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
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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

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

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.

Bee Gees – Idea

The first Bee Gees album which fails to satisfy yet two of their all-time killer songs are to be found here.

Unlike its late 60s counterparts, Idea lacks coherency.  1st fizzes with quirky likeability, Horizontal explores new territories and Odessa luxuriates in ambitious orchestral grandeur.  But Idea?  Well what was the idea apart from producing another outlet for Bee Gees’ songs?  Probably just that.  Given the pace at which the brothers were working at the time, it’s not surprising that about half of Idea sounds like set aside material.

Two sided

Idea is an album of two sides in more than just the literal sense.

Side One is largely content to tread water.  We have the swooning, overly lush concoction Let There Be Love (though wonderful sostenuto vocals), the folk/country-lite of Kitty Can, a heartfelt though merely pleasant ballad from Robin (In the Summer of His Years – in memory of Brian Epstein) and the enjoyable while it lasts Indian Gin and Whiskey DryDown to Earth is hugely promising but criminally under-developed (did David Bowie ever hear it?).  Vince gets his sole bite of the cherry on Such a Shame but his guitar and harmonica outing is little more than an enjoyable diversion.

There’s nothing that’s bad here, just little that’s inspiring.

Bright Ideas

But then it all kicks off with the pent-up restlessness of Idea (or the top notch soul of I’ve Gotta Get a Message To You if you’re listening to the US or South African Idea) building to the magisterial humility of I Started a Joke and the dignified finale Swan Song which is Where the Swallows Fly without the hyperbole.  Along the way, the understated Kilburn Towers provides a delightfully whimsical digression.

So what you’re left with is the deceptive feeling of a Bee Gees album as good as any other – in fact one which includes two stellar classics in I’ve Gotta get a Message to You and I Started a Joke – because by the album’s close, the far superior second half has so thoroughly eclipsed the memory of the somewhat ordinary first.


Idea [1968]

Side 1
Let There Be Love

Kitty Can
In the Summer of His Years
Indian Gin and Whiskey Dry
Down to Earth
Such a Shame
I’ve Gotta Get a Message To You*

Side 2
Idea
When the Swallows Fly
I Have Decided To Join the Air Force
I Started a Joke
Kilburn Towers
Swan Song

* US/South African LP version only in place of Such a Shame


Singles 1968 [related to Idea]

Jumbo
The Singer Sang His Song

I’ve Gotta Get a Message To You
Kitty Can

I Started a Joke
Kilburn Towers


Unreleased 1968

Chocolate Symphony*
Bridge Crossing Rivers*
Completely Unoriginal*
Come Some Christmas Eve or Halloween*
Gena’s Theme*
Another Cold and Windy Day (Coke Spot #1)*
Sitting in the Meadow (Coke Spot #2)*

* released on Idea Rhino reissue, 2006


-> Odessa
<- Horizontal

 

Bee Gees Top 50 1966-72
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Bee Gees – Horizontal

The declamatory opening bars of World hammer home the psychedelia of Horizontal but it’s less quirky than on Bee Gees 1st and decidedly heavier too.  The band stray into interesting new territories such as chanson, Really and Sincerely, and blues rock, The Change Is Made.

Some of 1st‘s wayward edges have been ironed out so that Horizontal has a more settled, consolidated feel.  The song-writing is solid, sometimes inspired, and they convince across the range.  Surprisingly, instead of expanding the soul repertoire of 1st it’s pretty much abandoned here.

The depressed album

Often labelled the Bee Gees’ depressed album, Horizontal has a remarkable coherency.  

I find the flow of Side 1 the most satisfying in their back catalogue; as one song fades you can’t wait for the next because you feel a growing confidence in their hands.  Really and Sincerely somehow manages to build upon the emotion of And the Sun Will Shine. Between those two highs Lemons Never Forget provides some necessary acidity and channels the Beatles less slavishly than In My Own Time whilst the wistful, subtly playful Birdie takes the emotional impact down a few notches just when needed.  Side 1’s spinoff, Barry‘s spotlight centre stage solo With the Sun in My Eyes, envelopes you in love’s warm glow.

Side 2 is the lesser, lumbered as it is with the resolutely mainstream Massachusetts but the final three tracks intrigue, hinting at an alternative more rock oriented Bee Gees, an option which the band would only occasionally take up.

As for the depression, it’s there but Horizontal is by no means a depressing listen.  Yes, there is bitterness – The Change Is Made – and queasy otherworldliness – Horizontal – but the eye opening World is breathtaking as well as post-traumatic and the painfully naked Really and Sincerely ultimately cathartic.

Truly lush

Crucially, they show their prettier side without just layering on the strings.  Birdie is truly lush thanks to Vince’s warm guitar licks and regret beautifully poised on Day Time Girl, the album’s dark horse and one of their finest ballads.  Both have terrific chord modulations and lovely melodies.

Bee Gees 1st is a fresher, more diverting album but Horizontal the more satisfying. 


Horizontal [1968]

Side 1
World
And the Sun Will Shine
Lemons Never Forget
Really and Sincerely
Birdie Told Me
With The Sun In My Eyes

Side 2
Massachusetts
Harry Braff
Day Time Girl
The Ernest Of Being George
The Change Is Made
Horizontal


Singles 1967/68 [related to Horizontal]

Massachusetts
Barker of the UFO

World
Sir Geoffrey Saved the World

Words*
Sinking Ships

* Words, a non-album track, was recorded the same day as World (3rd October 1967) and so in that sense can be said to be Horizontal-related 


Unreleased 1968

Out of Line*
Ring My Bell*
Mrs Gillespie’s Refridgerator*
Deeply, Deeply Me*
All My Christmases Came at Once*
Thank You for Christmas*
Medley: Silent Night/Hark the Herald Angels Sing*

* released on Horizontal Rhino reissue, 2006


-> Idea
<- Bee Gees 1st


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