Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Why Settle For Chuck When You Can Have Steak? The Bee Gees Number Ones.

The Good: Great songs, Good duration
The Bad: There's a better compilation with all but one of these songs.
The Basics: Unsatisfying to fans of The Bee Gees, Number Ones is less than an earlier, better compilation!

I hate to see musical artists exploiting their works in cheap ways. I’m sorry, There's truly no other way to call it sometimes, though. When Elvis charted recently with his album #1 Hits other bands and performers whose best days on the charts were behind them started doing the same. With The Bee Gees, the album they released was Number Ones. My discontent with this album comes from a very simple and honest place. I have a great love of their compilation album Their Greatest Hits: The Record which preceded Number Ones. Sadly, Number Ones is not so ambitious, and includes far less material than their more impressive compilation. In fact, the only conceivable reasons for wanting Number Ones over Their Greatest Hits: The Record is because one either does not want two discs or because they do want the song “Man In The Middle,” which is not on the earlier compilation. That is not sufficient reason as far as I am concerned.

For those unfamiliar with the Bee Gees, they were a pop-rock trio which exploded into prominence in the late 1960s, dominated the popular music scene (especially disco with the Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack) in the 1970s, relied on their songwriting skills to survive the 1980s and saw a popular adult contemporary resurgence in the 1990s. They are one of the most (surprisingly) versatile bands and Number Ones does a decent job of illustrating how their popular musical hooks and catchy lyrics allowed them to ascend the charts for so very long.

With twenty tracks occupying 77:29, Number Ones is a decent exploration of the popular hits of the Bee Gees. Featuring the new song “Man In The Middle” as a tribute for Maurice Gibb (who died prior to the album’s release), the album is otherwise a straightforward compilation album with no truly new material. The Bee Gees wrote their own songs (though in “Islands In The Stream,” the perform additional lyrics not written by them) and played their own instruments. The vocals were performed by the band and they were involved with the production of most of the tracks. More than ever a tool of the studio, the Bee Gees had a pretty solid musical vision and the execution of it is wonderful on Number Ones.

Instrumentally, Number Ones is split pretty evenly between tracks that are dominated by guitars and those by keyboards. While the percussion section is seldom as memorable or noticeable, songs like “Stayin’ Alive” succeed because the keyboards are used as a percussion instrument to keep time and create an undeniable, danceable rhythm. Many of the songs are pop-rock ballads, like “I Started A Joke” and “Words,” which rely on untraditional rock instruments, like backing violins, in order to sell the emotion of the song. Number Ones illustrates a fairly broad concept of what the band is musically capable of and almost all of the songs are instantly recognizable, even if not from the Bee Gees.

Vocally, Barry Gibb presents most of the songs and unlike the stereotype, he does not present them exclusively in a falsetto. While Robin goes deeper on songs like “I Started A Joke,” Barry makes “Night Fever” and “Tragedy” distinctive with his ability to sing both clearly and supernaturally high (for a man). But what makes the band so incredible is how the men of the Bee Gees harmonize. Songs like “I’ve Gotta Get A Message To You,” “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart” and “Love You Inside Out” would be diminished hearing them without the three part harmony that comes from all three Gibb brothers performing at once.

On Number Ones, the songs are generally concerned with love, love lost and dancing, which is what made the band so popular. The trio has a great sense of poetics and what many these days fail to recall is that they actually had a strong backing in the Folk tradition, which led them to create musical storysongs. They have a strong sense of imagery in their poetry with lines like “On my wall lies a photograph of you girl / Though I try to forget you somehow / You're the mirror of my soul so take me out of my hole / Let me try to go on living right now / Don't forget to remember me / And the love that used to be / I still remember you / I love you / In my heart lies a memory to tell the stars above / Don't forget to remember me my love” (“Don’t Forget To Remember”). The Bee Gees know how to write and with the tracks on Number Ones, I only found myself wanting more.

And rather than cite more lyrics or such, that is where I shall leave it. Number Ones is a culling down of Their Greatest Hits: The Record and fans of the Bee Gees will rightfully want more as opposed to less. Seeing as now there is an Ultimate Collection (I’m working to get my hands on that) Number Ones is even less relevant now.

For other albums by bands, please check out my reviews of:
Pet Shop Boys - Pop Art
Crash Test Dummies - God Shuffled His Feet
Vertical Horizon - Everything You Want (single)


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

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

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