Magazine article The Spectator

What a Bargain

Magazine article The Spectator

What a Bargain

Article excerpt

Pop music

It was sad to hear of Maurice Gibb's death. Already the backtracking has begun. For decades the Bee Gees were written off by critics as a joke - meaningless songs in very high voices, as the parody went. Foolish clothes, unfortunate teeth and their earnest desire to be taken seriously for what they had done - not unreasonable in the circumstances - only seemed to enhance their risibility. Now the Bee Gees are no more. Surviving siblings Barry and Robin - were there ever three Christian names less rock 'n' roll than 'Barry', 'Robin' and 'Maurice'? - have decided to abandon the group name, although they will obviously continue recording (Robin has a solo album out quite soon). And suddenly critics everywhere are removing their heads from their fundaments with a loud POP! and realising that the Gibb Brothers wrote and recorded many fantastic songs over several decades. For sheer longevity and productivity only Elton John comes close, but I'm not sure even he has written anything as stupendously good as the bass intro to 'Stayin' Alive'. People will still be dancing to that in 50 years' time, when most of what currently passes for popular culture has long been forgotten.

By odd coincidence I had been listening a lot recently to the group's last studio album This Is Where I Came In (Polydor), which came out in 2001. I nearly bought it at the time, but had been disappointed by their late Eighties/early Nineties albums and so didn't feel comfortable about commuting the full L13.99 (or L16.99 if you go to Virgin Megastore). Then I saw it second-hand in Crouch End just before Christmas for L4. What a bargain. The brothers had promoted it as their `back to basics' album - no falsettos, slightly more raw of sound than we had come to expect, more pop than dance. With 14 songs adding up to 58 minutes, it's too long, and its last quarter could happily have been jettisoned. Nonetheless, it's jam-packed with killer tunes. Even the lesser tracks have melodies most songwriters would kidnap their relatives to have written, and the production is strikingly up to date. Several songs sound like chart hits of the moment, only done properly. Track three sounded particularly familiar - and then I realised it was the song that the boyband from the recent Pop Stars series had taken to number two just before Christmas. …

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