Gentle Giant were a British progressive rock band active between 1970 and 1980. The band was known for the complexity and sophistication of its music and for the varied musical skills of its members. All of the band members, except the first two drummers, were multi-instrumentalists. Although not commercially successful, they did achieve a cult following.
The band's one time stated aim was to "expand the frontiers of contemporary popular music at the risk of becoming very unpopular," although this stance was to alter significantly with time. While never achieving the commercial heights of progressive rock contemporaries such as Jethro Tull, Genesis, Yes or Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Gentle Giant was considered to be one of the most experimental bands in the genre, as well as one of the most experimental rock bands of the 1970s. Gentle Giant's music was considered to be complex even by progressive rock standards. It was even very difficult to pigeonhole their music. Because their influences were taken from not only rock music but also from folk, blues, soul, jazz, and classical music. All of the bands back catalogue had been reissued and once in a while a new release of one of their older releases sees the light of day.
This happened lately with once again with two of their releases. Namely Free Hand and In'terview. This time they are being released on CD/DVD. These special editions feature a lost quadraphonic mix on the DVD. The special 4.1 Surround Sound mix (DTS 96/24 and Dolby Digital 48kHz/24bit) has been adapted from the original quad mixes and appears on these special editions as well. The releases also include new sleeve notes written by the band.
Free Hand was originally released in September 1975. It was Gentle Giant's seventh album, and their first for the Chrysalis label. Their move to Chrysalis followed a brief and less than satisfactory spell with Phonogram subsidiary World Wide Artists. Although their eighteen months with WWA had seen the release of two excellent albums, In A Glass House (1973) and The Power And The Glory (1974), both of which had done much to enhance the band's reputation, the relationship had quickly soured. It was with a profound sense of relief, and at considerable expense, that Gentle Giant finally extricated themselves from their contract and moved on. Inevitably, these unsettling events made their mark on Giant's music. Throughout their later years, Gentle Giant albums featured many songs which dealt with all aspects of life as rock musicians, and not surprisingly Free Hand has more than most. The title track is a defiant parting shot at WWA, and an expression of the optimism which swept through the band once their problems were resolved. Mobile looks at the uncertainty and insecurity of life on the road, whilst Just The Same concerns itself with the pretentiousness of the music business, and the frustrations of being regarded as something other than you are simply because you become famous. Even On Reflection, an apparently personal account of a failed relationship, could be re-interpreted in the light of the group's recent difficulties.
This album is noted for its high production values, and a less harsh and dissonant, more musical feel than their previous album The Power and the Glory. It was their highest-charting album in the U.S. and the only one to crack the Top 50 on the Billboard album charts.
In′terview was released in 1976 and could loosely be described as a concept album. Although there is no common lyrical thread running through the songs as there is on the earlier Three Friends (1972) and The Power And The Glory (1974). The title track is a sideswipe at the lack of imagination shown by most journalists interviewing the band, and at several points the album's tracks are linked by brief snatches of conversation between writer Phil Sutcliffe, a long-standing Gentle Giant admirer, and the group. They co-opted Sutcliffe to perform this mock interview, then spliced excerpts between the songs themselves, which stand as the band's responses to his questions. The title song has lyrics derived from the type of question and answer dialogue they had encountered while talking to the music press. This album was less successful with critics and in the charts than their previous albums.
Both albums are true progressive rock gems and shouldn't be missed in a CD collection of any prog die hard. Most of all these new releases shine a different light on both albums. Because the sound is this time excellent compared to the older reissues. Most of all when you hear the versions which are on the DVD. You hear the best way possible how clever the music of this band was put together. The close harmony parts can be heard even better as ever before. Also the strong instrumental parts played on the many keyboards, guitars, violins, saxophones and percussion instruments come more alive on the new versions. This time you even better get aware of the fact why a band such as Spocks Beard was influenced by this band so much! This is just how every re-release should be!
****/**** Henri Strik
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