I Lost My Head, The Chrysalis Years (1975-1980) is a 4CD set rounding up all the albums Gentle Giant recorded for the Chrysalis label after they departed from WWA Records. This release features the last official recordings from the band, namely Free Hand (1975), Interview (1976), The Missing Piece (1977), Giant For A Day (1978) and Civilian (1980) filled up with the only live album Playing The Fool, The Official Live (1977). In addition these albums feature several bonus tracks including John Peel sessions, 7-inch mixes, live tracks and B-sides. The booklet contains quite a number of pictures taken between 1975 and 1980 and the liner notes written by some band members, provide a wonderful overview of how the albums got together.
At the time Gentle Giant's line-up consisted of Gary Green (electric guitar, acoustic guitar, 12-string guitar, alto recorder, descant recorder, vocals, percussion), Kerry Minnear (keyboards, cello, vibes, tenor recorder, vocals, percussion), Derek Shulman (vocals, alto sax, descant recorder, bass, percussion), Ray Shulman (bass, violin, acoustic guitar, descant recorder, trumpet, vocals, percussion) and John Weathers (drums, vibes, tambour, vocals, percussion). This line-up stayed together until they broke up in 1980.
The first disc starts with Free Hand. At this point, Gentle Giant were slightly simplifying their complicated music in order to reach a wider (read: American) audience, although the band's music could be regarded to be 'polished' rather than 'compromised'. Compared to other rock artists at the time, Gentle Giant's music was still very complex. However, the process itself seemed successful enough to get the album into the USA-charts. The songs were strongly influenced by the music of the Renaissance era and the Middle Ages. The album's songs reflected on lost loves and damaged relationships including the breakdown of the band's relationship with their former manager. Regardless of the issues of simplification, Free Hand became one of the band's most popular and accessible albums.
CD1 ends with six additional tracks. The first one is an intro tape of 1976 which they used to get on stage. It's a great but short instrumental piece that lasts only 1.39 minutes. Next are two tracks recorded during the John Peel sessions on the 16th of September 1975. The live versions of Just The Same and On Reflection sound more vivid than the studio versions thus having more energy. Finally you can enjoy the international 7-inch mix of Give It Back and the 7-inch mix of I Lost My Head. Both differ not that much from the original versions.
The second disc features Interview, Gentle Giant's next release. It's again a concept album based upon an imaginary interview with the band. The music pointedly poked fun at the state of the music industry and at the silly questions that rock stars are repeatedly asked in order to construct an image for marketing. Ironically, this more satirical and subversive approach ultimately proved to be a symptom of the undermining of the band's work and artistic integrity. Derek Shulman later admitted: “I think Interview was the start of the erosion. The creative juices were starting to wane a little bit... I think it was the start of the slide towards the realization that this is a business now, and that's also a part of what the business had become. I was managing the band at the time the music business became a major business.” Despite this approach, the album peaking at number 137, didn't repeat its predecessor's American chart success.
In the same year, Gentle Giant's notoriously virtuoso live act, featuring rapid-fire instrument swapping and equally demanding rearrangements of the already complex studio pieces was captured on the live album Playing The Fool. However, on the second disc you can enjoy first the complete version of The Missing Piece. For the band this album was the start of the 'pop' years. While the band's skills as performers remained undiminished, their creative peak was now behind them. Of course the music still contained enough quality featuring strong musical elements. The album was recorded in The Netherlands just like Genesis did before them with Wind & Wuthering (1976). The first side of The Missing Piece explored the different musical directions that the band was previously known for, including pop music and punk rock, while the second side was more in the vein of Gentle Giant's signature of progressive rock style. This was the last album to chart in the USA.
On the third disc you can enjoy the already mentioned live double album Playing The Fool. On this CD you can hear how the band performed on stage in full glory. The songs are much longer than the original studio versions. A good example is Excerpts From 'Octopus' on which you can hear additional parts performed on the acoustic guitars and recorders. Another good example is the strong percussion solo on So Sincere. This album can undoubtedly be considered to be one of their musical highlights.
The fourth and final disc starts with the second album that was recorded during their 'pop' years. Giant For A Day emphatically shows the evidence of aiming for a bigger audience. The music clearly tends towards pop music. The 7-inch single Thank You and its B-side Words From The Wise have been included as bonus tracks. Later on Derek Shulman described Giant For A Day as being 'real contrived'. The instrumental piece Spookie Boogie probably is the highlight on this album.
In 1979, they relocated their centre of operations to the USA in order to record their twelfth and most mainstream album Civilian, a record containing short rock songs. This album ends the fourth disc. The musical highlight on this release is Shadows On The Street, a track that takes you back to the days when they still wrote real progressive rock tunes. The rest of the material is mainly an AOR kind of music. Ray Shulman later admitted: “I hated making that last record, I hated being involved with it.” And in 2005, Derek Shulman reflected: “Civilian was done with less passion than some of the other albums. As it turns out we as a band were just not good at being rock or pop stars. We would have loved to be as popular as Genesis, Rush or Yes. In hindsight, I sometimes think that Gentle Giant was wrongfully put into the progressive rock category. Much of what we did was very clever, but we certainly didn't do these long complex tunes like Yes or Genesis did.”
After the band was put on hold three members thought about the idea of continuing with keyboard player Eddie Jobson and with another vocalist. As history tells us this never actually happened and the band never got back together in the line-up that recorded the albums for the Chrysalis label. However, some of them revived their music live on stage under the moniker of Three Friends. People who want to know more about the music Gentle Giant, but don't want to start with their complex music, this box-set is appropriate to begin with. All in all this a very good release! Especially the first three CDs are worthwhile listening to!
**** Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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