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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Bee Gees: 2 Years On


BEE GEES: 2 YEARS ON (1970)

1) 2 Years On; 2) Portrait Of Louise; 3) Man For All Seasons; 4) Sincere Relation; 5) Back Home; 6) The 1st Mis­take I Made; 7) Lonely Days; 8) Alone Again; 9) Tell Me Why; 10) Lay It On Me; 11) Every Second Every Minute; 12) I'm Weeping.

For those who did take notice — the brothers are back together, of which they inform us already in the album title. Technically, the break-up lasted less than two years (more like one and a half), but what's wrong with a little rounding-up artistic license when an uplifting, bawl-along chorus of "two years on!..." sounds so much brighter than a "one year on"? The idea is to announce the comeback with a bang, and ʽ2 Years Onʼ is meticulously generated with a bang in mind — quiet «little-man» verse, mid-level «getting-it-up» bridge, then the brothers explode in a celebratory wave. And as a final gesture of goodwill, Barry lets brother Robin carry the lead vocal on this opening number — bygones be bygones and all.

2 Years On is not a bad record — by all means, a huge improvement over the tiresome mushi­ness of Cucumber Castle. Nevertheless, even if Robin's return somewhat reignited the flames and re-stimulated the competitive spirit between brothers (this time, in a healthy manner), 2 Years On does not pick up where Odessa left off. On the contrary, it is almost as if the brothers were intentionally intent on forgetting about that experience — partially for personal reasons (as that one ill-omened record that drove a wedge between them), partially for artistic ones: Odessa put them on the «art rock» market, way too uncomfortable for them, and even more uncomfor­table now that the standards for that market drifted off into either the Led Zep or the ELP direc­tions, of which the Bee Gees shared neither the philosophies nor the musicianship.

What emerges here is a beta-version synthesis of country-rock and lush balladeering, a.k.a. a specific brand of «soft-rock» that... wait a minute, it's not as if that was anything new in 1970; if anything, this is just a return to the standards of Idea, right? Well, more or less, with one subtle change, maybe: there are almost no attempts to separate the sentimental mood from the gritty / humorous / sarcastic vibes. The Bee Gees love their romantic troubadour guise so much now that they stick it on throughout — the «rootsy» aspects are now so tightly merged with the «pop» as­pects that any deviation from the formula comes across as something jarring and out of place.

On 2 Years On, there are but two such moments: ʽBack Homeʼ, a «hard rocker» about the joys of homecoming, and ʽLay It On Meʼ, an acoustic «blues rocker» about the troubles of being blown by the wind. On the former, Barry is pulling off a Pete Townshend — or, rather, a Randy Bach­man? — spicing the album up with Big Electric Power Chords for a gargantuan two minutes, seemingly with no other point in mind than to prove that these guys still remember what an elec­tric socket is (the song does not really qualify as true hard rock, but it is the hardest bit you will find on here, and, for that matter, on the next three albums as well). ʽLay It On Meʼ seems less at odds with the rest of the album, but the image is still not convincing — unless we keep in mind that the song represents Maurice's individual contribution to the album (credited to him ex­clusive­ly and featuring his own lead vocals), in which case the line "I'm just a low down critter who never did any good" begins to shine through in an entirely different light.

That said, the ten ballads of 2 Years On, on the whole, certainly have more integrity, credibility, and other good qualities than the ten ballads of Cucumber Castle. With Robin, the enigmatic lyrics and, occasionally, mysterious auras are back, and the songwriting, overall, is up a notch. In particular, ʽLonely Daysʼ gave the brothers their biggest US hit to date — probably due to the shrewdly repetitive chorus, nicely attuned to cruising speeds, but it is really an intelligently craf­ted song whose main charm is in its orchestral arrangements: Bill Shepherd sure knows how to mutate the melancholic mood to jubilant and back again, so that the music, in keeping with the lyrics, give you a sad and a joyful vibe almost at the same time. If you think long enough about it, it is kinda confusing, though — the «hysterical» climactic part seems to build up around nothing in particular, so on the whole, the song is cleverly sewn together, but somewhat senseless... then again, this judgement does apply to the Bee Gees as such, so no big wonder here.

The best moments of 2 Years On are its anthems — big, pompous ballads distinguished by jubi­lant harmonies, the smoother and glossier, the better. The title track with its immaculately gliding crescendo; ʽMan For All Seasonsʼ, which could be about Sir Thomas More as well as anybody else; ʽAlone Againʼ, yet another case of the Bee Gees weirdly-successfully mastering a collective anthem about the pangs of loneliness (the Gibb brothers are at least as good at impersonating a solitary loner as a three-headed dragon could be); probably ʽPortrait Of Louiseʼ, even if it does borrow a vocal line directly from the Beatles' ʽIf I Needed Someoneʼ — these all illustrate the Bee Gees at their early 1970's best.

«Solo Robin» and «solo Barry» are more questionable. Robin carries the «mourning vibe» of ʽIn The Summer Of His Yearsʼ a bit too far in the silliness direction with ʽSincere Relationʼ, whose lyrics verge on eccentric British absurdism ("but then he died without an explanation / he never lied, a very sincere relation" sounds like something A. A. Milne could have written) while the vocals descend into unbridled tragism. Meanwhile, Barry tries to subdue the «epic» genre with ʽThe 1st Mistake I Ever Madeʼ, a lengthy singer-songwriter-ish confession that puts pathos in the way of interesting melody — dear Mr. Gibb the Elder, since this is not ʽSad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlandsʼ level we are talking about anyway, couldn't you at least have introduced a separate bridge section into the album's lengthiest track? Four minutes of one generic folk ballad verse repeated over and over again may work when the singer is Bob Dylan or Lou Reed; when the singer is Barry Gibb, the pathos overruns the cup so quickly that I have to stand with my feet all drenched for at least half of its duration — crudely-figuratively speaking.

So it is a patchy, hit-and-miss job, for sure, but with the musical fashions changing, splitting, and disintegrating, it would be folly to expect consistent taste and genius from the new-look Bee Gees; on the contrary, it all looks fairly nice next to their obvious contemporary competitors on the «soft rock» market. There would be time (or, rather, times) when fashions and trends would com­pletely take over the melodic talent, but 2 Years On, those times were not yet on the horizon, so a less secure thumbs up here than for their Sixties stuff, I guess, but a thumbs up all the same.

Check "2 Years On" (CD) on Amazon
Check "2 Years On" (MP3) on Amazon

2 comments:

  1. I was going to laugh at you GS, for suggesting the BeeGee's doing hardrock. But sure, tune the guitar up a bit, make it sound a bit rawer, add a blistering solo and it's hardrock indeed.
    It's interesting that there is another song called Back Home, written around the same time, which is a genuine hardrocker:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m9bkcvUg6ME

    There are several differences, but there are similarities as well. Coincidence?

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  2. Just had to say it: their classiest record jacket EVER. Big improvement over the Knights on Broadway.

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