Read more than 4500 articles & interviews, see phantastic pictures of Live shows & other snapshots




Taken from Something Else! (Jun 20, 2022)

Gentle Giant - 'Civilian' (1980; 2022 reissue)

by Bill Golembeski

Gentle Giant Facebook Profile
Gentle Giant Facebook Profile

Gentle Giant's 1980 swansong Civilian had a lot going for it. Unfortunately, the album also had a lot tough current from a "never-idle river drifting to the end" that swamped this record in the tidal new wave of really cool records from bands like the Jam, the Clash, Joy Division, the Gang of Four, the Cure, Wire and the Talking Heads. And then there was that Metal Box by Public Image Ltd.

My friend Kilda Defnut often finds it necessary to quote (the great) original Fleetwood Mac guy Peter Green, and simply say, "Oh well." Of course, Genesis survived with Phil Collins' vocals, a lot of loyalty, and the rather simplistic single "Follow You Follow Me." Such was sadly not the case for Messrs. Schulman, Schulman, Weathers, Minnear, and Green.

So, after a series of brilliant and very wonderfully eclectic (and quite profound) albums like Three Friends, Acquiring the Taste, Octopus and my favorite, The Power and the Glory, Gentle Giant tried to acclimatize its sound to the new wave of British rock. In truth, both The Missing Piece (with the unnecessary "Betcha Thought We Couldn't Do It") and the cut-out mask cover of Giant for a Day and its slim sound, pretty much alienated lovers of such "So Sincere" previous music.

Still, as said, Civilian has a lot going for it. It's best described as a tightly wound Gentle Giant sound with big power chords with oddly forceful choruses. Sadly, the exotic percussion, violins, occasional recorder, saxes and counterpoint vocals are gone. But the short tunes do have ample interplay that reveals itself after several spins.

It's just that given the abundance of all the (before-mentioned) new wave bands, many the music lovers had moved on. Even those of us who revered Gentle Giant's devotion to "expand the frontiers of contemporary popular music at the risk of being very unpopular," had acquired a taste for albums like Magazine's Secondhand Daylight, which pretty much recited that same mantra - with the addition of a weird gatefold sleeve and the epic song, "Permafrost."

Still, these tunes rock in a weirdly off-kilter pop music way. Perhaps a comparison can be made with long-winded Van der Graaf Generator guy Peter Hammill's alter-ego album, Nadir's Big Chance. But that's just a thought. The first song, "Convenience (Clean and Easy)," bubbles with keyboards and then explodes with that big guitar sound. The Derek Schulman vocal could (almost) be mistaken for John Wetton, circa King Crimson's first side of Starless and Bible Black. The lyrics also reflect Gentle Giant's observation of America, as the album was recorded in Los Angeles.

Then, "All Through the Night" gets Gary Green riff heavy, and once again, the vocal line soars into turbulent weather. This is, if nothing else, very urgent rock music, much like Robin Trower's Procol Harum rocker, "Whiskey Train." In contrast, "Shadows on the Street" is a piano-graced (and quite lovely!) song that recalls the also Kenny Minnear-voiced "Think of Me with Kindness" from Octopus.

But the funky groove continues: "Number One" is given yet another big guitar bit, which is decorated with keyboard textures, while the vocals once again surf turbulent waters. This is clever bluesy rock. And there's a great scream here and there. After that, "Underground" (with the too obvious sound effect!) gets even more pop-funky, and continues with an oddly catchy chorus and a great bass line, all of which buff the once-mighty complexities of Gentle Giant.

Just a note about Pete Reynold's newly re-mastered reissue: It has, perhaps, a warmer sound with more dimension than the BGO double-disc that paired this final album with the great Playing the Fool: The Official Live, both of which were "remastered from original master tapes." The BGO version also includes that brief (for want of a better word) sound collage of "that's all there is" tagged to the end of "It's Not Imagination," which is missing on this new release.

That also said, "I Am a Camera" (again with the too obvious sound effect!) has that urgent and explosive pop vibe that, unfortunately, was just too clever for mainstream friendly radio airplay - and, of course, not proggy enough for old fans. "Inside Out" opens with a pensive guitar, and then continues with a truly prog pulse. Legitimate quiet tension, circa "No God's a Man," prowls in the drama of the tune. Odd - Derek Schulman's vocals recall Peter Gabriel's passion in the midst of Rael's rather ungainly Lamb Lies Down journey into Jungian psychology.

Then, "It's Not Imagination" rides a quick rock pulse, with a big punctuation mark of an electric guitar solo while certainly rocking with a brisk new wave vibe. As always with these re-issued albums, there's a bonus track. And "Heroes No More" chugs along quite nicely into the album's collective groove.

So, as (the great!) Jim Morrison sang, "This is the end." Indeed, it's a rough landing for those of us who loved the "free hand" music of Gentle Giant's earlier era. But Civilian rocks with a quick commercial spin, and somehow it still finds a way to assert really decent songs amid the continuous "never-idle river drifting to the end."

Great rock 'n' roll music manages to do just that, like any great prize fighter well past his prime - every once in a rock 'n' roll while.




Check out my latest Playlist

Get external player here


Latest News
  Last Update: 2024-05-20 18:20


News Selector