To Whom It May Concern

Not Rated

"The sweetest music this side of heaven," the epithet misapplied to Guy Lombardo, is the aptest description I can think of to describe the Bee Gees at their best. Beginning with Odessa, a minor masterpiece of jewel-encrusted, late-Sixties psychedelia, they have concentrated chiefly on developing a single musical idea, technologizing the standard Top 40 ballad to achieve unprecedented lushness and sonic depth. The result is headphone mood music that makes no demands beyond a superficial emotional surrender to its perfumed atmosphere of pink frosting and glitter. While the richness of production values on the Bee Gees' records has been increasing, the inventiveness of their lyrics has been steadily declining. Nothing they have written since has had the narrative coherence and subtlety of their first hit, "New York Mining Disaster 1941," already five years old.

To Whom It May Concern is even more rapturously sensuous than its predecessor, Trafalgar. The brothers Gibb have refined their tremulous vocal style to the point that at times they sound more like reed instruments than singers. The album contains only two flirtations with rock: "Bad Bad Dreams," a creditable imitation of the Beatles' "Day Tripper," and "Road to Alaska," a makeshift nonentity. The Bee Gees have decided, sensibly I think, to concentrate on their one great strength—the writing, singing and production of big ballads, the best of which evoke a grand though momentary pathos. This is a very limited territory of pop music to occupy but the Bee Gees are its masters.

The album's best cut is its opener, the single "Run to Me." The most beautiful ballad they've recorded since "Melody Fair," it has everything going for it: a great tune, supersymphonic production and a strong, simple message: "Run to me whenever you're lonely/Run to me if you need a shoulder/Now and then you need someone older/So darling run to me." The second-best cut, "Alive," is also inspirational in the grand manner: "And I'm alive/And that's all/And I can get up just as fast as I fall/And I can walk and run but I'll never crawl/And in the end it doesn't matter at all." Almost as good are "Never Been Alone," "We Lost the Road," "Sea of Smiling Faces," and "You Know It's For You," the last using a mellotron a la Moody Blues. The album's two poorest cuts, "Paper Mache, Cabbages and Kings" and "Sweet Song of Summer," are its two longest; both are overproduced psychedelic claptrap. The first uses lyric whimsy to make its non-point; in the second, sound overwhelms substance through the gross misuse of a synthesizer and some bogus "tribal" yodeling. These faults won't matter to those who are confirmed Bee Gees freaks. To Whom It May Concern should have enough sugar to satiate the most demanding sweet tooth.

From The Archives Issue 595: January 10, 1991