Giant for a Day review by Jason Rubin
Although widely criticized by Gentle Giant fans (as much for the album cover art as for the music within), Giant for a Day offers perhaps the broadest range of styles of any Giant album. If saying that it's probably not as bad as you think sounds like the faintest of praise, at least consider that complete dismissal of this album robs Giant fans of a number of fine performances.
As personal background, Giant For a Day was the first Gentle Giant album I had ever heard or owned. I was turned on to it after seeing the videos for "Words From the Wise" and the title track on Don Kirschner's Rock Concert. A Beach Boys fan, I was watching this particular program because Jan and Dean were going to be on. As it turned out, they were last on the show, so I had to watch the whole show, and when the Giant tunes aired, I was floored. I had never heard vocals like that (and as a Beach Boys fan, I was always focused on vocal arrangements). I decided to check it out. A few months later, I met a guy, a musician, who turned me on to Giant's previous albums (along with King Crimson and Chick Corea).
To be sure, there have been times in my life as a Giant fan that I have been annoyed or at least disinterested in Giant For a Day. But lately, I've come to a new appreciation for it - independent from the actual or perceived "need" on the part of some Giant members to become more commercial. I think it's a good album on its own merits.
"Words From the Wise" is a great opener for the album, with unison a capella vocals leading into a fairly funky groove. On this track, as on the rest of the album, Derek is in wonderful voice, with perfect tone throughout his range. (At this point, it's worthwhile to point out that a significant mark against this album is the exclusion of any Kerry lead vocals.)
"Thank You" features simple acoustic guitar, but it's full, lush, and wonderfully recorded. I've wondered if Ray accompanied Gary on guitar, it's so rich-sounding. The melodic chorus and John's fat tom-tom runs keep the otherwise-spare track interesting.
"Giant For a Day" is rife with the band's personality, with witty topical lyrics, echo effects, and a gradually building yet always minimalist instrumental backing. Kerry has some playful synth riffs and Gary nails the lead guitar lines throughout.
"Spooky Boogie," the first Giant instrumental since "Talybont" from Free Hand, has become a Halloween party staple for me over the years. Kerry's eerie organ and synth work is wonderful. Either he or John plays marimba, which adds considerable color to the choruses. It's short, maybe even a little kitschy, but it's a fun little tune.
"Take Me" is a simple song on the surface, but the dynamics, atmospheric production, and rich vocals on the choruses infuse a complexity that makes it irresistible. Ray's classic bass sound and style are clearly evident.
"Little Brown Bag" is one of two full-tilt rockers on the album. Derek's voice is a little harsh on this track at times. You can tell that Gary and John are having fun, but this is probably my least favorite Giant track.
"Friends" is a lovely song, plain and simple. Written and sung by John, it's gentle but not at all sappy or stupid. I even put it on a tape for my daughter when she was born. Nice acoustic work by Gary.
"No Stranger" is not unlike "Take Me:" atmospheric, minimalist, and highly listenable. Unfortunately, it's too short. Just when it comes to a point where you would expect a solo or a middle eight, it ends. If the band had developed the song more, it could have been a winner.
"It's Only Goodbye" is my favorite song on the album, and one of the great guitar-driven power ballads of all time, in my opinion. Derek's vocal is perfect and Gary's wailing leads are breathtaking. Kerry's involvement seems limited to understated piano, but the song overall is very well-written and wonderfully performed. This is the one song on the album where they gave themselves room to stretch out, and they take advantage of it - especially Gary.
"Rock Climber," the other full-tilt rocker, closes the album with a thud. While it's a fairly mindless retread of the starfucker groupie theme done more effectively by other artists (even the Monkees' "Star Collector" is better), the tune is actually more complex than most of the cuts on the album and features more searing guitar work by Gary. John's on his toes, as well.
In summary, I find Giant For a Day an enjoyable album. It's not among their best, but then that's a pretty tall order for any musical work. It's more consistent than its predecessor, The Missing Piece, and yet has more texture than its follow-up, Civilian. Whatever your traditional opinion of it, one more listen with an open mind will surely upgrade your appreciation of this much-maligned effort.
- Jason Rubin