The Missing Piece review by Jason Rubin
Blame the Sex Pistols for this one. With punk taking over fashion, attitude, and music in England circa 1976-77, progressive rock was about the unhippest kind of music around. Even Robert Fripp of King Crimson had tired of it and retired his group in 1974 in order to pursue simpler, more visceral forms. Gentle Giant were torn about what to do and The Missing Piece is evidence of that. Side 1, roughly speaking, is more punky; Side 2, roughly speaking, is more progressive. In reality, the album is largely neither. While many people prefer this one to the two that followed, Giant For a Day and Civilian, at least those albums were less schizoid than The Missing Piece - the "missing piece," in fact, could be "direction."
Whatever else one might say about this album, or at least Side 1, it opens with a couple of songs that could and should have been hits. "Two Weeks in Spain" sets the sonic stage for the album with a surprisingly bright, trebly mix; rich and beefy Derek vocal; and deceptively simple rhythms by John and Ray. Kerry reverts back to primarily organ and electric piano on the album, while Gary is given the green light to go wild at will.
"I'm Turning Around" is a great power ballad with a sensitive vocal by Derek and gorgeous organ solo by Kerry. The lyrics have as much to do with the future of the group as with a relationship.
"Betcha Thought We Couldn't Do It" is probably the most controversial song Giant ever did. It's a blatant rationale for changing their style and while it's hard rocking, it still is quite a comfortable distance from punk. Probably one of Gary and John's favorite songs, as they get to push their performances to the max. Derek's vocal is perfect for the song's sentiment, but the great thing about this song is that it is mercifully short.
"Who Do You Think You Are?", I've always felt, is wildly underappreciated. I think it would have fit well on Interview. It has almost a reggae feel, and John plays around with the beat and his accents in a very inventive way. Ray's playing is right up front and it's wonderful as usual. Though only 3.5 minutes, there is a lot going on here. It's a very strong composition that is rarely talked about.
"Mountain Time" I always remember as the disappointing end to the Sight & Sound in Concert TV show on which Giant appeared. I had thought they were already done and yet they were clearly about to begin another song. "Not another from The Missing Piece, please!" I begged. But it was. "Mountain Time" is actually a decent song, but I still have some negative feelings about it because of that show. I particularly like Gary's riffs and the female background vocals (a first for the band).
Side 2 opened with "As Old As You're Young," the one and only Kerry lead vocal on the album. As he usually sings on mellower tunes, it's surprising that this one is so...well, mid-tempo, I guess. It features more interesting keyboards and synths, which clearly were toned down on this album in favor of a more straightforward sound. There is a nicely arranged vocal section that leads to an instrumental section on which Ray and Kerry shine. Derek takes over the vocals at the end, which wraps up with solo organ.
Clocking in at more than seven minutes, "Memories of Old Days" is twice the length of most of the other tunes on the album. It's not only the highlight of the album but one of the great performances by the band - and possibly the last great thing they ever did (although I really like "It's Only Goodbye" from Giant For a Day). Opening with organ and the voices of children playing, Gary and Ray present the theme on acoustic guitars. (In concert, Derek plays bass, and Kerry and John play electric guitar to present the only guitar quintet I've ever seen outside of Blue yster Cult.) This song is pure splendor and loveliness and Derek does an amazingly tender vocal.
"Winning" recalls the classic percussion extravaganzas of the past. This song, also, seems underrated to me. I guess it's just a case of throwing out the baby with the bath water. Derek's vocal sometimes gets a tad grating on this one, I find, but it's an otherwise solid group performance.
"For Nobody" is an explosive song and a wonderful album closer. Gary's leads are supremely intense, Derek's vocals are exceptional, and there are great vocalizations on the chorus. John is a one-man wrecking crew, leading the sweat-fest in style. With this song, Giant prove that they can rock with both abandon and intelligence. It should have made the general public in the UK and elsewhere take notice, but it didn't and so the group gradually became more and more commercial. In retrospect, they could have gone the other way, deciding that bowing to punk didn't work and so why not keep their loyal fandom close by returning to what they did best.
Ultimately, they did what they felt they had to, and for the most part, they did it with integrity.
- Jason Rubin