Wednesday, January 27, 2010

CD Review: The Bee Gees - Odessa

The Bee Gees are still in the midst of celebrating their 50th Anniversary even though some online bios show them forming as early as 1958. Remember, the Gibbs were mere tykes when they started. Surviving members Barry and Robin have written the liner notes for Mythology The 50th Anniversary Collection, which will be released in March. The four-disc boxed set includes a 60-page book. In the meantime, here’s a review of the deluxe version of Odessa I did for the Illinois Entertainer last year.

Long before they helped make disco a worldwide phenomenon with their Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, the Bee Gees were the original practitioners of baroque pop. Built on fragile but irresistible melodies, lush harmonies, and often accompanied by an orchestra, their music showcased the three Gibb brothers’ passion for innovation. The Bee Gees’ most ambitious effort, Odessa was originally released as a two record set in 1969, when drummer Colin Petersen was considered part of the band, along with Maurice, Barry, and Robin. The new deluxe version three disc box set sports the original red velvet cover and adds 22 bonus tracks.

Although it wasn’t a true concept album in terms of having a continuing story line, Odessa fits well along side The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Who’s Tommy. There’s that sense of melancholy that haunted much of the band’s work, and it settles in on the opening track, “Odessa.” Backed by a full orchestra, a marooned sailor longs for the woman he loves and imagines her being wooed by another man. “Lamplight,” “Sound Of Love,” and the single “First Of May” are gorgeous ballads brimming with heartache and a sense of loss.

Typically, a guy in a Bee Gees song not only loses the girl, he suffers worldwide rejection and isolation. “Never Say Never Again,” an artful blend of strings and acoustic guitar, includes the line, “You said goodbye, I declared war on Spain.” The bitterness expressed in “I Laugh In Your Face” is even more bizarre: “I pull out your plug so you’re small./You slide down the drain on the steps of St. Peter’s.”

The extended playing time on Odessa enabled the Bee Gees to tap into their lighter side, as well as explore different musical genres. “Marley Purt Drive,” a whimsical tale of an orphanage, uses an Americana instrumentation that would have fit right in on The Band’s Music From Big Pink. “Give Your Best” is another toe-tapping Country & Western number, while “Whisper Whisper” deliriously combines lilting strings and energetic rock behind bawdy lyrics about sex and drugs. “Seven Seas Symphony” and “With All Nations (International Anthem)” are instrumentals that are given full orchestral arrangements by Bill Shepherd and qualify as bona fide classical music. “Melody Fair,” “Black Diamond,” and “Suddenly” are catchy pop songs, as is the acoustic guitar-driven “You’ll Never See My Face Again,” which adds a darker element that predates R.E.M. The Bee Gees might be the only band that would concoct a tribute to the inventor of electric light bulbs, but the ornate “Edison” actually works.

The Odessa deluxe edition offers an additional CD of demos that give a behind the scenes look at the songwriting process. “Edison,” for example, started out as “Barbara Came To Stay,” and there are alternate takes for just about every song from the original release. The different arrangements of “Melody Fair” and “Black Diamond” in particular, stand on their own as great pop songs. This enhanced version may come with boatload of goodies, but the music itself proves this was a master work from the Bee Gees.

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