Monday, June 8, 2015
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: ROBIN GIBB - SAVED BY THE BELL
Actually, Robin was first out, back in March of '69. He was simply chaffing to do more on his own. As a songwriter, he had developed his own style which was certainly unique and at odds with the overall group and management hopes for hit singles. Despite his brother's hopes it would just be a temporary solo flight, Robin hit the Top Ten all across Europe with his first solo single, Saved By The Bell, and immediately set to work on his own album, and a lot of other projects too. There were orchestral sessions, including one with a choir, music to accompany the Apollo moon landing. He was writing a book of short stories, Dickensian he said. One would be a movie. There were demos and songs, piles of them. Three singles came out, a full album (Robin's Reign), a planned but never completed second album, and just as quickly as he'd left, he was back. After his brothers released failed singles in the Spring of '70, they all decided it was indeed better together. They were gone so quickly most people didn't know they'd left, and quickly they were back at the top with Lonely Days and How Can You Mend A Broken Heart. The end.
Except, there was all this music made by Robin, much of it never seeing the light of day. The biggest fans knew about it, and the songs circulated in the don't ask-don't tell world of the biggest collectors. Not even Robin Gibb had copies of it all, with tapes lost and forgotten over the years. It took the intervention of passionate people and ten years of searching to put it all together in this new three-disc set, with two-thirds of it unreleased until now. Robin helped at the start, but died in 2012. So it was the fans that came through, with rare acetates and tapes, probably the only existing copies of hours and hours of work Gibb did that solo year.
Disc one presents the original Robin's Reign album, plus the mono singles that came out as well. It follows the work Robin had begun on the Odessa album, very much his own writing style. He'd take historical moments, with a fondness for British life in the late 19th and early 20th century. There were farmers and wars, family histories, and small tragedies. The music was from another time as well, baroque tunes, lots of orchestra, piano, and harpsichord and harmonium. Producing himself, his main collaborators were several talented arrangers and conductors, working to orchestrate his dreams. Robin's Reign is an odd piece to this day, quite lovely but with its own language. The single August October makes little sense: "In August, October, the grass grew/The sky was blue and I want you." Farmer Ferdinand Hudson is about a farmer who has lost it all in horrible storm, and we meet him on his dying day. Sad stuff, and in no way typical of the pop world then or now.
The beauty of this collection is how far we can now go into Gibb's work that year. We find out Farmer Ferdinand Hudson was simply one part of the huge, 12-minute cut Hudson's Fallen Wind, released now for the first time. It's an ambitious, delightful work, obscure and still sad, a new type of composition from a highly creative mind. Perhaps he felt the pressure once again to conform to the pop world, which is too bad, it's much better than other songs on Robin's Reign. Things really take off on disc two though. This collects a group of songs referred to as the Sing Slowly Sisters sessions, after the first track, and possible name for a second album. The style he'd been working on had really coalesced with these tracks. The orchestra was bigger, it was largely just strings and keys on the tracks, but the songs were more focused, the lyrics and ideas concise, the topics broader. These did sound more like the hits he possibly wanted, yet he also wasn't compromising. They were a bit more upbeat, more varied in mood, and you weren't left scratching your head over anything. Except, why he didn't do anything with them. With the group back together, all solo work was put on the back-burner, and Gibb was fine to let them sit there, the creation more important than the desire for them to be released.
Disc three gathers a few more odd tracks from this time, some BBC Radio appearances and a large number of demos recorded in his home studio, spare solo versions, some that never got past that initial stage. With so much hype given to other '70's stars releasing barely-different mixes as bonus tracks on new deluxe editions (I'm looking at you, Jimmy Page), this is far more of a goldmine, real unheard, brilliant music finally available, and far more worthy of your attention and dollars.