[Review] Gentle Giant: In a Glass House (1973)

Slimmed down slightly to a quintet, the band still manages to weave complex tapestries of sound.

Kronomyth 5.0: And yet my joy is empty and sad.

Gentle Giant empties out their bag of musical tricks, but you’ve heard them all before: the dizzying patterns, multipart harmonies, multi-instrument juggling, the rock and roll machinery under siege by an army of wrench-wielding saboteurs. With brother Phil Shulman leaving the fold, the band’s last bit of restraint seems to have gone with him, resulting in a more aggressive approach this time. Some have called In a Glass House a noisy album, and certainly it starts and ends that way, but what I hear is a brilliant band chasing its own tail. The same might have been said of Jethro Tull’s A Passion Play, an album with shared sensibilities.

Although the album doesn’t set itself up as a concept album the way that Three Friends did, similar themes reappear. Different people experience the world differently, age brings understanding and old friends reunite. Along the way, we’re treated to various acrobatic acts of musicianship, from the tightly wound (The Runaway), to the cleverly knotted (An Inmates Lullaby) to the graceful and beautiful (A Reunion). You’ve seen these stunts before on earlier albums; you won’t mind seeing them again.

My complaint with In a Glass House has less to do with the music and more to do with the marketing. The album cover is horribly dull and the album wasn’t even released in the US. I don’t know how much the new label (World Wide Artists) was to blame for poor execution, but the idea of a Gentle Giant album not being released in the U.S. at this stage in their career is unconscionable. I mean, our taste for music isn’t that bad.

For American audiences, then, In a Glass House is an outlier. Fans will want to make the effort of acquiring at least a taste of it, although you won’t find any new flavors. Personally, I prefer the concept albums before (Three Friends) and after (The Power and the Glory), with In a Glass House leaning closer to the latter as they’re both a little louder.

Original elpee version

A1. The Runaway (7:24)
A2. An Inmates Lullaby (4:27)
A3. Way of Life (7:45)
B1. Experience (7:47)
B2. A Reunion (2:08)
B3. In a Glass House (7:41)
B4. Index (0:20)

All compositions by Derek Shulman, Ray Shulman and Kerry Minnear.

CD reissue bonus tracks
7. The Runaway/Experience (live in Düsseldorf 23rd September 1976)
8. In a Glass House (Münster 5th April 1974)

The Players

Gary Green (6 & 12 string guitars, mandolin, percussion, alto recorder), Kerry Minnear (all keyboards, tune percussion, recorder, vocals), Derek Shulman (vocals, alto and soprano sax, recorder), Ray Shulman (bass guitar, violin, acoustic guitar, percussion, backing vocals), John Weathers (drums and percussion). Produced by Gentle Giant; engineered by Gary Martin; tape operated by Paul Hardingham.

The Pictures

Photography by Martyn Dean.

The Plastic

Released on elpee in September 1973* in the UK (WWA, WWA 002) and Chile and Germany (Vertigo, 6366 100) with diecut cover and lyrics innersleeve. (*First appeared in 9/13/73 issue of New Musical Express.)

  1. Re-issued on compact disc in 1992 in the UK (Terrapin Trucking, TRUCK CD 001).
  2. Re-released on expanded compact disc in 2000 in the UK (Alucard, alu-gg-02) with 2 bonus tracks.

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