Gentle Giant’s fifth album, In A Glass House, proved to be a major turning point for the band. Based in Portsmouth, on the south coast of England, they’d begun their recording career with cult imprint Vertigo, producing a series of classic albums whose complex and beguiling brand of prog rock earned them a loyal fan base.
An arduous tour to promote fourth album, Octopus, had been hampered by the increasingly fractious relationship that existed between sibling bandmates Derek (vocals and sax), Ray (bass) and Phil Shulman (sax). Tired of the constant bickering and the impact that a life on the road was having on his family life, Phil departed the group to resume his career as a teacher, leaving Gentle Giant as a quintet (with keyboardist Kerry Minnear, guitarist Gary Green and drummer John Weathers making up the remainder of the band). Vowing to soldier on without him, the group decamped to London’s Advision studios in July 1973 to work on a follow-up, their first for what would be a short-lived tenure with World Wide Artists.
Any worries that fans may have had about Phil’s loss were quickly assuaged by the resulting album. Based loosely on the adage “Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones”, it opens with the discordant sound of broken glass: a portent of the uncompromising contents to follow. Yet, if In A Glass House is one of Gentle Giant’s least accessible and most complex works, it also contains some of the best songwriting of their career. Songs such as ‘The Runaway’ and ‘Way Of Life’ are full of complex time changes, with multiple plays revealing myriad intriguing twists and turns. There are moments of delicate beauty too, particularly in the ethereal, magic-box qualities of ‘An Inmate’s Lullaby’ and the gentle refrains of ‘A Reunion’. Elsewhere, ‘Experience’ is an effective mix of wildly differing styles, as medieval melodies and hard rocking guitar interludes sit cheek by jowl.
Blind to the album’s qualities, Columbia, the band’s American label, cited a lack of commerciality as their reason for refusing to release it in the States. Despite this, In A Glass House racked up impressive sales of 150,000 copies as an import. Prompted by this unexpected success, the band undertook a Stateside tour, with five sold-out nights at Los Angeles’ iconic Whiskey A Go Go standing as a testament to their growing popularity. The band would build on that success with the majestic follow-up, The Power And The Glory, which was to be their last on World Wide Artists before a lengthy tenure with Chrysalis.