Originally released in August 1977 through Capitol Records in the United States and Chrysalis Records in the United Kingdom, The Missing Piece was Gentle Giant’s ninth studio album and now the latest to be reissued in CD/Blu-Ray format part of an acclaimed reissue campaign from the band’s label Alucard Records.

Though they tend to be lumped into the musical scene as other British art rock acts of the 1970s–such as Jethro Tull, Yes, or Renaissance–Gentle Giant’s output ranks among the most fascinating and diverse examples of “progressive” music I’ve ever heard, drawing from a myriad of unusual influences including folk, jazz, and even classical compositions. All members of the band were incredibly-skilled musicians and multi-instrumentalists, often performing not only with stringed instruments but also woodwinds, brass, synthesizers, and various forms of exotic percussion.

The Missing Piece is something of a transitional work in the band’s catalog, as side one sees them veering away from their usual eclectic sound towards more-accessible pop (“Two Weeks In Spain”), soul/funk (“Mountain Time,” “Who Do You Think You Are?”), and even punk rock (“Betcha Thought We Couldn’t Do It”) stylings. Side two quickly delves back into the experimental realm, featuring the insane percussion-laden “Winning” as well as one of the band’s most heartfelt compositions: the largely-acoustic “Memories Of Old Days.”

Despite outperforming its predecessor Interview (1976) in sales, the album’s split personality ultimately divided fans. The subsequent releases Giant For A Day! (1978) and Civilian (1980)–both of which leaned even further into their poppier side–fared even worse, with the band deciding to call it quits after their final tour in the Summer of 1980. Gentle Giant LPs aren’t terribly common in used vinyl shops around the United States, but this particular album tends to turn up more often than others–and most copies are cutouts, an indicator of poor sales at the time of release. 

Regardless of one’s opinion on the music of The Missing Piece, I think most fans would agree it represents a clear decline in sonic quality from prior releases. The 1977 LP and subsequent digital releases all sound very thin to my ears, seriously lacking weight in the rhythm section and any real low-frequency presence. Similar to his recent work on Ultravox’s Quartet (1982), Steven Wilson’s remix supercharges the bass and drums–replacing the bland aesthetic of the original version with a punchy and vibrant new sound. Right from the opening notes of “Two Weeks In Spain,” it’s immediately clear that the album has been transformed for the better.

"I don’t know why the original mix sounded so thin, because the multitrack recording was great. All of side one, with the exception of the punk pastiche, is Gentle Giant playing progressive pop and they do it brilliantly. So I’ve always been a fan of [The Missing Piece]."

Steven Wilson, February 2024

Though The Missing Piece isn’t as densely layered as other Gentle Giant albums like 1975’s Free Hand or 1974’s The Power and the Glory, the album nonetheless translates nicely to 5.1 surround sound and Dolby Atmos. Both immersive mixes reveal hidden complexities to the production, often separating out ancillary elements such as keyboards, rhythm guitars, percussion, and double-tracked vocals into the additional speakers.

“Two Weeks In Spain” spreads out the interlocking guitar parts between the front and rear channels, while Kerry Minnear’s keys fill out the side surrounds and Derek Shulman’s voice protrudes from the center speaker. The cowbell wildly roves around the top array, with the height speakers additionally supplied double-tracked vocals and the short synthesizer solo midway through.

I’d initially felt that the power ballad “I’m Turning Around” came off as somewhat corny, but the new mix infuses it with a newfound power and majesty. Double-tracked vocals pop up from behind for the chorus, with the delays swirling around the height array and rhythm guitar licks popping out of the front speakers. 

Unfortunately, the punk pastiche “Betcha Thought We Couldn’t Do It” still feels like a bit of a misfire–despite the improved sonics and entertaining immersive mixing. That said, the band quickly gets back on track with the funky “Who Do You Think You Are?” John Weathers’ drum kit fills up the listening space at ear level, with double-tracked vocals again suspended directly above the lead vocal in the center and piano taking up the rear.

Piano spans the left side of the soundstage for the intro “Mountain Time,” while keys pop out of the rear surrounds and backing vocals extend from the side speakers up into the height array. Side two then begins with “As Old As You’re Young,” Kerry Minnear’s only lead vocal on the album. Chimes travel overhead, with harmonies taking up residence in the rear height speakers. There’s a particularly fun moment towards the end of the song where the backing vocals move first from side left to side right and finally end up centered in the rears.

The ambient sounds of children playing fade in from overhead in “Memories Of Old Days,” soon accompanied by sparkling acoustic guitars that emit their reverbs rear-ward. The ARP synthesizer (or is it a theremin?) appears centered in the rear surrounds, directly opposite Derek Shulman’s center channel lead vocal.

From an immersive standpoint, “Winning” would have to be the standout track on the album. This song simply has to be heard in Dolby Atmos–even the 5.1 mix doesn't quite do it full justice. Percussion dances around the top speakers, with the rest of the band quickly fading in from below. Guitars and keyboard duel each other front-to-back as the drums roll all around the room and Derek Shulman’s voice commands the center speaker. At around the three-minute mark, the tom-toms wildly swing between the side speakers in tandem with the percussive racket overhead.

Perhaps the most iconic and unique aspect of Gentle Giant are the multi-part fugue-like harmonies and a capella vocal rounds showcased in songs like “Knots,” “On Reflection,” and “Design.” This is one element I found sorely lacking throughout The Missing Piece, as only the closing track “For Nobody” really features these fun vocal acrobatics. Shulman’s lead vocal stays locked to the center speaker, while the group harmony vocals hover between the rears and rear heights.

Though the remix reveals that the album was actually recorded quite well, there are a few spots of distortion–most notably in some of the guitar licks during “I’m Turning Around” and the organ in “As Old As You’re Young.” The lead vocals throughout “Betcha Thought We Couldn’t Do It” also seem to be ‘in the red’ at times.

Overall, the new CD/Blu-Ray edition of The Missing Piece makes for another first-class entry in Alucard Music’s ongoing Gentle Giant reissue series. Out of all the Giant albums that Wilson has remixed thus far, I’d argue this definitely represents the biggest improvement over an original release. It will be interesting to see if the band’s final two albums also receive the remix treatment in the coming years, or if they see fit to go back and commission Atmos mixes of some of the older titles that were already released in 5.1 (such as The Power and the Glory and Octopus).

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About the Author
Jonathan is an audio engineering enthusiast from New York with a passion for immersive audio, having amassed a formidable collection of multichannel optical discs and quadraphonic vinyl. He earned his undergraduate degree in Television-Radio from Ithaca College and Master's degree in Audio Technology from American University.