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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Bee Gees: Children Of The World


BEE GEES: CHILDREN OF THE WORLD (1976)

1) You Should Be Dancing; 2) You Stepped Into My Life; 3) Love So Right; 4) Lovers; 5) Can't Keep A Good Man Down; 6) Boogie Child; 7) Love Me; 8) Subway; 9) The Way It Was; 10) Children Of The World.

This is it — the album where the Bee Gees quasi-officially shut the door on their past. No more half-hearted compromises between the conflicting ideologies of «give the people what they want» and «show the people what we are». The very idea of the exact same band recording Odessa, or even Trafalgar, and then eventually following it up with Children Of The World is so revolting that one feels tempted to dump the Bee Gees' entire output as a result. So have the Bee Gees al­ways been «phonies»? Or was this sabotage of artistic credibility a conscious sacrifice? Or did they really love these dubious achievements? Or did they just love whatever music could return them to the top of the charts? Are they beyond redemption, or can they still be saved? So many questions — too many, in fact, for a record of such sordid quality.

Since Robert Stigwood's distribution deal with Atlantic was over, with RSO shifting its allegiance to Polydor, the band no longer had Arif Mardin at its disposal, and had to basically produce the album on their own, with some help from engineer Karl Richardson and his friend Albhy Galuten. The differences in style are immediately obvious — Children Of The World is far more slick and glossy, taking at least as many cues from the newborn «Eurodisco» as from the contemporary US R&B scene. The guitars are toned down, with chief emphasis on electronics — regular key­boards as well as synthesized strings: for the first time ever, the band rejects real orchestration, which used to be such an integral part of their sound, in favor of artificial substitutes.

Of course, the most controversial of the artificial substitutes is Barry's falsetto — which is all over the place now, regardless of how well it fits into the overall context. Most of the time, it does (and, to give Barry his due, he does not use it on the funky ʽBoogie Childʼ where it would have been completely inappropriate), but overall, it just reads as a symbolic message: «This whole thing is as true to the musical legacy of the Bee Gees as it is true to the natural tone of Barry Gibb's voice». With the entire album being so utterly «inorganic», it made total sense to de­liver it in a «homoerotic android» vocal style as well.

There are only two things that could have saved Children Of The World from a total repu­ta­tional fiasco. One could be humor and self-irony, a safe haven for «smart» artists who had to tackle disco (everybody from Blondie to Sparks) — unfortunately, the Bee Gees always had a very limited sense of humor, and none of it had survived into 1976. The other one could be a set of unstoppable monster hooks — irresistible dance grooves, for instance, which totally enslave the body despite vehement, but fruitless protestations from the mind. This is where they fare a little better — however, occasional fanboy claims about how the songs on Children Of The World represent the disco movement at its finest are grossly exaggerated.

Now there is certainly no way one could deny the killer power of ʽYou Should Be Dancingʼ — although the unsung hero here is not Barry, but brother Maurice, totally responsible for the «dark» and «gritty» undertones with his mean and lean bassline (and do not forget to pay close attention to his walking all over the fretboard, getting hotter and hotter as they move into the final jam section). In fact, with that bass, those tribal congas, the grumbly synth part, and Alan Ken­dall's ear-piercing wah-wah guitar break, the song would have worked equally well as an instru­mental — except that I actually like Barry's falsetto on here, and the way he alternates it with a more regular low-pitched bark on the last lines of each verse. The song transcends the formalities and clichés of its immediate environment: all you need to complete the picture is a Tra­volta. The whole thing is about as «real» as some voluptuous, fake-tittied porn star — but there is still something to be said about «grade A sleaze» as opposed to your regular, run-of-the-mill, unima­ginative sleaze. And this is actually grade A++ sleaze.

The sad news is that nothing else on Children Of The World may even remotely approach the punch of its lead-in single. Take the B-side ʽSubwayʼ, for instance — simplistic sacchariney ro­mance stuffed in a dance beat, with a moronic chorus to boot (there is something very, very wrong in trying to deliver the line "take me to the subway" in heavy-breathing «carnal» mode). The only other disco song here that even tries to show a few teeth is ʽCan't Keep A Good Man Downʼ — it has a fun brass riff interwoven with a «nasty» wah-wah guitar line, and its vocals (on the verses) are more «aethereal» than «helium», but it is still strictly a passable dance groove, hardly with any potential to penetrate deeper layers of conscience.

And then there is all the «lyrical» stuff — even the titles could not have been any more straight­forward: ʽLove So Rightʼ, ʽLoversʼ, and ʽLove Meʼ all on the same record? What about the alle­ged lexical richness of the English language and all? Additionally, ʽLoversʼ bears the brunt of having too much Robin on it: if you think Barry's falsetto is bad enough, wait till you hear Ro­bin's caprine talents strained through the same filter (I honestly thought my eardrums were going to burst). And as much as I hate to admit it, the title track, sung partially in accappella mode, is a spi­ritual and technical ancestor of all the boy bands of the 1990s — the Backstreet Boys must have been listening to it every day on their ways to the studio.

Quite honestly, Children Of The World simply gives the impression of a bunch of quick, cheap filler assembled around one undisputable classic of its time — an odd observation, seeing as how the brothers would be able to crank up the quality for their next effort. Presumably, they were still «learning» the business, poking around in different corners, and ʽYou Should Be Dancingʼ was their jackpot for the day — none of the other singles from the album made it as high on the charts (and their British compatriots, in particular, pretty much ignored them altogether). But whatever the circumstances, most of these songs should have never seen the light of day; and considering that ʽYou Should Be Dancingʼ is perfectly well available on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack anyway, I do not think that anybody except for aging cousins of Tony Manero should bother. Hence, here comes my first «totally disgusted» thumbs down in Bee Gees history.

Check "Children Of The World" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Children Of The World" (MP3) on Amazon

3 comments:

  1. Well I kinda dig "You Stepped Into My Life" as well, even though it's tremendously underdeveloped. But the instrumental textures are pretty nice, the first 15 seconds almost sounds like Steely Dan going disco (which wouldn't be a great leap I guess).

    I don't get what's up with the falsetto though. Did people, even in the late 70s, really think it was an improvement over Barry's old voice?
    Maybe it's "notable", but this is the guy who used to sing "Sound of Love", nothing here matches that for sheer vocal effect.

    "Lovers" made me laugh though. Robin, oh Robin.

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  2. 1976 was an important year for me. I entered secondary school. I just had begun to play the violin. I had discovered pop and rock; Status Quo were my first favourites and Made in Japan, Demons and Wizards and Led Zep II were quickly to follow. As the Sex Pistols already had gained (in)fame I was aware that punk would be the next important development. But first I had to cope with disco. And I hated it from the beginning.
    I associate disco primarily with three bands.
    1. KC and the Sunshine Band, who were stupid, repetitive and catchy. That's the Way aha aha I like it will be forever etched on my brains. That's not exactly improving the quality of my life.
    2. Donna Summer. Even as a silly, goofy and horny teenager I understood that her sensuality was not aimed at satisfying my needs, but at separating me from the few bucks I could spend.
    3. The Bee Gees.
    Here I must remark that the Bee Gees in The Netherlands never were an album band. Main Course was the first regular album to chart. The singles always have sold very well though. You should be dancing was the first one I ever heard. Yeah, at that age I should be dancing, but not at this song. Back then as much as now I disliked the unimaginative 4/4 beat. I suspect it is the first song with this feature. It infected withing a few years every single genre, including my favourite one: hardrock/heavy metal. It's an important reason I quit following the newest trends after 1981 and preferred to delve into classical music. But in 1976 the struggle just had begun. As I already was aware of the threat I had no choice but hating and blaming the Bee Gees from the deepest depth of my heart. So no, 37 years later I'm not interested in any apologetics concerning this monstrosity. It's crappier than crap. Period.
    And it would get worse.

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  3. What? The reigning triumvirate of housewife pop, exposed as Emperors with no clothes on? Perish the thought! "Try some, buy some!"

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