As purveyors of pure pop pleasantries over the past six years, the Bee Gees have few rivals extant and their popularity has continued virtually unabated. But after an initial barrage of arresting singles and a generally solid album track record (up to their fine double set Odessa), their music has declined. With elaborate orchestral arrangements and a preponderance of big ballads, Bee Gees’ material was always just a step away from the dreary MOR slush mainstream. They usually managed to avoid such a classification by varying combinations of striking melody lines, rich harmonies, intriguing lyrics and Robin Gibb’s unusual, quavery lead vocals. Recently, however, the melodies and harmonies have become drab and sparse, the arrangements correspondingly lusher (the lyrics became tame long ago). And Robin’s throbbing histrionics now seem at odds with the group’s currently trivial and simplistic repertoire.
This disturbing trend began around the time of Cucumber Castle, and has run through Trafalgar and the recent To Whom It May Concern (with time out for a one-shot resurgence on the grievously underrated Two Years On), and reached its peak with their single “Run To Me,” a pallid imitation of America’s “I Need You,” which was a pallid Bee Gees imitation in the first place. With their new album, Life in a Tin Can, conditions are slightly improved, but there’s really nothing to get excited about. Of the eight tracks, two are typical slushy ballads with scant redeeming melodic value. Another, “Living In Chicago,” is a fairly pretty but overlong number in the same vein, with plodding acoustic guitar dominating instead of the usual orchestra. Three other cuts fall into a melodramatic, pseudo-Western style which the Bee Gees have been toying with for some time. And, while the countryish tunes are pleasant enough, the pose is rather ludicrous.
Two tracks do stand out — “Method to My Madness,” by it’s unadorned organ-dominated arrangement and slightly above-average melody and “Saw a New Morning,” currently an unsuccessful single, for its dramatic production, relative complexity and strong harmonies. The only track herein that could be associated with past Bee Gees’ triumphs like “New York Mining Disaster 1941” or “Lonely Days,” “Saw a New Morning” is less impressive but at least maintains a connection to earlier triumphs. As for Life in a Tin Can, it is vaguely pleasant and certainly innocuous enough to fit right in with the prevalent Seventies soft-rock ambience. But the best Bee Gees’ song out today is David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” (note manifold vocal and stylistic similarities), and the group itself can be considered artistically moribund for the present.