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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Bee Gees: Spicks And Specks


BEE GEES: SPICKS AND SPECKS (1966)

1) Monday's Rain; 2) How Many Birds; 3) Play Down; 4) Secondhand People; 5) I Don't Know Why I Bother With Myself; 6) Big Chance; 7) Spicks And Specks; 8) Jingle Jangle; 9) Tint Of Blue; 10) Where Are You; 11) Born A Man; 12) Glass House.

This is where the «brilliance» starts getting noticeably brilliant. Technically, this may have to do with the fact that the band had much more studio time, donated to them by benevolent producer Ossie Byrne — of course, the final recordings still sound muffled and tinny compared to the sound the band would get in England, but it is more important that they actually had more time to work on the moods, melodies, and harmonies. The result is a record that has its highs and lows, but definitely sows the first seeds of the greatness to come.

The two main singles off the album announce the two main styles in which the pre-disco Bee Gees would excel: ʽMonday's Rainʼ is a romantic slow-burner, with Robin Gibb's «rack-the-goat» vib­rato carrying the gist of the romance (actually, his pitch is surprisingly low on this number), and ʽSpicks And Specksʼ is upbeat piano-pop in the old British music hall tradition. Tasteful Aus­tralian people clearly designated their preferences: the album itself was originally called Mon­day's Rain after the first single, but once the public let it sink and went instead for ʽSpicks And Specksʼ, the record was quickly retitled and re-released as such.

Who knows, actually, how things would have turned out if ʽMonday's Rainʼ were to become a hit — not only could this have delayed the Bee Gees' relocating to England, but it might have raised Robin's early credit higher than necessary, prompting the band to turn into professional crooners when they really had so much more to offer. Not that ʽMonday's Rainʼ (on which Barry and Ro­bin actually share vocal duties) is a particularly bad ballad — the main vocal melody is quite inspira­tional, even if it has to win its way over rather trite doo-woppish backing vocals and a rather sterile backing track, and it does somewhat pave the way to ʽTo Love Somebodyʼ. But for those who, like me, are in a rather complex love/hate relationship with the «nightingale» aspects of the Bee Gees, ʽMonday's Rainʼ will be the first song to fall under this relationship.

Not so with ʽSpicks And Specksʼ, which is fun, catchy, bouncy, and lively, despite the rather de­pressive lyrical message — it is ironic that the song became the band's biggest Australian hit just as they were embarking on the boat to England, so that one could easily interpret lines like "All of my life I call yesterday / The spicks and the specks of my life gone away" as a veiled goodbye to the country that failed to accept the Gibbs as a proper homeland. (That said, the band never failed to play the song on their subsequent Australian tours, so they probably weren't that mad). Here, too, one can see the seeds of ʽTurn Of The Centuryʼ — much tastier seeds, as far as my taste is concerned, than ʽMonday's Rainʼ.

The rest of the songs is a mish-mash, but nowhere near as derivative a mish-mash as on their first album. Now the brothers are already trying to put a more personal spin on everything they do, ex­cept for when they are in a plain giggly parodic mode — ʽBorn A Manʼ, for instance, is a trans­parent send-up of The Animals, right down to imitating Eric Burdon's vocal intonations, parody­ing the «macho» lyrical style of British R&B ("I'm glad I am born a man" — where is political correctness when you really need it?), and mocking the «chaotic» build-ups of that style with some open instrumental tomfoolery and sped-up vocals. It isn't a very tasteful parody, but it is so clearly a parody that it would be sort of silly to take offense at it.

When the brothers are being more serious, they invest into semi-decent Beatlesque pop-rock (ʽHow Many Birdsʼ, ʽTint Of Blueʼ) or folk-rock that makes good use of their three-man harmo­ny skill (ʽPlay Downʼ, ʽWhere Are Youʼ, etc.). It is clear that, had they had their wish, they would just as eagerly have invested in the emerging «art-pop» or «baroque-pop», but the move­ment was still way too fresh for them to get all the basics right, and they were heavily limited in their use of instrumentation: Geoff Grant on trumpets is the only «extra» session musician here, beyond the Gibb brothers themselves, supplying most of the basic instruments, and two guest drum­mers (one of whom, Colin Petersen, would later officially join the band and sail with them to England). So, while most of these songs are kinda nice, they are still only half-way fleshed out, with monotonous, unimaginative arrangements, poor sound mix, and a nagging sense of «we're still only learning how to be hip» dragging it all down.

Nevertheless, Spicks And Specks still deserves its thumbs up, if only for containing the band's first excellent song and no true stinkers (ʽBorn A Manʼ could be one, but only if it is erroneously taken seriously). Also of note, by the way, is the B-side to ʽSpicks And Specksʼ, which never made it on the LP — ʽI Am The Worldʼ, arguably Robin's proudest moment in the Austra­lian stage of the band's career; he does his best to match the title with some stunning vocal aerobics on the chorus, which deserve respect even among those for whom they do not generate admiration.

3 comments:

  1. Born a Man is quite an ironic song for another reason - 11 years later the three guys gave some reason for doubt.
    Sorry, I don't think RG's vocals on I am the World special. Any good rock vocalist (in terms of skills; so not The Beatles, not The Stones, not Davies, but certainly Burdon and Daltrey) plus several soul vocalists could sing it without much effort, provided that they added enough cheese.

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    1. There can be no question whatsoever that neither Burdon nor Daltrey (certainly not Daltrey, who had neither the range nor the vibrato) could have sung 'I Am The World'. Besides, the observation does not imply that "nobody could have done it". There are few, if any, things in this world that could have been done by just one person, given the total volume of humanity. It just says what it says.

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  2. To make sure I have relistened to I am the World. I think you overestimate the vocal range needed for this song. I didn't mention Burdon and Daltrey to contradict the implication that "nobody could have done it"; I mentioned them to illustrate that there are no stunning vocal acrobatics. I wouldn't call Burdon nor Daltrey a vocal acrobat, though the former jumps an entire octave between "they call the Rising Sun" and "It's been a ruin".
    To name someone I thoroughly dislike (so nobody can accuse me of bias): Demis Roussos was a vocal acrobat.
    The highest/lowest notes of My Generation and House of the Rising Sun are higher/lower than the ones of I am the World.
    Neither does Robin G sing I am the World with a particularly wide vibrato - fortunately. In fact after reading your review I feared to despise the song for this reason, unnecessarily as it appeared.
    Now if you argue that neither Burdon nor Daltrey had the style to sing I am the World with the needed musical expression you have a point.
    You might be right about Daltrey's vibrato though. It seems like he didn't use it around 1966; I had later examples in mind, which isn't entirely fair.
    Anyhow I propose every interested reader to listen to I am the World, My Generation and House of the Rising Sun in a row, like I just have done.

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