The Missing Piece

Gentle Giant

One Way, 1977

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 02/01/2016

The beginning of the end of Gentle Giant.

Granted, not many people had been that interested in the band to begin with, especially compared to their more accessible prog-rock peers, but GG’s sound was destined for a cult approach anyway. But their run of classic prog discs had ended, and by 1977 they decided a new approach was needed if they had any hope of remaining at least partially relevant.

It failed. This was the band’s last album to chart, and everything from here on out was pretty awful. The musical tides had changed so much in 1977 anyway that a comeback would never have happened. The Missing Piece is the last somewhat interesting offering from Gentle Giant and also one of their strangest simply because it is kind of normal.

If that sounds strange, it’s because Gentle Giant was rarely normal. They favored Olde English instruments, oddball time signatures, songs that went all over the place often without a point, and an ornate, less-than-straightforward, quite goofy approach to pretty much everything. When they took their unique sound and married it to memorable songs, the results could be solid, as on my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Three Friends, the band’s highwater mark.

What sets The Missing Piece apart is in how the band more or less abandons that approach, instead writing shorter pop/rock songs that branch out. It’s a reverse of how most bands start simple and then get more complex as they experiment; the most radical thing about this album is a three-minute honky tonk piano rocker called “Mountain Time” with the grittiest vocals that the Shulmans ever put to vinyl. Granted, their vocals before had been about as gritty as vanilla pudding, but still.

So, the first half of the disc is five relatively straightforward tunes, from the corny pop of “Two Weeks in Spain” to the Peter Gabriel-soundalike “I’m Turning Around” (if Gabriel had given up, that is) to the funny “Betcha Thought We Couldn’t Do It.” That latter song is a bone of contention among fans; it appears the band is playing the dumbest power chords and most simplistic arrangement of their career to poke fun at the current musical climate of the day, and if so it’s a funny joke, if not a great song.

The second half returns to the prog-rock well of previous efforts to lesser effect than before, with one notable exception. “Memories Of Old Days” is flat-out the best Gentle Giant song post-Three Friends and one of the great prog pieces of 1977; a step below Yes’ “Awaken” and Pink Floyd’s Animals, but a lovely tune with some twin acoustic guitar playing, moody keyboards that enhance the sound without overpowering it and Derek Shulman’s solid vocal work. It’s the song most fans remember this album for, and for good reason.

“Winning” and “For Nobody” are mediocre entries into the band’s catalog and “Who Do You Think You Are” is the other straightforward entry here, with the keyboard mercifully taking a backseat to the quirky guitar and jerky rhythm. The honky tonk piano of “Mountain Time” works better than Keith Emerson’s efforts in the vein and fits into the flow of the album nicely, showing the band relaxing and having some fun.

The Missing Piece is not a great album by any means, but neither is it embarrassing or pointless like some of the band’s other albums, and might be a decent place for newcomers to start if they enjoyed Three Friends. The album will always remain a lesser entry in the band’s catalog, let alone the prog-rock scene of the late 1970s, but it’s not half bad, and “Memories” is worth rediscovering.

Rating: C-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


Comments









© 2016 Benjamin Ray and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of One Way, and is used for informational purposes only.