40 Years Ago: Gentle Giant Release ‘The Power And The Glory’
In 1974, British progressive rock band Gentle Giant were in a peculiar groove, and we’re not just talking about their time signatures here.
A year prior, vocalist and saxophonist Phil Shuman – one of the three brothers who made up half of the sextet – decided to quit after a tour of Italy. "It was kind of traumatic because this was my brother leaving the group," says fellow Gentle Giant vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Derek Shulman in an exclusive interview for Ultimate Classic Rock. "We weren’t sure what we were going to do, but what transpired was a much more cohesive sound and a much more integrated sound and more of a rock sound rather than showing off all our virtuosity as usual."
After Phil’s departure, the band recorded ‘In a Glass House’ and it was released in the fall of 1973. ‘In a Glass House’ was a very spiky album, one Shulman calls "neurotic" today, "probably because we were trying to find ourselves as a new entity since we had been on the road for four years with my brother."
Despite its availability in the U.S. only as an import due to Columbia deeming the record too uncommercial, their tour of America went well, and the band reconvened in the U.K to record their next album, ‘The Power and the Glory’, which saw release in the summer of 1974. The record found the band going further into the realm of streamlining their sound while still challenging the norms of standard song structure.
In perfect '70s prog rock fashion, a loose concept was hatched for the album prior to recording. "At the time, the Watergate scandal was happening," recalls Derek. "The Cold War issues were coming to a head. The concept for the album was based on the corruption of power and how people on the bottom are affected by the people on top. Money and power will win no matter what and the people that are hoping for the best won’t usually get the best. The label we were on at that time, WWA, was an imprint of Vertigo. Vertigo was a fully owned company of Phonogram which is Polygram which is now Universal which will probably be GE in a week which is going to be the government soon enough. So there’s the corruption of power right there! The power and the glory! Again! Still to this day!"
The actual recording of ‘The Power and the Glory’ went on with no trouble as Derek recollects. "It was quite an easy record to put together. Some records stick out as being difficult and some stick out as they flowed really well. This one flowed because I think we were well rehearsed and we were realizing our potential and it showed quite well on this album."
As far as personal favorite tracks from the album, Shulman mentions ‘Playing the Game’ as a fun one to put together in the studio, especially the off-kilter intro the song has, complete with a ringing telephone. "We knew what we wanted as far as the rhythm but we didn’t know really what to play," Derek recollects. "But we discovered in the studio hitting a violin with a drumstick and hitting the same notes on a marimba or a vibraphone was a perfect combination of percussiveness. The counterpoint of a violin being hit with a drum stick and the vibraphone as a rhythm pattern I think is quite clever. Those were the ways we would improvise in the studio."
When asked where he thinks ‘The Power and the Glory’ sits in the catalog of 11 albums Gentle Giant released in their 10-year existence, Derek pets his beard with the back of his hand, gazes out a second and says, "I think it’s part of the culmination of what Gentle Giant had become. A band has to go through the same processes as a person. A band is born, has a childhood and then goes into adulthood. I think we became an adult on ‘The Power and the Glory’. It was Gentle Giant becoming adults and the culmination of the best of our musicianship coming together as a band; it was a golden period for the band. Not to say any period before or after was better or worse, but it was a good period in being creative musically while gaining fan acceptance."
On July 21, a 40th anniversary CD/Blu-ray edition of ‘The Power and the Glory’ is being released on the band’s own Alucard imprint that comes with a complete remix of the album by Porcupine Tree’s Steve Wilson. "Steve went in and went track-by-track and came out with something that sounds almost like a whole new album," says Derek in shocked enthusiasm. One earful of the re-mixed version of the record proves one thing: ‘The Power and the Glory’ is a record that still manages to be an invigorating and challenging listen which still yields much sonic gold.
The re-issue of 'The Power and the Glory' is available for pre-order at Burning Shed.
Listen to Gentle Giant's 'The Power and the Glory'