BEE GEES: THIS IS WHERE I CAME IN (2001)
1) This Is Where I Came In; 2) She Keeps On Coming; 3) Sacred Trust; 4) Wedding Day; 5) Man In The Middle; 6) Deja Vu; 7) Technicolor Dreams; 8) Walking On Air; 9) Loose Talk Costs Lives; 10) Embrace; 11) The Extra Mile; 12) Voice In The Wilderness.
Is this really «just another bad album from the Bee Gees», as the All-Music Guide review put it to us, even after considering all the opposite arguments? Not quite, I would say. Indeed, «not quite» to the extent that it almost makes me wonder — was the band on its way to eventual recuperation and recovery of some of the grace of old, stopped dead in its tracks by the death of Maurice, or was this major leap in quality just an accidental fluke, caused by a temporary climate improvement at the turn of the millennium? Make no mistake about it: This Is Where I Came In is, indeed, a bad Bee Gees album, but it is still miles above the faceless, bodiless, and soulless dreck they had been trying to feed us since at least E.S.P. — their best album since at least Living Eyes, and, I would dare say, maybe even since Main Course: it does not have any highlights comparable with ʽYou Should Be Dancingʼ or ʽLiving Eyesʼ, but it is, on the whole, more consistent, or, at least, more consistently surprising, than those albums.
There can be no mistake here: the Bee Gees are trying to get out of the nasty rut in which they had sunk when they were still «in the summer of their years» and in which they grew old, bald, tasteless, and irrelevant, only to be occasionally visited on holidays by the likes of Barbra Streisand and Celine Dion. That they actually placed a photo of themselves in their younger days on the front sleeve does not have to be interpreted as a desire to put out another Bee Gees 1st, but it is still a hint that is somehow substantiated by the album contents — a good luck charm, if you wish. The relative abundance of styles that they cover, modern and retro ones alike, is also a good sign. No, there was not the slightest chance of an album like this being good — only a complete miracle would have sufficed, considering that these guys had only written, like, maybe two really good songs in two decades. But we are here doing a career overview — and a career overview is impossible without paying homage to the curve — and with This Is Where I Came In, lo and behold, the curve begins to crawl upwards. Where would it end up, had the Gibb twins not lost their lives, ten years apart from each other?..
For the first minute, the Robin / Barry duet on the title track is framed by nothing but sharp-picked acoustic guitars — then, once the harmonies and full backing are in, there are still no signs of the awful production muck that colored their previous five studio efforts — at worst, it shares some alt-rock clichés, but for the Bee Gees, transition from adult contemporary to alt-rock is like promotion of the highest order. This is not to say that the song is great or anything, but the chorus is catchy, and the slight «danger zone» feeling generated by the arrangement marks the first time over a long, long, long period that the brothers managed to reassert their nature as humans rather than «organic robots for middle-aged housewives».
And then there's more. ʽShe Keeps On Comingʼ is a mediocre pop rocker, stuck in somewhere between late Kinks and early Duran Duran — but it is a style that the Bee Gees had never covered previously in their whole life; ʽVoice In The Wildernessʼ, despite the glossy production, rolls on at an even faster speed, and serves as the album closer — yes, instead of going out on a pompous balladeering note, these guys go out at the fastest tempo they ever tried. Even if one hates the song (and there is nothing really to hate about it), you can't help admiring them for trying; and kudos for letting old friend Alan Kendall strike out with a fiery, flashy wah-wah solo, the hardest he's been allowed to hit since... since...?
Another piece of territory that had never been visited before is Tin Pan Alley: Barry's ʽTechnicolor Dreamsʼ, written and arranged in strictly vaudevillian mode, is a harmless piece of fluff, a tribute to Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby that is a little spoiled by oversinging, but works well as a first and last attempt to invade alien territory; even a word like «nostalgia» does not really apply here, since this kind of music had faded away before the Bee Gees were even born — this is just an intentional attempt to try out something that couldn't be more removed from their usual schtick than anything, and again, it begs for respect, if not love. Or maybe somebody was on a Randy Newman kick at the time — a chorus like "I'll give you Panavision pictures, 'cause you give me Technicolor dreams" seems right up Randy's alley.
The rest of the album is nowhere near as «outstanding», and drifts closer to the tried and true, but even there, the production is not quite as excessive — cheap synthesizer sounds are toned down, with more focus on acoustic guitars and hi-tech electronics, and Barry's and Robin's vocals are always clear in the mix (nor does Barry ever resort to full-fledged falsetto, which is a good thing, because his upper range is so shot anyway that the remaining frequencies automatically turn falsetto into squealing or meawing). The songs are predictably not good: generic saccharine ballads like Robin's ʽWedding Dayʼ, or techno-style saccharine ballads like Robin's ʽEmbraceʼ, or perfunctory synth-rockers — like Maurice's two contributions (ʽMan In The Middleʼ and ʽWalking On Airʼ), on which he also subjects his voice to electronic effect treatment, maybe in an effort to give it that extra color it had always lacked, against the background of his two more technically gifted and individualistic brothers. It neither works nor fails... come to think of it, like most of the things Maurice brought to the band. (He did bring in ʽTrafalgarʼ, which was one of the band's best songs, but he also brought in the worst of the three hairstyles, evening things out).
It only remains to say, in conclusion, that you hardly need to hear This Is Where I Came In if you completely gave up on the Bee Gees after Living Eyes — not to mention if you completely gave up on the Bee Gees with their transition to the disco age half a decade before that. But if you did honestly sit through all of their adult contemporary muddle, year after year, decade after decade, and wouldn't mind a little bit of an antidote, this album will do. In any case, it is a relief that the Bee Gees ended their creative existence on this note, and not with Still Waters.
In conclusion — it remains only to be said that, no matter how much suave dreck had tainted their later years, both Maurice's death in 2003 and Robin's in 2012 were unjustly premature, and even if, deep down inside, my belief is that the Bee Gees did not have and could not have another Trafalgar or even Mr. Natural within them, just waiting to be unlocked, I still like to imagine that, had they lived on, they could have capitalized on the minor sprouts of musical sanity displayed in this record, and at least slightly repaired their critical reputation, maybe spurred on by renewed hipster interest in their art-poppy past. Who knows, though, maybe it's all for the better — that their career was cut short with this minor enigma of an album, instead of serving us up further disappointments further on down the line.