The Power and the Glory review by Jason Rubin
Perhaps the most successful of Gentle Giant's concept albums - both in terms of musical value and the execution of a cohesive concept across an album's worth of tunes - The Power & the Glory portrays the shaky relationship between a ruler and the people he governs. Ideals are stated, expectations are voiced, but ultimately it all ends in disappointment and disgrace.
I've read that the band tried to get a sense of immediacy and authenticity in the performances by trying to nail all the songs in one or two takes. Perhaps this is why it is somewhat less complex than previous albums, although the repetitive, jigsaw-puzzle approach to instrumental sections - in which each player contributes a short phrase that together comprise a fascinating pastiche of sound - which in retrospect is something of a Giant trademark (not to mention that of minimalist composers like Philip Glass and Steve Reich), was in glorious display, especially on the opening track, Proclamation.
So Sincere, so superlatively expanded on Playing the Fool, is notable for John's incredible bass drum triplets, a searing guitar solo by Gary, and Kerry's spidery piano runs. Kerry does a great vocal on this and the next song, Aspirations, which has to stand as one of the most beautiful songs Giant ever recorded. His sensitive electric piano performance lends the perfect atmosphere to this song of hopeful uncertainty. I also dig the sound of John's hi-hat throughout. (Coincidentally, "Aspirations" is also the title of a fabulous instrumental from another 1974 album: Santana's Borboletta.)
Playing the Game is sort of the magnum opus of the record. Featuring the famous Shulberry, the song opens with a jagged collage of instruments and phone rings before heading into the theme, driven strongly by the band's totally in-sync rhythm section, Ray and John. Derek's voice actually sounds a little thin; I wonder why it wasn't processed or treated with some echo or something. The song features a false ending: a fade-out interrupted by two lines sung by Kerry, with bass and electric piano accompaniment. This leads into an instrumental section that starts out gentle with multiple keyboards and then smashes into more of a funk break propelled by Ray's fat bass lines and Kerry's hot organ solo. The song resumes with the final verse and the theme repeated.
Cogs in Cogs, which started Side 2 back in the old days, is a ferocious little rocker with a snaky theme and interweaving vocal break. Again, Derek's voice seems a little off; maybe it's too far out front in the mix on the verses. John's drum beat during the break is actually one he's used on a number of Giant tunes, including The Runaway from In a Glass House.
No God's a Man is a personal favorite of mine. I love the pacing of the intro: it develops gradually and logically, featuring both electric and acoustic guitar, and a synth that sounds somewhat like a harpsichord. The verses are sung by Derek with a complex web of background vocals, making each one an exhilarating listen. Gary delivers a fine multi-tracked solo, and Kerry's organ hits some wonderful swirling high notes.
The Face gives Ray a chance to stretch out a bit on violin, in the tradition of Plain Truth from Acquiring the Taste. He rips out a fairly atonal solo, which gives way to Gary, wailing on guitar. Kerry's organ enters and with Gary, leads to the last verse and chorus.
The album closes with Valedictory, a sequel of sorts to Proclamation. Where the former was somewhat boastful in tone, the latter is belligerent. After a nifty drum intro, the theme enters - familiar, but much raunchier. Derek's voice is suitably processed, and it may be his best vocal on the album. The abrupt ending is a neat little trick, but it leaves the album's closer just over three minutes in length, which is pretty slight, especially for a concept album.
The CD also features the song The Power & the Glory, which, according to the liner notes, wasn't even written by the time the album was completed. Instead, it was penned later and released as a single. It does feel a little out of place here musically (actually feels like it could have been on either Interview or Side 2 of The Missing Piece), but it certainly makes sense to have it here. And it is a good song - not great, but good. For that matter, in the Gentle Giant catalog, The Power & the Glory stands as a great album - not brilliant, but great.
- Jason Rubin