by Jeff Fiedler
Discog Fever is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com, rating and reviewing a band's entire catalogue of studio albums.
Staying Alive soundtrack (1983, RSO)
The mere concept of putting out a sequel to Saturday Night Fever in 1983, long after disco ceased being cool, was a really terrible idea on paper to begin with, both from a business standpoint and an artistic one, and perhaps not surprisingly, the film went on in 2006 to receive the dubious honor of having been named by Entertainment Weekly as the worst sequel ever made. The soundtrack itself is not quite as embarrassing, but it’s still pretty dubious, especially when compared to the soundtrack for Saturday Night Fever. The Bee Gees get the entire first side to themselves, but the songwriting is even weaker here than it was on Living Eyes, and there’s nothing here that comes anywhere close to holding a candle to Saturday Night Fever classics like “How Deep Is Your Love” or “More Than a Woman” or “Night Fever.” “Life Goes On” is fairly catchy, but it’s not at all danceable, whereas “The Woman in You” – which did reach #24, the only Bee Gees song here to reach the Top 40 – is danceable but lacks a particularly strong melody. It speaks volumes about just how off their game the brothers are as songwriters that they actually get upstaged by, of all people – you guessed it – Frank Stallone, Sylvester’s brother, who both writes and sings the album’s best and catchiest song, the frantic – if a bit melodramatic – “Far from Over,” which would reach the Top Ten. The remainder of the album’s second side is rounded out by songs from Stallone, Cynthia Rhodes [the movie’s female lead, who would later go on to be co-lead-vocalist of the band Animotion (“Obsession,” “Room to Move”) and marry Richard Marx], and Tommy Faragher – not exactly as star-studded a lineup as the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever had, though the songs themselves are listenable, if mostly forgettable (though “I’m Never Gonna Give You Up,” sung as a duet between Stallone and Rhodes, is certainly pretty.) As a whole, this is a more listenable soundtrack than Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was, but hardly anything jumps out here as being an especially memorable song except for maybe “Far from Over,” which the brothers had nothing to do with making.
E.S.P. (1987, Warner Bros.)
Six years had passed since the last proper album from the trio and quite a few music trends had come and gone since then, so it’s perhaps not surprising that the band struggles a bit here to find the right balance between sounding contemporary yet still comfortable, and the album is consequently quite awkward in places, never more so than on the ill-advised “Backtafunk” – but you can at least hear the group’s songwriting talents beginning to blossom again, especially on “You Win Again,” which did well internationally but sadly bombed in the U.S., something of a – pardon the pun – tragedy considering that it’s the best single they’ve issued as a band since “Love You Inside Out” and deserved to place in the Top 40.
One (1989, Warner Bros.)
The band had sadly lost younger brother Barry the year prior, which was undoubtedly a huge emotional blow to the band, which makes the quality of this album all the more remarkable. Easily their best album since Spirits Having Flown, even if it’s not nearly as magical as that disc, the brothers sound more at ease here with themselves than they did on E.S.P., and their songwriting is continuing to improve again, tracks like “Ordinary Lives” and “House of Shame” definitely an encouraging step back in the right direction. But the undeniable highlight here is the album’s hook-heavy title cut, which sounds a bit like “Jive Talkin’” recast as a late-‘80s R&B/dance tune. It may be a throwback of sorts, but after years of trying to cast aside the sound they did so well, it’s rather refreshing to hear the brothers back to their old danceable selves again, and not since “Night Fever” have they put out a single that made you want to get up and boogie as much as this one does. Luckily for the brothers, who have proven themselves time and time again as being impossible to keep down for long, the song brought them all the way back into the Top Ten and made them one of the more surprising comeback stories of 1989.
High Civilization (1991, Warner Bros.)
A significant step backwards from the career-reviving One, the band sounds a bit out of its element here, depending just a little too much on drum machines and contemporary production for comfort. The songwriting is still reasonably good, though, most notably “Secret Love,” “Happy Ever After,” and “When He’s Gone,” even if nothing here is quite as immediately catchy as “One” or even “You Win Again” were.
Size Isn’t Everything (1993, Polydor)
The band is still trying way too hard to sound contemporary here, and the opening cut, “Paying the Price of Love,” is excruciatingly embarrassing and ranks as the worst lead-off single from a Bee Gees album since 1981’s “He’s a Liar,” but the album thankfully gets better from there. Even if the production never quite suits the band and is still a bit too drum-machine-heavy, the songs are a bit catchier this time around, and cuts like “Kiss of Life” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls” show they haven’t lost their touch for a decent hook.
Still Waters (1997, Polydor)
Continuing their gradual artistic comeback, the band sounds much more at peace this time around with their place in the music landscape, and they don’t seem nearly so desperate here to chase after a comeback hit as they did on the previous two albums. Ironically enough, the shift towards a more mature direction gave them a comeback hit, anyway, thanks to the well-deserved Top 40 success of the hook-heavy opening cut “Alone,” the band’s best single since “One.” But that’s far from being the only decent song here, and the album, though still somewhat spotty, has its fair share of minor gems scattered here and there, most notably “Still Waters (Run Deep)” and “I Could Not Love You More.”
This Is Where I Came In (2001, Polydor)
Intentionally or not, this would turn out to be the last album the brothers would make together (both Robin and Maurice have passed away since then), but this was both a fine and fitting way for the band to go out, not in the least since it downplays the group’s danceable side and returns the band almost full-circle to the pure pop of its earliest days. [The superb “Technicolour Dreams,” in fact, would sound just as home on Bee Gees 1st as it does here, remarkably.] It’s certainly not as essential as any of their late ‘70s albums or even their best late ‘60s albums, but it completes a mostly steady artistic rise from their early ‘80s nadir as a band. Even if the band isn’t entirely back at the height of their powers artistically, you have to admire their resilience to keep churning out steadily better albums and wanting to prove they could still craft good songs, if not quite on as regular a basis as they could in their prime. Of all the band’s post-RSO discs, this is the one that most feels as if it was crafted to be an album piece, and it works relatively well as such. Though the album lacks a single quite as immediate as “One,” there are nonetheless some individual highlights, particularly the New Orleans-jazz stylings of “Technicolour Dreams,” the lovely, breezy ballad “Wedding Day,” and the intricate but groovy title track, which somehow brilliantly manages to work in hints of just about every era of the group’s eclectic history.
If you want to bypass the studio albums and just pick up a compilation or two from the band, you may get frazzled by the abundance of best-of packages out there, but we can help you simplify the search quite a bit. You have two especially good options. One is to pick up the 1976 package Bee Gees Gold, Volume One, which compiles all but two (the minor hits “First of May” and “Alive”) of the band’s thirteen Top 40 hits from 1967 through 1974, and then grab the 1979 double-disc Bee Gees Greatest, an absolutely fantastic best-of that rounds up most of their disco-era hits from 1975 through 1979, leaving out only “Boogie Child” and “Edge of the Universe” but mostly making up for those omissions with the inclusion of such stellar non-singles as “Wind of Change,” “Spirits (Having Flown),” and “Children of the World.” The lone drawback of taking this route is that you get deprived of some later comeback hits like “One” or “Alone.” Your second strong option is to pick up the 2006 double-disc package The Ultimate Bee Gees, which encompasses their full career (hence, “One” and “Alone” are included) and includes twenty-five of their thirty Top 40 hits, leaving out only “My World,” “Alive,” “Edge of the Universe,” “He’s a Liar,” and “The Woman in You.” The lone drawback of this route is that it’s largely singles-based, so you don’t get some of the some wonderful album cuts that were included on Bee Gees Greatest like “Winds of Change,” “Children of the World,” and “Love Me,” though the package does thankfully include “Spirits (Having Flown),” even if it sadly deletes the count-in that was thankfully kept intact on Bee Gees Greatest. As far as brother Andy goes, the best compilation of his work is sadly available only as the fourth disc in the expensive and flawed Bee Gees boxed set Mythology (which devotes a full disc to each brother), so your best option is to pick up the 2001 package 20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection – The Best of Andy Gibb, which is not as extensive but still thankfully includes all of his Top 40 hits, including the rarities “Time Is Time” and “Me (Without You),” neither of which were ever included on a proper studio album and instead were used as added sales bait on the 1981 compilation The Best of Andy Gibb (which is not recommended, if only because it strangely excludes the glorious Olivia Newton-John duet “I Can’t Help It.”)
The Bee Gees were such exquisite studio craftsmen – particularly during their disco period – that their live work isn’t nearly as fun to listen to in comparison, but if you do need a Bee Gees live album in your life, bypass One Night Only (which includes too many songs they wrote for others in lieu of their own hits and abbreviates some of their greatest songs, “Nights on Broadway” being cut down to just over a minute) and get 1977’s Here at Last … Bee Gees … Live, which captures the trio right around the peak of their disco-era fame (though it arrived just a tad too early to contain any Saturday Night Fever material) and also includes a rare live rendition of “Edge of the Universe” that reached the Top 40 and is quite tough to find elsewhere on LP.
Perhaps realizing that the backlash against disco would be a huge detriment to their career, Barry, Robin, and Maurice wisely spent much of the early ‘80s behind the scenes, writing and producing hits for other artists, and Barbra Streisand’s Guilty (which spawned the Top Ten hits “Woman in Love,” “What Kind of Fool,” and the title track, the latter two both duets with Barry), Dionne Warwick’s Heartbreaker (the title track from which would reach the Top Ten), Jimmy Ruffin’s Sunrise (sporting the Robin-penned Top Ten hit “Hold On to My Love,”) and Kenny Rogers’ Eyes That See in the Dark (which contains his chart-topping Dolly Parton duet “Islands in the Stream”) are all fine adult-contemporary discs both written and produced almost entirely by the brothers and are all recommended to Bee Gees fans. [Samantha Sang's fine 1978 Emotion album also boasts three songs penned by Barry, including the Top Three title cut, which would become a Top Ten hit a second time in 2001 after being covered by Destiny's Child.] The brothers’ solo work isn’t quite as glorious as their outings together, but Barry’s 1984 solo disc Now Voyager would yield a minor Top 40 hit in “Shine Shine” and contains its share of lost gems, like the gorgeous, Latin-tinged “One Night (for Lovers),” while Robin would record a great pair of solo albums in the mid-‘80s in How Old Are You? (which spawned the major international hit “Juliet”) and Secret Agent (which spawned the fun U.S. Top 40 hit – Robin’s second and final Top 40 solo hit – “Boys Do Fall in Love”). Barry’s second and most recent solo outing, 2016’s In the Now, isn’t nearly as great as you might hope it to be, especially given the thirty-two-year break since his previous solo album, but the singles “In the Now” and “Star-Crossed Lovers” are both highly recommended.