BEE GEES: HIGH CIVILIZATION (1991)
1) High Civilization; 2) Secret Love; 3) When He's Gone; 4) Happy Ever After; 5) Party With No Name; 6) Ghost Train; 7) Dimensions; 8) The Only Love; 9) Human Sacrifice; 10) True Confessions; 11) Evolution.
Probably a toss-up between E.S.P. and this one for the ugliest-sounding Bee Gees album ever. Okay, E.S.P. would likely still win, since its production values were about as suitable for the Bee Gees as having them sing an entire album through a Vocoder; but this monstrosity from 1991 does not lag too far behind, and it has at least one edge over E.S.P. — considering the musical fashions of 1987, one would not really expect the band to have fared much better, but in 1991, with hair metal and synth-pop both on their way out, some of the old vets were gradually starting to get out of their midlife crises and reconcile their older selves with their true selves.
Not so with the Gibbs, who, for some reason, thought it beyond their sense of dignity to retrace their steps. What is even worse, they thought that they still had some hopes of positioning themselves as a dance-oriented outfit — that after the blandly somber balladry of One, it was high time to return to some foot-stompin', body-thumpin' rhythms, provided by the latest fads and trends in nightclub territory. Thus, most of High Civilization — yes, with the exception of an obligatory bunch of slow ballads — is set to chuggin' lite-techno tracks, a rhythmic shell that the Bee Gees embrace just as recklessly as they did with disco.
Alas, if the disco encasing did not by itself prevent them from losing their strength (melodies and harmonies), this particular style is completely disastrous. On E.S.P., the singing was loud enough, but utterly lost in its own echo merging with the sonic effects of electronic percussion. On High Civilization, the vocals sort of just splatter away in different directions, launched in thin pressurized streaks from under the speeding wagon wheels of the hi-tech vehicle. Once again — anyone could have sung this crap, Barry, Maurice, Robin, Andy's ghost, the sound engineer, the cleaning lady, Bugs Bunny, no matter. The harmonies play no role here, and neither do the melodies — instrumentally, there are none to speak of, and vocally, nothing makes sense.
In a different age, ʽSecret Loveʼ, aptly selected for the band's first UK single, could have been a decent Motown-style hit; and ʽGhost Trainʼ could have been a nice New Wave-style mood anthem — perhaps they should have donated that one to Bryan Ferry, he might have brought out its «sensuous potential» by attaching his microphone to his mouth rather than some other body part. These two are songs with traces of hope; everything else ranks from instantaneously forgettable (title track) to abysmal (ʽDimensionsʼ, ʽParty With No Nameʼ — in 1991, I'd honestly rather hear that generic dance crap from the young Alanis Morissette than from three middle-aged guys way past not only their prime, but also their ability to get a proper grip on contemporary fashions).
For technical reasons, it is worth noting that the sound engineer here was Femi Jiya, who had previously worked with Prince (but it didn't help, not this time); and that the album was supposed to be conceptual — everything except for the politically loaded title track was supposed to narrate a «secret love» dream sequence in the head of the protagonist. The Bee Gees later disrupted the psychedelic cohesiveness of the album by reshuffling the songs, but even if they hadn't done that, it's not as if the thematic unity of the songs were a good enough justification for the crap-o-matic unity of the structures and arrangements. Thumbs down, yucky-yuck.
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