BEE GEES: LIVING EYES (1981)
1) Living Eyes; 2) He's A Liar; 3) Paradise; 4) Don't Fall In Love With Me; 5) Soldiers; 6) I Still Love You; 7) Wildflower; 8) Nothing Could Be Good; 9) Cryin' Every Day; 10) Be Who You Are.
A classic case of post-(Saturday Night)fever fatigue syndrome — the Bee Gees' first album of the new musical decade sounds forced, tired, uninspired, and generally superfluous. The brothers had allegedly disowned the album themselves, claiming that they were pressed into recording by the studio at a time when they really needed to sit back and rethink their image: with the anti-disco backlash tearing their reputation to pieces, and the proverbial truth of «the higher the climb, the harder the fall» landing upon them in full force, it was really unclear where to go next after the spirits had flown and yesterday's mass-cultural heroes became today's mass-cultural clowns.
The biggest irony of it all is that, in the end, Living Eyes still ended up a much better album than both the one that preceded it and the «comeback» that would follow it six years later. Not having enough time to rethink anything and come up with a carefully construed «nu-image», the Bee Gees simply resorted to the one thing they usually did best — that is, writing pop songs and recording them. Living Eyes has no direct «affiliation»: it is not disco, it is not New Wave, it is not trendy synth-pop, it is not retro symph-pop, it is just a bunch of typically Bee Gees songs, recorded without much forethought or gimmickry. Not particularly good Bee Gees songs, I might add — there is nothing here to suggest even a partial recovery from the disco-induced «genius' block» — but not utterly without redeem, either.
The overall sound of the album is glossy and synthetic alright (the Bee Gees would never again be able to recapture the «organic» sound of their pre-Main Course records), but the acoustic folk-pop harmonies that form the core of the Gibb style are well emphasized, and the guitars are not drowned out by the electronics (as they would be eventually), nor is the production crappy enough to infringe on the vocal harmonies. Speaking of which, Living Eyes almost completely rejects falsetto — ʽSoldiersʼ being the only serious exception — welcoming Barry Gibb back to the «world of real men», provided he still remembers what it used to look like.
So the major problem is not with the style — it is rather bland, sterile, and unadventurous, but not ugly, crassy, or cheesy — but with the songs. Things start out kind of okay with the title track, whose romantic chorus is relatively pretty and even seems to recapture a tiny spark of the «courteous nobility» of old. Slow it down a little bit, bring back Bill Shepherd, and it would not feel out of place on To Whom It May Concern at least. Rebirth? No, because already the second track, ʽHe's A Liarʼ, inexplicably chosen as first single, is a pointless pop-rocker, recorded in a style that could have worked for Foreigner, but not for the Bee Gees — and its main hook is a contrast between a deep baritonal and a high falsetto rendering of the song title: a silly gimmick that only confirms that yes, the well has run dry after all.
Only three songs out of ten have managed to register on my brain cells with a positive charge — these are the title track; ʽParadiseʼ, another midtempo adult contemporary ballad with a very natural and emotional flow from verse to bridge to chorus (my favourite part is the bridge — the "run a mile for the minute" part); and, out of the blue, a Maurice original — there is something odd about the wimpiness of ʽWildflowerʼ that produces an endearing effect. Everything else either comes across as an inferior copy of one of these three songs, or represents an inept attempt at «rocking out softly» (ʽCryin' Every Dayʼ is in the same vein as ʽHe's A Liarʼ, and goes in the same null void direction). Some diversity is provided by Robin taking significantly more leads than he did last time around, but with such poor songwriting, it does not matter much already who is singing what.
Maybe at least a part of the lackluster atmosphere of the record could be explained by the Gibbs firing their studio veterans at the beginning of the sessions — not only Blue Weaver, who was responsible for the keyboards throughout the disco period, but even old buddy Alan Kendall, who was already hanging around in their Trafalgar days. With more than a dozen different session musicians taking their place, there is no wonder that Living Eyes has no «signature sound», or that the strictly-bread-and-butter arrangements do not offer even a single curious flourish or twist to feed the hungry ear. On the other hand — who knows if anything could be done for the Bee Gees at the time? The harder they come...
No, the only words of consolation would have to refer to the falsetto-dropping and the revival of the acoustic guitar — Living Eyes is boring alright, but it sounds like a record made by living people; people who, perhaps accidentally, did not have the time to program it into an efficient commercial proposition and just went ahead on an almost spontaneous basis. It is a dang shame they could not do better: this might have been their very last chance at making a late-period mini-masterpiece, but, after all, they did sign the contract, and the devil did honor his part of the deal — now it was up to him to ensure that the Bee Gees would never properly rise again.
Still, it seems cruel to end the review with a thumbs down, considering how, in retrospect, the record really looks like a breath of moderately fresh air in between all the methane emissions. Ironically, despite making history as the first album to have been printed in CD form (the brothers even got an extra BBC promotion for that, although it didn't do them any good anyway), Living Eyes has long since been out of print, and the Gibbs, dead or alive, would not go out of their way to help re-endorse it. But eventually, in a better, post-World War III world, once Bee Gees albums are no longer rated by the amount of copies sold, that mistake will be rectified.
Check "Living Eyes" (MP3) on Amazon