by Jeff Fiedler
Discog Fever is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com, rating and reviewing a band's entire catalogue of studio albums.
2 Years On (1970, Atco)
The good news: Robin is back in the fold here. It’s not as strong a disc as 1st, Idea, or Odessa, but it’s a step back in the right direction, and the album sports the best Bee Gees single since “I Started a Joke” in the singalong “Lonely Days,” which effectively alternates from slow, almost sleepy verses to rousing choruses. It may be the only hit here, but there are some good album cuts here to surround it, including the surprisingly hard-rocking “Back Home,” “Every Second, Every Minute,” “Man for All Seasons,” “Portrait of Louise,” and Robin’s astounding “Alone Again.” Even Maurice gets in a fun number with the country-tinged “Lay It on Me.”
Trafalgar (1971, Atco)
Like 2 Years On, there’s only one song here most listeners are likely to recognize, but it’s a great one: the Number One hit ballad “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart.” Unfortunately, the album begins with that song, so it’s pretty much inevitable that the disc goes downhill after that, but it’s certainly not bad, and there are some good cuts spread out over the rest of the disc, notably Barry’s “Don’t Wanna Live Inside Myself,” Robin’s “Remembering,” Maurice’s title cut, and “Lion in Winter.”
To Whom It May Concern (1972, Atco)
There’s no “Lonely Days” or “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” here, unfortunately; in fact, the catchiest song from these sessions, the #16-peaking “My World,” was sadly diverted to a non-LP single and really should have been included here. But there are nonetheless two Top 40 hits here, the #16-peaking ballad “Run to Me” (the group’s singles during the entirety of the early ‘70s tended to be very slow-moving, which makes their later makeover as a disco band all the more remarkable and unexpected) and the #34-peaking “Alive.” Though you can’t help but wish for a knockout single here, the album as a whole holds together better than either of the previous two discs, and it’s quite underrated, boasting such overlooked cuts as “Paper Mache, Cabbages, and Kings,” the Maurice-sung “You Know It’s for You,” “Bad, Bad Dreams,” “Road to Alaska,” and “Never Been Alone.”
Life in a Tin Can (1973, RSO)
Not nearly as bad as its reputation would have you believe but not a great album, either, nothing here is exactly embarrassing, but there are three things that work against the album. First of all, there are no obvious hits here, and indeed, the only single released from this album, “Saw a New Morning,” would peak at #94. (That song is still decent enough to make you wonder why it didn’t manage to creep its way into the Top 40, though.) Secondly, at eight cuts, the album feels a little under-cooked. Lastly, but most importantly, the album is just so overly ballad-heavy that it ends up feeling completely lifeless and you just end up spending the whole album waiting for a fast number that never arrives, which just makes you wonder if the band is either just really exhausted or if it’s trying too hard to reprise the success of “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart.” Thankfully, they’d pick up the tempos on their next album.
Mr. Natural (1974, RSO)
A dramatic step back in the right direction, credit producer Arif Mardin for this one. The band’s still a bit too reliant on ballads, but the songwriting is a bit sharper (the title cut and “Dogs” may both be ballads, but they both leave more of an impact than just about anything from the prior album), and the band is trying new things, such as the seductive stylings of album opener “Charade” that would become a trademark of the band’s later ballads and, more importantly, the lite disco of “Down the Road,” a sound that would soon come to redefine the band entirely. You probably won’t recognize any of the songs here, but this is where the sound that the Bee Gees are most famous for first took root.
Main Course (1975, RSO)
True, you could conceivably call this a less-than-cohesive album, since the band is straddling two different worlds here – they’re beginning to delve heavily into disco here, yet they haven’t entirely shed the pop/rock sounds of their early ‘70s material – but if this isn’t the band’s best album yet, it’s certainly the most hook-heavy, and nearly every last song on this album is sure to get stuck in your head for hours or even days. The Number One hit “Jive Talkin’” is here, and it still sounds as great now as it did back then – the squiggly synth lines are delicious, the instrumental breakdown and fake ending are brilliant additions to the song’s arrangement, and Barry’s delivery of the final “just gets in your eye, yeah yeah yeah!” is the perfect capper to a great melody. “Nights on Broadway” is nearly every bit as brilliant, with its ominous intro, ingenious harmonies, unexpected tempo changes and building tension. The lovely – and quite underrated – Top 40 ballad “Fanny (Be Tender with My Love)” is also here as well, as is the original studio version of one of the band’s most underrated Top 40 hits, the wistful “Edge of the Universe.” Even the non-singles here are fabulous, be it the insanely catchy stomp of “All This Making Love,” the breezy ballad “Baby As You Turn Away,” the country stylings of “Come on Over,” or even better, the haunting – almost terrifying – disco grooves of “Wind of Change,” which brilliantly comes to a dead stop before Barry gradually works his way up his upper vocal range and ends with what might be the most maniacal shriek he’s ever captured on record, which makes for the perfect climax to the song. It may not be the album’s best song – it’s hard to top “Jive Talkin’” and “Nights on Broadway” – but it could very well be the greatest non-single in the band’s entire catalog.
Children of the World (1976, RSO)
This album might actually be more artistically cohesive than its predecessor – the band has fully immersed itself into disco by this point – but the songwriting is a bit more hit-and-miss this time around than it was on Main Course. This isn’t to say the album is bad – far from it. You’ve got a Number One hit here in the disco classic “You Should Be Dancing,” one of the band’s loveliest ballads in the mellow grooves of the Top Ten ballad “Love So Right,” and one of their most inexplicably overlooked Top 40 hits, the #12-peaking disco-funk of “Boogie Child.” The surrounding album cuts aren’t bad, either, especially the sultry soul of “Love Me” (later a Top 40 hit for protégé Yvonne Elliman), the groovy and wildly catchy “You Stepped Into My Life,” and the impressive harmonies of the title cut, the entire opening chorus of which is cleverly sung completely acapella by all three brothers and the final chorus of which similarly foregoes any instrumentation. If Main Course hadn’t preceded it, this would still be a mighty return to form for the band, but this album unfortunately had a hard act to follow, and it doesn’t have quite the same “wow” factor, excellent though it still is.
Flowing Rivers (1977, RSO)
Brother Andy’s debut album is an altogether different kind of disc – he’s less interested in disco than his brothers, so he sticks most of the time to folk (“Words and Music”) or easygoing adult-contemporary pop (the appealing “Dance by the Light of the Morning”), so you don’t have to be a disco fan to enjoy this record. Unfortunately for Andy, who wrote most of the material here on his own or with the help of co-producer Alby Galuten, he didn’t quite have as much of a knack for writing obvious singles as his brothers, so his own material would tend to go largely unnoticed, delightful though it often was, and it was perhaps inevitable that the two singles here – both Number One hits – would be written by or with the help of brother Barry, who also co-produces. And they are great singles: “I Just Want to Be Your Everything” is remarkably clever, starting off with an intense intro that highlights Ron Ziegler’s drum work before settling into a gentle groove that goes back and forth with ease between Andy’s easygoing croon and Barry’s almost unearthly falsetto, while the dramatic ballad “(Love Is) Thicker Than Water” similarly shifts from dreamy, sparse verses to intense, ominous choruses to surprisingly great effect and employs Joe Walsh’s guitar playing to great use.