not contain all original artwork of each album at least at cd size but only small squares of front covers. Naturally no lyrics. Anyway 5 stars! I am just litening to this wonderful music. Regards. Alex from Russia.

Posted on 26 Jun 2013 22:26:01 BDT
The sleevenotes on this compilation suggest 'Civilian' was a bit of a chore for the whole band, but as someone who'd given up on them after 'Giant for a Day' (although I played that track in my covers band in '79, but with no keyboards and no GG flourishes...), I've only just come to it. And I think it's brilliant! More shame me. 'Inside Out' is the key track for me; as you say, the despair at what they're having to do is evident, but they make a glorious racket in doing so. As they always did. I don't suppose the grunge guys would ever give it credit, but GG did that whole sound in one track years before. I'm also struck by the sound of 'Convenience etc' and some of the stuff on the 'Tubes - Completion Backwards Principle' album; less compressed maybe, but the riffs and arrangements have some weird congruence occasionally, but with the Tubes going for bleak humour and GG for bleakness full stop.

Posted on 28 Jun 2013 10:59:25 BDT
Old Drummer says:
I have all the vinyl except Free Hand and all cd relases, compilations and two DVD's in concert.
Anything new worth having on this set

In reply to an earlier post on 28 Jun 2013 11:20:55 BDT
Ben Cohen says:
I'd say you're pretty well covered provided you have decent masters of all the regular albums and the Peel Sessions release. Sleeve notes are interesting but single mixes aren't exactly a revelation.
You might want to save your pennies and go for this instead: Memories Of Old Days: A Compendium Of Curios, Bootlegs, Live Tracks, Rehearsals And Demos 1975-1980
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