A trial package for Scraping the Barrel, Under Construction maps out the formula: immaculately restored outs and oddments, audio sample archive, wee booklet complete with photos of the lads smoking cigarettes right next to mixing consoles, thereby guaranteeing that – once the technology became available – there would in fact be stuff to restore.
Excluding the sample archive there are 43 mostly snippet-duration bits and pieces here comprising demos and takes that date from just before their first album to very near the end. "Freedoms Child" (Plural? Possessive? Did someone hate our freedoms even back then?) appears to be the earliest, an inconsequential ballad-ish song recorded in 1968 it appears first as a finished piece, last as a demo and is interesting only in its vast stylistic distance from what would eventually become Gentle Giant. In fact, the first disc of this two CD box is mostly filled with feeling-their-way efforts, just scratching out some simple tunes and arrangements that sound derivative of any number of the stylistic ticks and twitches in circulation during the closing years of the 1960s.
The second disc covers more familiar ground, with outs and demos from Acquiring the Taste, Three Friends, Octopus, Glass House, Power and the Glory, Free Hand and Interview. There is a knack on display for laying bare certain compositional elements that is interesting, but never as clearly in view as the same, more exhaustive exercise perfected on Scraping the Barrel. As such, the resultant feel is collage like, but never as deliberate and convincing as, say, The Faust Tapes manages to be. The whimsy and free-spirited assemblage that is Under Construction feels somewhat stilted and forced, like it still is under construction. And that probably means the fragments here assembled mean the most to those who participated in creating both its constituent parts and the resultant amalgam.
In the end you would almost wish that the few more interesting and better pieces that comprise the scant highlights of Under Construction had simply been gently and lovingly inserted into the younger, smoother and more robust body of Scraping the Barrel. Of all the elements that contribute to the remarkable work engendered by Gentle Giant, Under Construction is probably the least compelling.