Tuesday, July 24, 2018

The Power and the Glory - Gentle Giant and Steven Wilson

When asked about the Steven Wilson's involvement in the remix of The Power and the Glory, Gentle Giant frontman, Derek Shulman, had this to say: "Well, he got himself involved with us actually, because he is obviously a fan, or had been a fan of the group since he started his own band, Porcupine Tree. In fact my brother Ray had worked with him on various projects outside of Porcupine Tree, on remixes. And he had been asking my brother, who lives in London by the way, 'Please let me have a shot at least something that you've done.' And we said, 'Okay, we've got The Power and the Glory. You want a shot?' And he said, 'Absolutely. I’d love to do this.' So he volunteered to basically remix the whole record of his own volition. And not really make it different, but add his touches that we probably missed when we first mixed the record and put it together. So it was pretty true to what was originally recorded and mixed. He put some low end and mid ranged equalization in his mixing for the kick drum and bass guitar, et cetera, et cetera. It was him wanting to work with us and the music we had. And thankfully we still had the 24 tracks and let him loose."

On the new mix: "Actually I quite like the original. The fact that someone wants to touch something that’s this old, I feel is quite ego stroking for us in that respect. But the original way it was done was one of the easiest albums we did. And I think he just embellished the sound. For my ears and I think the group’s ears it was certainly a record which sounded fairly decent, even for back in the day. Obviously there were no electronics. It was all played by ourselves and no time signatures, or machines playing the instruments. This was us. So it didn't differ. His remix of all the tracks didn’t differ that much from, as I said, the original version. But what he did was embellish the equalization. There's some parts which we probably missed, because we wanted to get it out and go tour. So it was pretty true to what the original version was."

Ray Shulman: "Over the last few years we’d been asked by a number of people whether they could mix our albums in surround. We were always reluctant until Steven approached us. Having authored some of his other Blu-rays and DVDs I was very familiar with his work. What's great is that he pays a lot of respect to the original mix in terms of balance and tone but by spreading it around the available sound field, in such a creative way, it gives it a new life and I would think even listeners already familiar with the album would get a new perspective on the arrangements. Hopefully you can tell I’m pleased."

Kerry Minnear: :"I enjoyed Steve's stereo mix of The Power and The Glory  very much finding him to be able to 'beef things up' but keeping the original instrumental sounds clear and vibrant. I don't have a 5.1 system but I imagine that in that medium the counterpoint and part sharing in the music will be great to experience. I'm saving up for a new system just so I can hear it!"

Derek Shulman: "I was happy that Steven respected the sonic quality of original mixes. He 'tweaked' parts of the low end of the drums and bass and made slight adjustments to levels of the bass and kick drum. Overall I was very happy with Steven’s work on the album."

For this writer, Gentle Giant's modesty and indeed their pride of self minimalizes the transformation from genre defining to genre defining and technically masterful. Often what keeps an LP from attaining top AM status is the quality of sound reproduction. Wilson's mix indeed transforms The Power and the Glory into one of the premiere LPs of the 70s prog era.

RE: the music itself, the first track, "Proclamation", is a chilling piece about the rise of a "benevolent" dictator to power, promising to solve the country's problems. The piano line and the sound effects (of a large crowd shouting "hail!") as well as the lyrics, evoke images of a Hitler or a Mussolini masterfully manipulating a crowd with pageantry and rousing speeches. The second track, "So Sincere," is a complex masterpiece of minimalism. It suggests the work of some modern classical composers - arrhythmical, non-melodic, and challenging (Nico Muhly comes to mind). The third track, "Aspirations", shifts gears into a mellow, keyboard-based ballad that is nonetheless emotionally powerful to listen to. "Playing the Game" is a rocker that incorporates Oriental musical influences as well. The mix works wonderfully; this may be the best track on the entire album (though I'm a sucker for "Aspirations" and Kerry Minnear in general). "Cogs in Cogs" is another rocker, successfully using rock instruments to evoke images of machinery as a metaphor for a totalitarian society. While not as obvious as today's industrial music based on totalitarian conceptual themes (e.g. Laibach), in the context of the 70s this song works as intended. The next two tracks, "No Gods a Man" and "The Face", depict cracks beginning to appear in the totalitarian regime, while the final track, "Valedictory", is musically a repeat of the opening track but with the lyrics about the dictator trying desperately to hold onto power even as it crumbles around him. Even Gentle Giant outdid themselves here. The Wilson mix elevates the LP from an AM7 to an AM8.