Main Course, the best-sounding Bee Gees album ever, represents a last-ditch effort to reestablish the group’s mass popularity in front of their upcoming U.S. tour. My guess is that it should succeed, at least to some extent, due to Arif Mardin’s spectacular production, which presents the Bee Gees in blackface on the album’s four genuinely exciting cuts. “Nights on Broadway” and especially “Fanny (Be Tender with My Love)” boast spacious disco arrangements against which the Bee Gees overdub skillful imitations of black falsetto. “Jive Talkin'” approximates the synthesized propulsion of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” while the song itself offers an inept lyric parody of black street argot. In “Wind of Change,” also synthesized Stevie Wonder style, the Gibb brothers dare to pretend to speak for New York black experience. While I find the very idea of such pretensions offensively cooptive, musically the group carries them off with remarkable flair.
The rest of the album more or less reflects the Bee Gees of old. “Songbird,” “Country Lanes,” “Come on Over” and “Baby as You Turn Away” sound characteristically sugary. “Edge of the Universe” is a slice of dumb psychedelia, “All This Making Love,” a passable novelty. For all their professionalism, the Bee Gees have never been anything but imitators, their albums dependent on sound rather than substance. In this respect, Main Course is no different from its predecessors.