Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Near-Perfect Soundtrack, An Otherwise Wonderful Album, Saturday Night Fever Lives Up!

The Good: Good lyrics, Decent vocals, Duration, Decent instrumental accompaniment
The Bad: One or two weaker tracks.
The Basics: A legitimately wonderful album, the Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack holds up, for the most part, to this day as a great dance-pop work.

There are few albums that have the iconic value and almost instant recognition of the Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack and were I rating it based solely on that, I would have to rate it as a perfect album. As it is, I come to the album long after it was released, has become a mainstay on many people’s shelves and has been usurped for best selling album of all time (thank you, The Bodyguard Soundtrack!). The truth is, as I listen to the album now, it might be a great soundtrack and it is a great album, but it is not flawless and the flaws come out in the latter half of the album and rob the work of a perfect (10/10) rating in my pantheon. Is it close? You bet. Is it worth buying? Absolutely! Is it perfect . . . no.

The Saturday Night Fever soundtrack is largely the creative work of the band the Bee Gees, though it is a true soundtrack in that others perform some of their works and there are other works included on the album, including instrumental pieces. Saturday Night Fever is largely a dance-pop album and it holds up remarkably well as such. It is worth noting that I have never seen Saturday Night Fever and as a result, I have no commentary on how it fits with the film. I also have no memories from the film I am associating with the music. As a result, this is a very pure review of just the music on the album.

With seventeen tracks occupying 74:06 on a single c.d., Saturday Night Fever is largely the creative work of the Bee Gees. They wrote most of the songs, even when others like Yvonne Elliman and Tavares perform them, and they perform six of the songs. The band was not involved in the production of the album, so some of the creative control was out of their hands. Similarly, songs like “Boogie Shoes” and “Disco Inferno” were not associated with the Bee Gees at all.

Instrumentally, the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack is very much a dance-pop album. The songs that are by the Bee Gees are, in fact, the archetypal dance-pop works that led into the disco era. Songs like “Stayin’ Alive” and “Night Fever” are dominated by the keyboards and they have powerful beats that make one want to dance. Smartly, the album breaks up the harder, obvious dance songs with ballads like “How Deep Is Your Love” which actually employs a string section to accent the melody and make its romantic (or, depending on your perspective, sappy) points.

Outside the Bee Gees, the Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack is melodic and strong with songs that use keyboards, like the reworking of Beethoven’s Fifth by Walter Murphy “Fifth Of Beethoven.” By speeding up the tempo and reworking the piece in keyboards, it sounds fresh and funky. Similarly, David Shire’s “Night On Disco Mountain” removes the menace of “Night On Bald Mountain” and makes the song danceable and fun. “Boogie Shoes” employs bawdy trumpets to make a very sexy dance song and “Open Sesame” is just a murky, bass-driven song. Saturday Night Fever might be largely dance music, but it has a remarkably diverse sound to it and the album mixes it up well to be very listenable.

Vocally, the Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack is similarly diverse. While the Bee Gees present songs like “More Than A Woman” in soulful three-part harmony, Yvonne Elliman presents their song “If I Can’t Have You” in an energetic soprano voice. The latter half of the album with songs like “Disco Inferno” and “Boogie Shoes” have decidedly more masculine vocals which change the tenor to a sweatier, funkier sound than most of the early songs on the album. The vocals are usually clear and understandable, which goes a long way to accenting the lyrics.

Most of the songs on the Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack are dance songs. Some, like “Boogie Shoes” are mood pieces intended to get one on the floor and dance. They do this wonderfully with the instrumental accompaniment, but with lines like “I Want To Do It 'til The Sun Comes Up / Uh Huh, And I Want To Do It 'til / I Can't Get Enough, Yeah, Yeah / I Want To Put On My My My My My / Boogie Shoes / Just To Boogie With You, Yeah” (“Boogie Shoes”) there is little lyrical meaning that is truly deep or revealing. Beyond the desire to dance and have something to sing about, the lines are largely meaningless (and I like the song a lot!). Similarly, outside a few yells like “Shazam!” and “Groove with the genie,” “Open Sesame” is little more than the line “Get down with the genie” repeated over and over again.

This is not to say all of the lines are bad. In fact, some of the best writing by the Bee Gees are on songs on the Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack. The band has a real knack for love songs and when they sing “I know your eyes in the morning sun / I feel you touch me in the pouring rain / And the moment that you wander far from me / I wanna feel you in my arms again / And you come to me on a summer breeze / Keep me warm in your love / Then you softly leave / And it's me you need to show / How deep is your love” (“How Deep Is Your Love”) it is hard to deny their ability to create great imagery in their songs. Indeed, when it comes to love poetry, songs like “How Deep Is Your Love” do a great job of tapping into a universal set of emotions that people want to hear.

In all, Saturday Night Fever works well as an album, save that some of the middle tracks are unmemorable and have a very different tenor from the rest of the work, most notably “Open Sesame.” That is the weak track, but anyone who is looking for an iconic 1970s album will find it here and it does manage to still resonate today. The high point is “How Deep Is Your Love.”

For other works by male bands, please check out my reviews of:
Wonderwall - Oasis
God Shuffled His Feet - Crash Test Dummies
Minutes To Midnight - Linkin Park


For other music reviews, please check out my index page!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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