“Half streamlined, half baroque, it wasn’t for everybody – but it hits the spot now”: Gentle Giant’s The Missing Piece gets the Steven Wilson varnish

Side one gravitates to the new era of 1977, but side two reverts to prog. It’s a reminder of how unique the band always were

Gentle Giant - Missing Piece Steven Wilson Remix
(Image: © Chrysalis)

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If 1977 saw a new generation blowing the fuddy-duddy doors off, the Shulman brothers and their peripatetically progressive squad were not willing to go gentle into any good night.

The Missing Piece, recorded in the Netherlands, was a conscious attempt to trim structural fat in order to woo bigger markets; a response to shifts in the musical landscape. While it’d be an oversell to describe it as their punk album, it winks affably at the new era, also extending the hand of friendship to radio-teasing blue-eyed soul.

At least its first half does. In a stab at being all things to all people, the old side two reverts to prog mode, or as aligned to the genre as Gentle Giant’s inimitable stylings ever were. 

Complex thrusts and contrapuntal giddiness abound. The net result, half streamlined, half baroque, meant audiences were more confused than converted, and when the band doubled down the next year with the mainstream-orientated Giant For A Day, they realised they’d tumbled down an ill-advised beanstalk.

Steven Wilson’s new remixes make an already crisp, often staccato creation even more like jabs not jams

Taken on its own terms, The Missing Piece’s bravery is galvanic, and its oddness commendable. From power chords to white-boy funk, its idiosyncrasies give off a prickly heat. Somehow, its reliance on brains doesn’t cut off the oxygen to its flesh and blood. For all the calculations, it still trips the light fantastic.

Steven Wilson’s new remixes in Dolby Atmos, stereo and 5.1 surround sound make an already crisp, often staccato creation even more like jabs not jams, while an instrumental mix simply confirms the unit’s tightness.

As side one slams through the jaunty, very XTC Two Weeks In Spain and the power ballad I’m Turning Around (like Phil Collins singing REO Speedwagon), it’s Betcha Thought We Couldn’t Do It, which – as the title suggests in neon – addresses the punk elephant in the room head on. It sounds sweet nowadays, as if a bunch of school dads entered an Eddie & The Hot Rods impersonation contest and mostly, but not entirely, smashed it. Mountain Time is more Traffic than Traffic, and swings.

That’s all dandy, but the second half is a reminder of how Gentle Giant being Gentle Giant is a unique prospect. As Old As You’re Young chucks us straight into mock medieval mischief, while Memories Of Old Days decides seven minutes isn’t too long after all and delivers a fine Derek Shulman vocal. 

Winning welcomes berserk drums, and frenetic finale For Nobody pretty much plays slivers of the whole album on shuffle. The Missing Piece wasn’t for everybody, even if that had been the plan, but it hits the spot now.

The Missing Piece: Steven Wilson Remix is on sale now in CD, vinyl and digital formats. 

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has written about music, films, and art for innumerable outlets. His new book The Velvet Underground is out April 4. He has also published books on Lou Reed, Elton John, the Gothic arts, Talk Talk, Kate Moss, Scarlett Johansson, Abba, Tom Jones and others. Among his interviewees over the years have been David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, Bryan Ferry, Al Green, Tom Waits & Lou Reed. Born in North Wales, he lives in London.