Few people have heard the name of Kevin Gilbert, but those who have heard his music rarely break free from its power. One of his first musical excursions was as front-man and songwriter for California-based Giraffe. This band released two albums in a very limited pressing, albums that have since been eagerly sought after treasures by Gilbert fans. These two albums have finally been re-released on one CD, though two songs have been cut from each to make it all fit onto one disc. As these songs were originally recorded in the late 80s, they are not completely free from sounding dated, but there are a surprising number of them that hold up well even today.
The sound of Giraffe is reminiscent of Lake but with bits of early Genesis, Kansas, and commercial Foreigner thrown in, all bathed in lots of 80s keyboard and electronic sounding (but real) drums. You might call it progressive power pop, if you were one to use excessive alliteration. But these songs are not the usual pop fodder as many of the songs are over five minutes long and the lyrics speak of such non-pop topics as addictions, estrangement, war, and nuclear annihilation. "Imagemaker" for instance, rails on the tendency of the music industry to mold an artist out of the shape that first made them appealing, all backed with a very intense and gutsy guitar rhythm. In "All Fall Down" Gilbert tells a story of the "end of free will" as those in power unleash nuclear weapons in response to "some understandable grudge." But the best songs on this album are the ballads for they seem to have outlasted time. "Airdance" has a haunting melody full of airy, ringing notes that float like fairy dust in this Kansas-tinged, two-part harmony song of longing. In the middle of this quiet piece is a powerful piano-driven interlude that sharply contrasts the rest of the song before returning to the main theme. In "Holding on With Both Hands" Gilbert sings that he is "ashamed to love so desperately" with such great emotion that all who hear it remember some early infatuation with amazing clarity. Fans of early Genesis and progressive pop would do well to seek out this album at www.kevingilbert.com and add these worthy songs to their collection.
This review first appeared in WhatzUp, November 2000.