BEE GEES: ONE (1989)
1) Ordinary Lives; 2) One; 3) Bodyguard; 4) It's My Neighborhood; 5) Tears; 6) Tokyo Nights; 7) Flesh And Blood; 8) Wish You Were Here; 9) House Of Shame; 10) Will You Ever Let Me; 11) Wing And A Prayer.
This relatively quick (considering the previous six-year gap) follow-up to E.S.P. is nowhere near as awful, but, consequently, also lacks that album's shock factor — meaning that one might end up «liking» it more, but forgetting it quicker. With Mardin out of the picture again, the brothers went back to self-producing, and also relocated back to London from Florida; whether these trivia are related to the fact or not, on One they seem to have mostly overcome the difficulties of working with new sounds, technologies, and equipment, so that the subdued synthesizers and electronic drums now grudgingly agree to work for the Bee Gees, not vice versa.
To be more precise, the melodies are a little more noticeable, the vocal harmonies are reasserted as the Gibbs' chief reason for existence, and the final mix corrects the major sonic errors of E.S.P. All of which is positive, but, unfortunately, never eliminates the main problem: the Bee Gees are now firmly stuck in «soft adult contemporary» mode, and there is no escape — going retro is not a solution, as the brothers continue to stubbornly believe in their commercial vitality, and this means trend-hopping and sucking up to mainstream values.
Actually, maybe if these efforts of theirs had sunk like a stone, this would have given them food for thought. Unfortunately, they did not. One was nowhere near as commercially successful as E.S.P., but it did climb high enough, and the title track, released as a single, hit No. 7 on the US charts — their absolute peak there ever since the late 1970s. Maybe the public sensed traces of the old magic in it: the opening upbeat rhythm and Barry's trademark-sexy "I feel my heart beat.." intro are indeed reminiscent of ʽJive Talkin'ʼ, as if somebody wrote a simple computer algorithm that would create a robo-electronic variation on the original theme. Which kind of gives you the lowdown already: imagine the old disco vibe revamped for the late 1980s market of rhythmic adult contemporary muzak. And that's ʽOneʼ the song, and One the album for you in a nutshell.
Mood-wise, the record is sad, since the latter part of the sessions took place in the wake of the departure of brother Andy Gibb, victim of an unfortunate combination of genetic weakness and drug abuse. Hence all the stuff like ʽTearsʼ and particularly ʽWish You Were Hereʼ, sincerely dedicated to Andy's memory — it's only too bad that the songs received such bland, pale-grayish electronic cocoons instead of something at least superficially more tasteful: I mean, why not hire a string quartet, at least? Or just use a solo acoustic guitar? Something?..
The album includes only one piece of «rock»-oriented material: Barry and old friend Alan Kendall have finally mastered the pop-metal style and feed ʽIt's My Neighborhoodʼ with distorted guitar riffs and a hysterically screeching Van Halen-style guitar solo. The effect is mostly laughable, since the song's biggest hook is still the pop chorus of "it's my neighborhood, it's where I belong", and the «tough» guitar sound of the track is just flamboyant poseur stuff. Much the same goes for the generic electro-funk of ʽWill You Ever Let Meʼ, with nothing to distinguish it from ten million songs in the same style — although both songs provide some respite from the endless stream of slow, mood-oriented ballads (ʽBodyguardʼ, ʽTokyo Nightsʼ, etc.).
Robin and Maurice take lead vocals on a few songs: Maurice dominates the lost love pop-rocker ʽHouse Of Shameʼ, and Robin directs the broken hearted blues-rocker ʽFlesh And Bloodʼ, and both end up more or less equally tedious. Barry lapses into falsetto occasionally, but this is not nearly as big a problem as the noticeable aging of all the voices — now that the brothers are past fourty, some of the sharpness is lost and their tones tend to gravitate towards each other: twenty years ago, it really mattered a lot who sang what, but now it isn't that much of a deal.
Anyway, by far the only recommendation for One that I can think of is that it is, indeed, «dark», probably the most sincerely tragic record they had ever made up to that point. Considering that a lack of sincerity had always been the major accusation hurled at the Gibbs from the very beginning of their career, this could be a hell of a recommendation. Unfortunately, in 1989 it was more than just a little late — whatever genuine emotion they try to preserve on these tapes is ultimately wasted with (at best) mediocre songwriting and thoroughly unimaginative arrangements. I cannot imagine the album being enjoyed by anyone but the starkest Gibb fans, always ready to look beyond the form and right into the spirit — or, at least, what they think of as the spirit. Everybody else will probably have to just share the thumbs down.
Check "One" (MP3) on Amazon