Every self-respecting progressive rock fan ought to own at least a handful of Gentle Giant albums. After all, they’re the band who stayed truest to the spirit of the genre during its early days with their famous proclamation on the cover of Acquiring the Taste – ironically, one of my least favourite albums by them.
But the question then becomes “How many?” It’s well-known that the quality and complexity of Gentle Giant’s music went sharply downhill in the second half of the band’s decade-long career. Are you a completist who will collect the entire set, including the oft-maligned Civilian from 1980, or will you only purchase the best of the best? Where’s the balance?
My limit has stayed firmly at Interview for over a decade now, and even then I thought it was a risky purchase, as Free Hand hadn’t tickled me in the way that The Power and the Glory did, which in turn wasn’t as good as In a Glass House. What I found, however, was that the band had not started to slide towards commercialism just yet, and were doubling down on their signature complex and disjointed sound if perhaps only to send a middle finger to the onslaught of punk music and record companies who had lost their faith in prog as a genre.
What should have been a triumph sadly turns out to be a sign that the good times were coming to an end. In making their songs even more esoteric and inaccessible, they alienated even some of their core fans. The songs on Interview are doubtlessly some of the most difficult songs the band have ever recorded, but they lack a lot of the soul and energy from the group’s previous albums, resulting in tracks that aren’t memorable or hummable.
There are some exceptions, however. The opening title track is an absolute belter from start to finish, the band rocking hard in ¾ time. I particularly enjoy the instrumental breakdown with each instrument playing parallel but slightly out of sync. This reminds me strongly of Haken; it’s safe to say that Cockroach King and many of their other songs were influenced by Gentle Giant.
Another notable track is Design, which follows the band’s trend of spooky a capella songs that began with Knots from Octopus. While Design once again pushes the limits of this style to its very breaking point, the song seems to lose all of its logic in the frantic finale. If Knots felt satisfyingly tied up, Design seems rather frayed at the end.
The seven-minute closer I Lost My Head has a more accessible two-part structure and the rhythm in the second half is truly infectious. However, it does start feeling a bit repetitive and, ironically, not complex enough after a few minutes. In the same way that the finale of the title track from In a Glass House had a few contrasting bits thrown in, I Lost My Head could have done with the same treatment.
I don’t particularly care for the other tracks. Give It Back is a worthwhile experiment with reggae but it doesn’t push my buttons and Another Show prominently features a dreadful pitch-bending organ sound that I just find annoying. The other two are simply dull-sounding, despite the complex style.
Interview is actually a concept album based on the premise of a real interview the band might give, which is hardly the most interesting topic. There are snippets of a fictional interview interspersed between the songs which are thankfully brief; any longer and they’d become an irritating diversion from the music. However, their brevity also prevents them from getting any meaningful information or atmosphere from them. Am I supposed to believe that the entire album is part of an interview? What does it all mean? Scanning the lyrics, I’m still rather baffled by it all. It’s such a loose concept that it doesn’t feel like a concept album at all, unlike their previous album Three Friends.
Even if it isn’t the group’s best music, it still benefits from Steven Wilson’s steady hand in remixing. On Interview, the band often have several instruments playing different parts of the same melody, and Wilson helps to make the space between those instruments even clearer, making the effect even more enjoyably discombobulating. The album was originally mixed with quadrophonic sound for its 1976 release, and this can be heard on the Blu-ray should you spring for that edition. Wilson has a way of remixing albums to sound quadrophonic even in the stereo format so Interview lends itself to his process easily.
The first Wilson Gentle Giant remix was Octopus in 2015 and since then he has covered most of the band’s discography, but has frustratingly left out some of the best parts. He didn’t even deign to reissue the band’s first three albums, only selecting a handful of his favourite tracks to focus on, and In a Glass House (arguably the band’s finest effort) remains untouched, despite possibly needing Wison’s treatment the most. So it’s with some frustration that I ponder over this gleaming new remix of Interview, the album that marked the beginning of the end for the group.
01. Interview (6:52)
02. Give It Back (5:13)
03. Design (5:00)
04. Another Show (3:31)
05. Empty City (4:37)
06. Timing (4:37)
07. I Lost My Head (6:58)
Total Time – 36:48
Blu-ray on Special Edition contains:
SW’s Dolby Atmos, 96/24 Stereo LPCM) and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 / 96/24 5.1 mixes plus instrumental versions and the original 1976 Quad Mix (DTS-HD Master Audio 4.0 96/24 4.0 LPCM)
Gary Green – Electric Guitar (tracks 1,2, 4-7), Coral Sitar (track 1), Acoustic Guitar (tracks 5 & 7), Alto Recorder (track 7), Backing Vocals
Kerry Minnear – Minimoog (tracks 1,2,4,6 & 7), Piano (tracks 1,4-7), Hammond Organ (tracks 1,2,4 & 6), Clavinet (tracks 1,2,4, & 5), Electric Piano (tracks 1,2 & 5), Synthesiser (tracks 1 & 5), RMI Electra Piano (tracks 1,2 & 7), Clavichord (tracks 2 & 7), Marimba (track 2), Percussion (track 3), Lead Vocals (tracks 3 & 7), Backing Vocals
Derek Shulman – Lead Vocals, Alto Saxophone (tracks 5 & 6), Percussion (track 3)
Ray Shulman – Bass Guitar (tracks 1,2,4-7), Electric Violin (tracks 5 & 6), Violin (track 7), 12-string Guitar (track 5), Percussion (track 3), Backing Vocals
John Weathers – Drums, Tambourine (tracks 4 & 7), Percussion (track 3), Finger Cymbal (track 1), Cowbell (tracks 1 & 2), Cabasa (track 2), Guiro (track 2), Gong (track 7), Co-lead Vocals (track 1), Backing Vocals
Phil Sutcliffe – Interviewer (tracks 1,3,6 & 7)
Record Label: Alucard
Catalogue #: ALUGG071, ALUGG072
Country of Origin: U.K.
Release Date: 16th June 2023