Reviews & Spotlights
Gentle Giant: Civilian
As the 70's came to an end one of the more popular musical expressions of that decade faced a dilemma. The purveyors of progressive rock cut their teeth and earned a living on long form, complex and complicated music that appealed to many in the post hippie movements. But, as their fans grew up their music evolved and changed with the times and that meant more commercial, consumable and shorter songs were what the new era demanded.
So, in the spring of 1980 one of the most respected if lesser known acts in the field threw their hat in the ring with an album "Civilian" that was viewed as their final stage in a move toward a more concise and direct approach while that still maintained musical integrity. It was unique among their albums in that the material was written and recorded in North America. With a view to achieving a more streamlined feel while retaining the musical virtuosity, Gentle Giant moved temporarily to Los Angeles, where the material for "Civilian" took shape over a five-month period stretching into early 1980.
Not dissimilar from projects that would define the 80's from bands like Yes, Asia, Genesis and Kansas - this record that would ultimately prove to be Gentle Giant's last - starts off with "Convenience (Clean and Easy)", a blistering opener which focuses on the American way of life, reveals their ability to write and play in a number of styles. Although the medieval influence had lessened, the brooding magnificence of "Inside Out" and the delicate keyboard work on "Shadows on the Street", the latter reminiscent of mid-Seventies pieces such as "Freehand" and "No God's a Man", maintain the Gentle Giant tradition. Elsewhere, upbeat rock numbers are littered with the prominent motifs and complex instrumental interplay which had always characterized the band's output.
All in all, "Civilian" had a very punchy and in your face rock appeal with songs that exploded and cried out for commercial approval in the marketplace. In hindsight, perhaps the only reason this record became their swan song with Gentle Giant never becoming quite as big as some of their contemporaries is that the release pre-dated the emergence of MTV by a little over a year. That nascent network helped make bands and artists like Yes, Rush, Genesis and Peter Gabriel huge commodities in their time - whereas Gentle Giant, not so much.
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Review by Rockin' Rich Lynch |