Saturday, January 31, 2009

Album of the Day #138: ODESSA - Bee Gees

In 2006, Rhino/Reprise announced that they planned on re-issuing all of the Bee Gees’ albums in deluxe, two-disc editions. The first release was a box set of Bee Gees’ 1st, Horizontal and Idea that contained liner notes, both mono and stereo versions and bonus discs for each album that included singles and unreleased tracks. Odessa, originally released in early 1969, was the fourth album by the Bee Gees, made up of Robin, Barry and Maurice Gibb (plus drummer Colin Peterson), and their only double studio album. Rhino/Reprise waited until this January to release it, though, making sure that it was perfect. This is part one of my extensive review on the release. It will cover the album itself, while part two will go over the re-issue’s packaging and extra material.

The album kicks off rather suddenly with “Odessa (City on the Black Sea)”, propelled by Robin’s dark, mysterious vocal and a quiet guitar and piano backing. It’s a strange song in more than one way. First, it’s over seven minutes, which is rather odd for a group that never wrote a song over four minutes before this. About three minutes in, the Brother Gibbs chorus comes in and at 3:30, the track turns into this jaunty, sea-chantey, rolling along a bed of a strumming acoustic and strings. The strangest thing to me about the composition is that the backing always seems to have a different sound behind every verse, making the track rather confusing to follow. “You’ll Never See My Face Again” is a great digging song, dripping with hilarious sarcasm. Nothing beats the second verse: “You think that you can stand and lie/It makes me laugh/You've got no friends/it took a thousand years to find out why/You'll never see my face again.” It’s got a great bass part by Maurice, by the way and fantastic arranging by Bill Shepherd.
Next is “Black Diamond”, which features some great vocals from all, a lovely, booming chorus and a great fade out bit, “Say good bye to auld lang syne!”
The second side kicks off with easily my favorite song on the album, “Marley Purt Drive”. Featuring very little strings, it feels an awful lot like the stuff on Music From Big Pink, showing that the guys were obviously being influenced by more people than the Beatles.
Edison” is pretty strange and I know how important Thomas Edison, but I’m not really sure how many other rock groups at the time (or any time) would pay homage to the inventor. Still, I love Maurice’s mellotron effects.
Following that is the beautiful “Melody Fair” and I can’t believe Stigwood didn’t release this as a single. God…listen to the way they sing that chorus… “Melody Fair, won’t you comb your hair?” Could anyone go “Ahhhhhhhh” better than the Bee Gees?
Suddenly”, a Maurice number starts with a sick acoustic guitar riff. Maurice has a great voice here, making you wish he was more utilized. He’s so feel like his whole vocal clashes with the orchestration and the Gibbs’ harmonies.
Whisper Whisper” is a carnival track that can’t possibly be taken seriously, with the banging piano and Robin’s fuzzy vocals, which is of course, contrasted by Shepherd’s orchestrations. The song is broken in two, as Colin’s drumming speeds up, turning the song into a rocking rave-up with a rather humorous Shepherd ending.
The second record and third side starts with “Lamplight”, which is definitely a good idea. This is a fantastic track, where everything seems to work. The orchestration fits. Colin’s normally mundane drumming is up for the challenge. The chorus is amazing. Plus, the Gibbs’ harmonies are amazing.
Sound Of Love”, which is just amazing, follows. I mean, this track is beautiful, almost like “I Started A Joke”, but nowhere near as depressing. This is another track that I cannot believe Stigwood missed. It’s such a perfect song that should have been a single. During the fade-out, “Everybody’s got the sound of love”, listen for the amazing little guitar bits.
Give Your Best” is the true joke of Odessa. If they released a “Marley Purt Drive” b/w “Give Your Best” 45, they’d probably have a good bluegrass hit. It’s nice to have this little break after two serious tracks.
The first of three instrumentals starts with “Seven Seas Symphony”. It’s nice to hear what the Gibbs sound like as a wordless chorus and the lead piano is really interesting (I’m not sure if that is Maurice or Robin or neither…anyone know?). Shepherd’s orchestration is lovely, as it is on the next track, the quick “With All Nations (International Symphony)”, but there’s still something odd about a track like these on a rock record.
I Laugh In Your Face” is like a slowed-down, weary version of “You'll Never See My Face Again”. It’s more of a march than anything, with little in the way of melody changes. Plus, if that chorus isn’t the most insulting part of anything to come out of the sixties (removing the venomous “Positively 4th Street”, of course) tell me.
Never Say Never Again” is something that would have easily fit on The Bee Gees’ 1st and has a really funny line in the chorus: “Never say, never say never again/You said goodbye, I declared war on Spain”
You’ve read me, up to this point; note all of the could-be-hits on this album. “First Of May” was the single and I honestly can’t see why. I can see why it failed, though. It’s over-orchestrated. The melody doesn’t move anywhere. It feels like the ending of a terrible, outdated romance movie. It feels too much like an attempt to re-make “I Started A Joke” (their previous single). This is all disappointing, considering that it is the last vocal track on the album.
The Bill Shepherd showcase “The British Opera” ends the album with an uplifting, if rather silly piece of music. You have some great mellotron parts, but by the end of the first minute, that melts away, to give way to a terrible round of harps and sappy strings. It feels like it has a similar melody to “First Of May”, but extends it, giving the album a terrible ending.

The record was intended to allow the Bee Gees to create a more expansive piece of work, and while they achieve the ‘expansive’ part, the album doesn’t feel consistent. It is more of a group of tracks, like their first three, than an album with a story to tell. Not that this is a bad thing at all. Isn’t “The White Album” just a collection of songs without a cohesive story or point? Plus, Odessa even feels like “The White Album”, with its’ variety of musical styles.
In the end, the album caused the Gibbs to break apart for two years, but Odessa is a good album, maybe not one of the greatest of all time, but still an enjoyable double album.

Check back tomorrow for part two!

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