Fifteen stylistically diverse artists take on the equally stylistically diverse Brothers Gibb with largely satisfying results.
For all intents and purposes, it could be argued that the Bee Gees were essentially two separate bands, linked by name alone. There’s the late ‘60s iteration that focused on vaguely psychedelic, maudlin baroque pop that resulted in a handful of hits, highly regarded singles and good-to-solid albums. And then there’s the million-selling megastar disco-fied version that sprang up in the wake of the massive success of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. Of course, each represents the prevailing trends within the music industry at the time and, being savvy pop practitioners, the Brothers Gibb found themselves smack dab in the middle of these trends, achieving varying degrees of success within each. It was a case of having the right sound at the right time, not to mention an uncanny ability to churn out genuine pop hits in a variety of styles.
Given the impact the first incarnation has had on a legion of indie pop groups, it would not have been surprising if much of To Love the Bee Gees: A Tribute to the Brothers Gibb was culled from their late ‘60s output. Much of this is due to the credibility and “hip” status granted these psych-pop records and the unfair scorn and derision leveled at their disco-era output. Fortunately, nearly the whole of their career is represented across the album’s 15 tracks. From their 1967 debut Bee Gees’ 1st (“To Love Somebody” and “Cucumber Castle”) to 1993’s Size Isn’t Everything (a swirlingly hypnotic rendition of “Blue Island”) and all points in between, the whole of their career arc is represented.
Going against type, former Belle & Sebastian vocalist (themselves no stranger to the early sound of the Bee Gees) and solo artist Isobel Campbell tackles the ‘70s staple “How Deep Is Your Love". Of course, she does so in a style more reminiscent of their ‘60s work, but it only proves the point that, regardless of the style, the Brothers Gibb knew how to craft an impeccable pop song.
One of perhaps the best pairings of artist and song is that of baroque-pop icon Emitt Rhodes who takes on the melancholic “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart", the lead-off track from their 1971 release Trafalgar. Himself no stranger to a finely crafted pop hook, Rhodes does an exceptional job building on the original and reshaping it within his own image without deviating too far from the sound of the of the original.
Mexican electronic dance collective Kinky puts their own indelible stamp on “Living Together” from 1979’s Spirits Having Flown. Here the original’s disco funk is recast within a more contemporary style of dance music, one equally influenced by and indebted to the Bee Gees late ‘70s recordings. Coming after Elayna Boynton’s Nina Simone-channeling reading of “To Love Somebody", it can feel a bit of a stark contrast. But it’s this stylistic diversity and compositional consistency, an undeniably winning combination, which has caused the Bee Gees to remain relevant into the 21st century.
Similarly, Dylan Gardner’s “Massachusetts” adheres closely to the original, right down to the maudlin warble of not only the lead, but the harmonies as well. Closest to its source material, Gardner’s contribution finds its heart within the spirit of the original but recast within a contemporary singer-songwriter framework, albeit one strongly indebted to and influenced by albums like 1968’s Horizontal. The Boy Joys take a similar approach with their take on the lyrically absurd “Cucumber Castle". Something of a deep cut, it’s an interesting choice done serviceably.
On “Fanny (Be Tender My Love)", Brazzaville provides just the right touch of schmaltz and irony-free AOR that wouldn’t have sounded out of place next to the version which appeared on the million-selling Main Course. Conversely, Martin Carr’s complete and total dismantling of the disco anthem “Stayin’ Alive” sounds nothing like the original, the lyrics its only identifying marker.
Due to strength of the source material and its overall malleability, there was little chance for some of the abject failures that populate similar tribute albums. That said, several tracks would not have played well regardless of the source material (Myron & E’s electro-rock steady reading of “Jive Talkin’” and Mary Margaret O’Hara’s over-the-top warbling on “Tell Me Why” chiefly among them). Stylistically diverse, each artist here brings a bit of themselves to their performance while still honoring the spirit of the original. Recast as either a simmering ballad or up-tempo soul number, each song plainly proves its inherent staying power and furthers the notion that the Bee Gees may well have been one of the greatest pop bands of all time. In this, To Love the Bee Gees is largely the loving tribute their work deserves.