Review Summary: This is the last truly prog rock album of Gentle Giant. Interview begins the end of one of the best, original and most important prog rock bands ever.
“Interview” is the eighth studio album of Gentle Giant and was released in 1976. The line up on the album is Derek Shulman, Ray Shulman, Gary Green, Kerry Minnear and John Weathers. The album has also the participation of Phil Sutcliffe as the interviewer.
Gentle Giant is a British progressive rock group formed in 1970 and that has remained in action until 1980. While many fans of progressive rock music can be familiar with Genesis, Yes, Emerson, Lake & Palmer or King Crimson, it’s far less likely for the average rock fan have the faintest notion as to the existence of Gentle Giant. This relative anonymity has been both, a blessing and a curse for the band. On one hand, it has meant that Gentle Giant has never had much more than a small cult following of fans, but on other hand, it means that the few people who are familiar with the band have mostly been rabid and faithful supporters of them. This happened mainly because the group’s music wasn’t very accessible even for common progressive rock fans. It was considered as one of the most experimental bands of the 70’s and one that most contributed to the evolution of the progressive rock music. They were known for diverse musical influences, varied musical skills of the band’s members and also because they were all multi-instrumentalists. Another main feature of them was their multiple and synchronized vocal work, which was very unusual in those times.
Some really see “Interview” as the last Gentle Giant’s great studio album, while others claim that it was the band’s first album in their downward spiral toward the late 70’s. What really we can say is that it’s definitely weaker than “Free Hand”, but the first class progressive rock in the typical Gentle Giant’s vein can surely still be found here. Of all Gentle Giant’s albums, the sound of it is the most similar to their preceding seventh studio album, “Free Hand” released in the year before, in 1975. However, we must say that this new musical work isn’t as good and strong as are all their previous works. Anyway and despite I really think that this is certainly the weakest album they’d done to this point, it isn’t certainly a total disaster, as some say. However and unfortunately, the disaster will be true in the next future to come.
Lyrically, “Interview” is formally structured as a truly conceptual album. The story of the concept is centring on a fictitious radio interview based upon the music business. The album begins with the band arriving at some place as if to hold a real interview with a real interviewer, and the songs are interrupted from time to time with bits and pieces of the dialogue between the band and the interviewer. Some tracks have brief sections of diverse interviews made in studio, and even the title song has lyrics based on questions and answers between the band and the music press.
Musically, the album kicked off with the title track that featured some really juicy organ riffs from Minnear and a powerful bass line from Ray Shulman. This was undoubtedly one of the strongest songs on the album, but was followed by the two weakest ones. The reggae influenced track “Give It Back” is one of the few examples where Gentle Giant were influenced by a trend that they better should have avoided. “Design” is an attempt at yet a cappella styled song, but falls short when compared to such classics like “Knots” and “On Reflection”. Things improves a bit with the melodic rocker “Another Show”, but “Empty City” and “Timing” are the songs where the typical Gentle Giant’s complexity really comes to the fore again, although not in form of the strongest compositions they’ve written. However, the album’s centrepiece is the closer track “I Lost My Head”. It starts like a medieval styled ballad. In fact, it’s actually the only medieval influenced piece on the album. It’s probably another minus for many of the hard traditional listeners of the band. The track then goes into the main part where the riff is first played in a very Eastern like style, but quickly turns into a powerful hard rock riff and in a classic Gentle Giant’s rocker. This is a very good ending to what’s not among Gentle Giant's classic albums, but still better than all the studio albums that still were to come from the band.
Conclusion: As I wrote above, we can say that “Interview” is, somehow, a controversial album. The album was less successful with critics and in the charts than all their previous albums. It’s not always mentioned among the top tier of the Gentle Giant’s discography, but “Interview” certainly holds its own. This album is a great glimpse of a band that was for the last time letting their progressive rock nature keeps a hold of the music. It contains a good amount of solid tracks that stand up well with much of their classic material. Things would change for the band short time later, unfortunately for the worst. However, we even can find on their next ninth studio album “The Missing Piece” released in 1977, some interesting musical moments too. So, “Interview” represents arguably the band’s last true “beginning to end” progressive rock album before the hints of commercialism came into play over their last three studio releases.
Music was my first love.
John Miles (Rebel)