As Orson Welles and Hunter Thompson have famously noted, we are born alone and we die alone. It’s a frightening prospect, as it implies that the things that give meaning to our lives—our family, friends, passions, etc.—do not follow us into the grave. So how do you think Barry Gibb, the only remaining Bee Gee, feels about this? For the majority of his life, he has been a co-writer and shared-harmony singer. As the oldest of four boys, he has outlived his three talented brothers (Robin, Maurice, and Andy). In fact, In This Now is only his second solo record, and the first in 32 years. Clearly, he’s not used to doing music alone.
Barry is now a grandfather of seven and has been married to his second wife for more than 45 years. Two of his sons, Stephen and Ashley, are his musical collaborators on the new release. Still, this is the 70-year-old’s show. He imparts his personal wisdom of age—well, kind of. After all, this is the person who’s responsible for classics such as “To Love Somebody” (a song successfully covered by legends like the Flying Burrito Brothers, Janis Joplin, and Nina Simone) and whose falsetto graces the best tracks from the multi-platinum Saturday Night Fever , including “Stayin’ Alive”, “Love Is Thicker Than Water”, “Night Fever”, and “If I Can’t Have You”. And this is just the tip of the iceberg of his accomplishments.
But Gibb was never known as a soloist; over the years, his partners have included divas such as Barbara Streisand, Diana Ross, and Dionne Warwick, as well as his brothers. He loses himself (in the best sense) by finding the muse that transforms words into music, and for that he deserves laurels and honors. Sadly, In the Now is not much more than just okay. That’s not a backhanded compliment, either. In This Now contains some good stuff; however, his voice shows the (unacknowledged) signs of age. In addition, the material leans towards cliché and the arrangements lack focus. For Gibb, the present is with us, but we don’t know what to do with it.
He’s not so much waiting around to die as much as he’s too tired to dance. On cuts like “Cross to Bear”, Gibb laments our shared fates and the ways in which we all have our troubles. But he’s no longer the guy trapped in a coal mine sharing pictures of his wife, truly waiting to die but unwilling to go without thoughts of love. Now, Gibb quietly moans, “Sometimes I think I am somewhere else / I think I have gone insane” as he sees the ghosts of the departed in the “Shadows”. Maybe, but the mariachi horn accompaniment suggests he is less than inspired. If seeing one’s dead brother means staying in bed instead of raving, one cannot be too scared.
Of course, Gibbs’ music was never just about the words. The sounds they made and their mix with the it was the most important thing. One understood that songs like “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” expressed pain more than simple lyrics could convey, and there are some tunes here that function similarly. The sweetness of “Star Crossed Lovers” and the pop psychedelia of “Amy Comes in Colors” reveal that Gibb knows how to use the studio to his advantage, so while the lyrics work in abstraction, the music takes it a step further into something transcendent.
The are other fine moments, but not enough of them. Unfortunately, it’s the kind of record that sounds less interesting the more one listens, until the superficial pleasures ultimately wear paper thin. In the end. he’s just an old man telling one what might have been instead of really living the moment.