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Gentle Giant - Interview CD (album) cover

INTERVIEW

Gentle Giant

 

Eclectic Prog

3.75 | 680 ratings

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Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer
3 stars 'Interview' -Gentle Giant (64/100)

There is a moment on Interview that, whether on purpose or accidentally, perfectly describes Gentle Giant's music to a tee. A sampled faux-interviewer opens "Design" by asking Gentle Giant to describe their music. A flurry of answers erupt simultaneously; the result is an indistinct haze of voices that would take a particularly attentive ear to get a grain of sense out of it. No matter how eloquent each member might have been answering on their own, the number of things said leaves a far greater impression than what is being said.

Gentle Giant get lauded as one of the go-to prog legends, often to the point where I've seen them namedropped amidst flagships like Yes and King Crimson. At the same time, there's a decided lack of any particular songs getting mentioned or celebrated. It's more often than not that Gentle Giant are celebrated for the sheer degree of musicianship and complexity rather than the music itself. In other words, the means are hailed as their own end.

Following a brilliant but altogether listenable debut, Gentle Giant innovated and perfected the wacky approach with Acquiring the Taste. Within a few listens, I was hooked, not because of their musicianship (although that did play into the intrigue) but the sense of pure and spontaneous creative energy that seemed to pour from every note. Possibly barring Free Hand, I haven't heard that passion from Gentle Giant since, and by the point of Interview, it's clear the flashy workhorse they had depended on all this while was losing spirit.

It's not that the band lost any of their technical chops with Interview, but the amount of actual substance behind their smoke and mirrors had grown questionable to the point the album feels like a shallow listen despite all of its apparent surface-level 'depth.' I've listened to the album several times now, and only a handful of moments ever leave an impression. Barring that, there is the vague sense of musical complexity, but Gentle Giant rarely use that capacity to powerful effect. It's akin to drinking from an expensive wine class filled with lukewarm soda water. Ultimately, the experience is tasteless and slightly difficult to swallow, and considering how fine and classy the receptacle was, you wonder why you weren't served a better drink.

Although Interview is loosely tied together by its concept (inspired by interview questions they were asked throughout their career) it comes off as fairly disorganized, even by Gentle Giant standards. They'll shift between hard rock and avant-garde without a rhyme or reason. Overwhelming (as always) acapella and abstract vocal harmonies will erupt out of nowhere, and considering Gentle Giant had been pulling that card since Three Friends, it's more annoying than innovative. Back to their usual (after the surprisingly melodic and catchy Free Hand) the melodies are only ever half-successful, even when they've left plenty of room for good hooks (see: the title track).

Even so, while the album suffers a lack of focus, there's no doubt that Gentle Giant enjoy plenty of great moments on Interview- arguably more than they did on the grossly overrated The Power and the Glory. For what is otherwise essentially a hard rock tune, "Interview" has an infectious dissonance that feels wonderfully out of place (and for once, I mean that in a good way.) "Give It Back" seems like a mixed-success- at-best attempt at a reggae groove, but some of the ideas are really promising, including a theremin motif that sounds like Kid A-era Radiohead thirty years before the fact, and a pleasant guitar lead so restrained I could have swore it was Steve Hackett playing it. At the end of the day, the most impressive feat on Interviewer is its closing number. "I Lost My Head" is one part Medieval rock, one part heavy prog, and the fusion works- by the gods, does it ever work. Maybe my endearment's partially because it sounds so much like the theme to the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy programme; whatever the case, "I Lost My Head" accomplishes what the rest of the album (and some of their so-called 'peak' material) only ever managed to do half-heartedly.

To put it in the context of what came before, Interview strikes me with much of the same dryness as The Power and the Glory, and though while this one probably isn't quite as terribly unfeeling, Interview feels more inconsistent and scattered than any of its predecessors. One school of thought likes to call Interview Gentle Giant's last great album, the other likes to call it their first bad one. I'll chip in and say both schools are right. There is inspired material here, but now more than ever, it takes trudging through self-indulgent flash and fluff to get to it.

(Post-Script: After spending some more time listening to it outside of a critical context, I've gotta admit Interview's grown on me a bit. I still stand beside everything I've written, but in spite of the glaring faults and general unevenness, there's an echo of that charming feeling of spontaneity I loved on Acquiring the Taste, that The Power and the Glory went entirely without. Gentle Giant were a lot less concerned with sterile perfection here, and as a result I'll probably want to listen to it more in the future than their most soulless output. It's still a guilty pleasure by prog standards, but the change of perspective is worth noting.)

Conor Fynes | 3/5 |

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