Interview is Gentle Giant's 8th studio album and the last before their attempt at more radio friendly music (not that the radio ended up being very friendly). It is a follow-up to Free Hand, one of their more commercially successful albums (and I use that term very loosely), and for this reason is sometimes hidden in its shadow. Only half of one song off of Interview ended up on their monumental live album Playing the Fool. Yet Interview is a near-flawless masterpiece- easily more experimental than its predecessor and in my book more altogether successful.
As with other Gentle Giant albums, Interview is a mixture of two faces of the Giant. About half the tracks show the Giant is still the master at rocking out in its own insanely intricate way, and yet the same intense rhythmic prowess can be heard during the more "gentle" passages. The album's final track, "I Lost My Head" is the most obvious example of this dichotomy. The first half is a subtle yet syncopated and textural example of Minnear's unique keyboard approach but turns into a full-volume showcase of Derek Shulman's distinctive vocal phrasing. One of my favorite tracks, "Another Show", is 20 minutes worth of intensity packed into just 3 and a half minutes. Behind the full bands kinetic onslaught, a mournful, descending pitch bend on the organ adds an unexpected emotional contrast. This piece precedes the most atmospheric track on the album, "Empty City", providing even more welcome opposition.
One of the most amazing aspects of Interview is that despite being late in Gentle Giant's career the creative energy is really high. The powerful title track reportedly contains a piano sound altered with newspaper being placed between the hammers and the strings. Design is obscure from start to finish, featuring a sort of repeated vocal chant behind the main melody (and countermelody, of course), some of the most dissonant vocal passages in their entire output, and enough varied instruments to suggest that they might have raided the "miscellaneous percussion" box from the local middle school. Though still a wonderful track, my one real musical complaint about this entire album is that "Design" lacks flow in some sections. (The tale is told that Kerry was still writing parts of this song in one room while the rest of the band where recording other parts in another).
Interspersed between the seven tracks are various short excerpts of a fabricated interview with Gentle Giant. At one point the interviewer asks what kind of music the band does at which point ALL of the members respond simultaneously with different answers. This introspective theme is contained in the lyrics of a number of the songs, continuing where Free Hand left off. So while the words are still intriguing, one shouldn't expect to hear any more of minstrels, runaways and sea voyages on this album.
I am in awe at how underappreciated this album seems to be, even among Gentle Giant fans. From start to finish it never ceases to satisfy my progressive rock cravings when mediocre just won't do.
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