In'terview review by Jason Rubin
With Free Hand, Giant reached its popular and artistic pinnacle. Of course, that couldn't be known at the time that its follow-up, Interview, was made. But the success of Free Hand created a unique situation for the band: they had pressure to continue and even exceed that level of achievement, they were touring more so there was less time in which to prepare the follow-up, and they were experiencing more of the "rock star" treatment. What they decided to do in planning the next album was to work out these new developments - and their reactions to them - in song form.
Interview, then, is what it says it is: a musical interview with the band. The songs are the band's responses to - we are led to assume - mostly inane questions. We do hear some questions posed by an actual journalist, Phil Sutcliffe, one of the few friends the band had in England - except, of course, for their mums and dads!
The title track opens the album and features a lot of strange sounds: an out-of-tune piano, whispers, a rubbery synth, sitar-ish guitar. The melody is jagged and in odd time, but overall it's a very strong track, with powerful organ riffs and muscular bass throughout. There is an aggressiveness here that is left over from the previous album and used to great effect.
Give It Back, improbably, is a fantastic reggae tune. A different kind of reggae, to be sure, but somehow it feels completely original and true to Gentle Giant's style. John's understated shuffling "riddim" is perfect, and the instrumental section is lovely.
Design is bizarre. Clearly searching desperately for ideas, and willing to throw in everything but the kitchen sink, Design is probably single-handedly the cause of The Missing Piece. The dozens of overdubs made it impossible to perform live and made the band decide to develop material on the road before bringing it into the studio. This necessarily simplified the group's approach to composition, and sharply curtailed their progressiveness. It's an interesting listen, and I like the percussion build-up, but in retrospect Design stands out as somewhat of a problem child.
Another Show is probably the bridge between Cogs in Cogs from The Power & the Glory and I Betcha Thought We Couldn't Do It from The Missing Piece. It's a short, balls-to-the-wall rocker with tons of energy and rock & roll feel. Another Show is a spotlight piece for Derek's shout vocals, John's powerful drumming, and Kerry's keyboard arsenal. It's almost impossible to sit still while listening to it. It should have been a single.
Empty City doesn't really fit with the album's concept, but it's a great song that also should have been a single (I'm not saying it would have been successful, but I can see hearing it on the radio). The opening is simply beautiful, with Gary and Ray on acoustic guitars. Then some of those great fragmented vocals, as on No God's a Man from The Power & the Glory. The instrumental backing in the chorus with violin, electric guitar, sax, and drums is great, too.
Timing is not my favorite song, but it has some cool sections to it, and features a wicked guitar solo by Gary. Ancillary instruments in Giant's arsenal, such as sax and violin, play prominent roles, but the melody and overall arrangement never really moved me much.
I Lost My Head is one of the all-time great Giant compositions. Part 1 opens similarly to Empty City, with light acoustic guitar lines, but this time augmented and interwoven with a keyboards (including a harpsichord or synth that sounds like one). Kerry's vocal is lovely as usual. At 2:51, a gong sounds and strong piano chords lead into Part 1, where Derek takes over the mike and delivers a classic vocal. Gary gives it his all, while Ray riffs mightily on the theme. John does his thing the way only he can do it, and the song never looks back. It is without doubt the stand-out track on the album.
Overall, Interview is a great album and its best tracks are worthy of a follow-up to Free Hand. But there wasn't quite enough to sustain the momentum, and sadly, it all went downhill from here. Even though I enjoy the last three studio albums, Interview was the end of the band as their fans had known and loved them. Playing the Fool, recorded on the Interview tour, was the exclamation point on the band's great run during the John Weathers era.
- Jason Rubin