Bee Gees – 2 Years On

If Cucumber Castle was hyperbolic, 2 Years On is pervaded with an insipid feel and, for me, a sense of disappointment and anti-climax.  They got back together – for this?  Had the brothers used up their stock of quality material on their 1970 solo albums?  Perhaps but thankfully, as it turns out, they were also stock-piling for 1971’s Trafalgar.

Off their high horses

It’s clear the Bee Gees weren’t going to get back on their art-pop high horses to continue where Odessa left off.  Given the splintering in rock which had grown into a chasm during that 1969/70 hiatus, it just wouldn’t have been a credible move.  Indeed, the low-key feel of 2 Years On can be heard as a deliberate antidote to the ‘excesses’ (which I would argue were not excesses at all) of their red-velvet high watermark.  Only Lonely Days (the album’s only single) feels vital and attention grabbing here, though being just short of a Beatles‘ pastiche it is hardly impressively original.

For once, Bill Shepherd’s arrangements seem to suck the life out of the (fairly lifeless) songs.  Most are slow paced and sometimes over-stretched; The First Mistake I Ever Made is a repeat offender.

We have so-so country (Portrait of Louise), a would-be weepie (Tell Me Why) whilst the raw, lively though slightly out-of-place tour blues lament Back Home is annoyingly allowed to dissipate.  2 Years On might have worked in Robin’s Sing Slowly Sisters style but as an album opener it’s just uninspiring and meandering (nice chorale prequel though).  Sincere Relation is Robin at his most eccentric but with its gravely portentous ‘but then he died …’ can’t make me feel much – a shame as I sense it’s probably a most personal piece.  Robin’s contributions generally come off worst of the three.

Sub-prime Bee Gees

Hearing 2 Years On makes me long for the clipped precision of songs such as Lemons Never Forget.  The album actually feels most successful at its most incongruous – the stripped-down Back Home, the swampy Every Second, Every Minute (mimicking 1968’s The Earnest of Being George) and rootsy Lay It On Me which playfully hints at Maurice’s drink problem.  But these diversions into sub-prime Bee Gees territory often feel more forced than earlier excursions such as Lemons Never Forget (why do I keep coming back to that song?)

The brothers are in good voice and of course it’s great to hear them harmonising again but this hardly trumpets a return to form let alone an inspirational new departure.  Overall 2 Years On lacks identity, feels pedestrian and fails to create much in the way of atmosphere.

Already two albums into the new decade but it seems as if the Bee Gees are adrift in the 70s.  Thankfully they get it together on Trafalgar.

 


2 Years On [1970]

Bee Gees - 2 Years On

Side 1
2 Years On
Portrait of Louise
Man For All Seasons
Sincere Relation
Back Home
The First Mistake I Made

Side 2
Lonely Days
Alone Again
Tell Me Why
Lay It On Me
Every Second, Every Minute
I’m Weeping

 


Singles 1970 [related to Two Years On]

Lonely Days
Man For All Seasons


-> Trafalgar
<- Cucumber Castle

 

Bee Gees Top 50 1966-72
Bee Gees Home Page

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Bee Gees – Cucumber Castle

High drama meets sock-it-to-me sentiment in big productions numbers.  The Bee Gees may be down to a duo but what they lack in manpower they make up for by delivering an onslaught of thick, multi-layered, multi-tracked, cavernous sound.

Cucumber Castle is moderately enjoyable as a genre-pastiche album, the genre being a kind of schlocky, Spectoresque take on country but it’s too dripping with sentiment to truly engage.  Talk about over egging the pudding…  And most worryingly, the songwriting has gone down a couple of notches as well.

Lacquered emotion

If Only I Had My Mind on Something Else is an uncharacteristically reflective, unassuming opener but thereafter we’re mostly drowning in choirs, horns and oodles of emotion.  I Lay Down and Die plasters it on so lavishly you have to admire its bravado whilst Bury Me Down by the River successfully marries a dark lyric to an instantly singalong, though somewhat generic, gospel-country melody.  I prefer to end the album with Turning Tide reaching out to Trafalgar so as to avoid the lacquered emotion of Don’t Forget to Remember.

My problem with Cucumber Castle is that it unashamedly pulls out all the stops for massive and massively sentimental ballads, providing the band’s detractors with all the ammunition they need for decrying the Bee Gees as appealing to bored, middle-aged housewives.  In contrast, Odessa carries sentimentality aloft amidst waves of unabashed grandeur, the orchestration aspiring to splendour not whipped up ersatz cream.  If there is a link between the two albums it is First of May which just about works within the context of Odessa but alarmingly signals the degree to which the brothers were prepared to ratchet up the sentimentality.

Cucumber Castle tires you the more you hear it.  And the stark corrective of Robin’s contributions are missed.


Cucumber Castle [1970]

Side 1
If Only I Had My Mind on Something Else
I.O.I.O.
Then You Left Me
The Lord

I Was the Child
I Lay Down and Die

Side 2
Sweetheart
Bury Me Down By the River
My Thing
The Chance of Love
Turning Tide
Don’t Forget to Remember

 


Singles 1969/70 [related to Cucumber Castle]

Don’t Forget to Remember
The Lord

If Only I Had My Mind on Something Else
Sweetheart

I.O.I.O.
Sweetheart


Unreleased 1969/70

Who Knows What a Room Is


-> 2 Years On
<- Odessa 

Bee Gees Top 50 1966-72
Bee Gees’ Home Page

Bobby Goldsboro – Look Around You (It’s Christmas Time)

The 60s are relatively bereft of Christmas pop which has stayed the course fifty years on.  The exceptions are The Beach Boys Christmas Album and Phil Spector’s A Christmas Gift From You though even The Beach Boys’ Little Saint Nick is not heard with anything like the ubiquity of offerings from the 70s (you know which ones).

Looking to see what has been forgotten, I came across Look Around You (It’s Christmas Time), a chugging, self-penned 1968 single by Bobby Goldsboro with a Jimmy Webb/Glen Campbell feel.

 

 

Conscience at Christmas 

What’s interesting is Goldboro’s take on 60s’ social conscience given a seasonal twist.

The lyrics paint a dismal, dysfunctional picture of plastic trees, empty churches and a one armed beggar selling pencils for a dime.

The twin contemporary evils are materialism and alcohol, especially the latter:

We will deck the halls with holly if we make it off the floor.

Sometimes the social commentary is heavy handed, bordering on the unintentionally comic:

Santa Claus on every corner
As he braves the winter night
Bells are ringing in his left hand
And a bottle in his right.

Yet despite the imploring title, the message is ultimately reassuring: to simply remember the true meaning of Christmas.

I don’t think this obscurity is about to be revived anytime soon but it’s interesting to discover a piece which sits a little differently alongside Bobby Goldboro’s resolutely conservative back catalogue.

Odessa – unlistenable?

I’m dumbfounded by David N. Meyer’s assertion that Odessa is ‘sentimental and derivative, harder to sit through than “Number 9” on the White Album’.*

First of May is a far more obvious candidate for the ‘sentimental’ tag with its oodles of strings and full blown nostalgic appeal to never-ending love.  And as for derivative, derivative of what precisely?

He also describes Odessa as ‘pretentious and unlistenable.’*  I can understand the ‘pretentious’ label because Odessa is straining at the leash of the three minute pop song; it’s a deliberate attempt to reach for new territories and one can argue about whether it succeeds.  But ‘unlistenable’ is harder to stomach when Meyer reserves his highest praise for Robin’s pained and frankly painful Avalanche, a brave experiment in emotional catharsis, possibly but hard to endure.

* David N. Meyer, The Bee Gees: the biography (2013) pages 80/82.

Odessa album review

Bee Gees – Odessa

The Bee Gees’ red velvet masterpeace (sic) brims with drama and melodrama.

Side 1 forms the core of a concept album of sorts, far-reaching yet highly personal, albeit in the brothers’ characteristically oblique fashion.

Then side 2 takes us on a wholly unexpected diversion – five songs in styles vastly different from what has gone before and from each other kicking off with the languid Marley Purt Drive (a competent but unimaginative Band tribute/rip-off) and wrapped up by the startling Whisper, Whisper – teetering melody, stoner vocal, slyly knowing late 60s in-referencing.

Forgotten concept

On sides 3 and 4, Seven Seas Symphony, With All Nations and finale The British Opera attempt, like some remonstrative baton-tapping conductor, to restore some semblance of over-arching order.  We’ve probably forgotten whatever concept there was by then anyway and perhaps that’s the point – the lushness, the grandiosity, the sheer sumptuous magnificence and the emotions conveyed – are the concept.

At times, Odessa barely feels like a rock album at all, not even a rock opera album.  The title track is almost devoid of conventional pop/rock elements and the theatrical Lamplight luxuriates in conservatism.

Magisterial

One thing hugely in the album’s favour is that, although epic and magisterial, only rarely is Odessa pompous (the choral/instrumental tracks and then knowingly so) and never is it dull.  The whole edifice hangs together with a certain strange splendour.

Far from fading with passing years, time has actually lent that red velvet a lustre in the eyes of fans and critics it never acquired at the time. Only now can Odessa’s unique delights take their place alongside the great albums of a great year in rock.


Odessa [1969]

Side 1
Odessa (City on the Black Sea)
You’ll Never See My Face Again
Black Diamond

Side 2
Marley Purt Drive
Edison
Melody Fair
Suddenly
Whisper, Whisper

Side 3
Lamplight
Sound of Love
Give Your Best
Seven Seas Symphony
With All Nations (International Anthem)

Side 4
I Laugh In Your Face
Never Say Never Again
First Of May
The British Opera


Singles 1969 [related to Odessa]

First Of May
Lamplight

Tomorrow, Tomorrow
Sun In My Morning


Unreleased 1969

Nobody’s Someone
Pity

* released on Odessa Rhino reissue, 2009


-> Two Years On
<- Idea

Bee Gees Top 50 1966-72
Bee Gees’ Home Page

Carole Bayer Sager

Embed from Getty Images

 

Well hello again, good old friend of mine…

Some albums seem to follow you around as if they have chosen you rather than you them.  When you’re asked “What kind of music do you like?” they don’t leap to the front of the queue, indeed they’re more likely shrink to the back, tail between legs.  The phrase ‘guilty pleasure’ springs to mind.

The album which exemplifies this for me is Carole Bayer Sager’s 1977 eponymous LP.  I can never quite embrace it, there’s some unaccountable resistance on my part.  Yet I feel it embraces me.

Constant companion

Carole Bayer Sager has always been there for me through thick and thin.  I don’t read anything especially profound into the songs and there are no hidden layers of meaning.  Maybe the album is a kind of comfort blanket.  The opening and closing tracks, Come In From the Rain and Home to Myself,  certainly encourage this.

Carole sings to me only when no one else is around.  That’s partly born out of necessity yet it’s given the album a kind of intimacy like no other.

I’ll play it when I’m preparing dinner.  The ritual is familiar: uncork to Come In From the Rain, chop vegetables Until the Next Time, pasta in the pan to Sweet Alibis – dig that guitar break – and singing along to all ten tracks bar one: I’ve never enjoyed the chugging, discolite Don’t Wish Too Hard.

I actually like her voice, it never grates.  I hear a cooing little girl and a cracked, mature woman in one.  On her later albums her voice has ‘improved’ but her personality and charm is diminished.

The other Carole

The songs are mostly piano based and I’d long assumed that it was Carole at the keyboard aka Carole King.  So it came as a surprise to learn that this is not the case.

Perhaps I wanted to hear the album as a kind of singer-songwriter confessional.  If you had no idea who Carole Bayer Sager was (and is) and simply play the album, it does work that way.  She never attempted a Carole King style reinvention and 1977 was a little late to board the singer-songwriter bandwagon.  Bayer-Sager lacks King’s woody soulfulness and her themes are too resolutely romantic unless you want to posit You’re Moving Out Today as social commentary.

On examining the writing credits, the other discovery I made was that all the songs are co-written – with Melissa Manchester, Johnny Vastanao, Marvin Hamlisch, Bruce Roberts and Bette Midler.  Perhaps this belies the singularity of the album’s title.  Bayer-Sager is described as a lyricist before she is described as a songwriter and I’ve found it impossible to ascertain the division of labour.

So somewhat disavowed of my romanticism, I see that the album is essentially a vehicle for a highly successful, mainstream writer to showcase her compositions with a little help from her friends.  Which does nothing to curtail my enjoyment.

Oh Carole!

Embed from Getty Images

 

Carole Bayer Sager, whilst likable and well crafted, isn’t sophisticated or cool.  The best of her work is perhaps seen as on a par with post-prime Bacharach (there’s a wonderfully indiscreet tale about how their marriage ended in her recently published autobiography – the woman has the driest sense of humour).

She moves into boring, international AOR territory with the 80s and 90s and the personality is lost.  Yet I’d Rather Leave While I’m In Love is a fine song from a singular standpoint.  Try Dusty Springfield‘s version if you find Carole’s just a tad too croaky.

I’m playing her song

It was the ’77 novelty (let’s call it that) hit You’re Moving Out Today which drew me to the album when I pulled it out of some long forgotten early 90s bargain bin.  The song is untypical – overtly humorous and uptempo with a slightly 20s feel.  It evokes the affluent, liberal lifestyle of mid 70s LA more strongly than any other I know – the kookiness, the kinkiness, the Tales of the City  bedhopping lifestyle.

I suspect that it might be co-writer Bette Midler who provided the rubber hose, funny cigarettes and leaky water bed.  The lyrics are daft yet I would be hard pushed to say they are good in a formal sense.  They’re clever but undeniably cheesy.  Who can resist the abandon of ‘pack up your rubber duck, I’d like to wish you luck’?  It’s this unabashed quirkiness which is so missing from her second and third solo albums.  They’re bland but it doesn’t matter.  She isn’t the kind of artist where you need to take on the complete works.

Home to myself

When I moved house last year there came several occasions over a period of months when I observed the new place feeling like my own, as if I were sinking comfortably into it.

One was when I played Carole Bayer Sager for the first time.  Doing so breathed a kind of warm, easy familiarity into the air.  I uncorked the Merlot and poured myself a glass.  Comin’ home to myself again.

It’s taken twenty-five years but Carole, I embrace you.

Embed from Getty Images

 

Another Cold and Windy Day

Another Cold and Windy Day may have been only a promotional piece for Coke but it bares all the hallmarks of the Bee Gees’ melodic melancholia at its best (let’s, for the moment, overlook the small matter of the chorus lyrics: ‘Things go better with Coca Cola’).  It’s surprising that the drinks’ manufacturer wanted to link their product to such a sad, introverted little piece even if it does market Coke as some kind of panacea for Winter depression.

Hearing Another Cold and Windy Day makes me realise it’s this melancholic quality – plentiful on Horizontal – which is what’s missing from Side 1 of Idea.  I’d substitute Robin’s somewhat flat ballad In the Summer of His Years for a deCoked Another Cold and Windy Day any day.

Given the song’s likely recording date of late 1967/early 1968, I’m surprised to find Rhino filed it  under their Idea rerelease.  It’s overall sound – harpsichord, cellos – suggests a Horizontal sensibility.