The cycles of celebrity being what they are, it’s perhaps inevitable that the Bee Gees, semikings of pop in two different eras, would come knocking on the door again, trying for a three-peat. After all, John Travolta bounced back from Saturday Night Fever to be reborn as a “serious” actor. Disco, the Bees’ big score, turns up in all kinds of electronic guises nowadays. And if the success of the Cardigans is any indication, classic-pop songwriting, once the main strength of the brothers Gibb, has become important again.
So the planets are aligned, and producers with multiplatinum résumés (Hugh Padgham, Arif Mardin, Russ Titelman, David Foster) are on board. But Still Waters, the first Bee Gees project since 1993’s Size Isn’t Everything, never gets beyond an eerie professionalism — it’s flawless and facile and completely inconsequential. Expert recyclers, the Gibbs spend most of this collection catching up with the late ’80s and the ’90s, studiously emulating styles others discarded long ago: There’s a bald rewrite of a Bruce Springsteen anthem (“Álone”), a vaguely funky simulation of Bad-era Michael Jackson (“I Surrender”) and a soulless attempt at a Diane Warren weeper (“Closer Than Close”).
All have one thing in common: They’re designed to showcase those close-knit brotherly harmonies, which still quaver and quake after all these years. Some of the vocal work is extraordinary — the Padgham-produced rewrite of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” a song called “Irresistible Force,” involves the three voices in a gorgeous round-robin chorale. More often, however, the Gibbs resort to desperate-singer devices — crying, whining, pleading — to conjure those long-gone eras when what they sang mattered.