By Steve Horowitz
Robin Gibb was the George Harrison of the Bee Gees. He was the quiet one who stood in the background while his siblings Barry and Maurice (and later Andy) received the bulk of the attention. Robin’s distinctive warbling on songs such as “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart”, which he co-wrote with his brother Barry, revealed his vocal and lyrical talents. But Robin may be the least known and celebrated of the brothers Gibb.
Like Beatle George, Robin died too young. Cancer killed him back in 2012 when he was 62 years old. His career with the BeeGees is well-known, but Robin’s solo work never fared well in the United States. (The British / Australian sold best in Germany for some reason.) Robin’s last record has just been issued. Most of the songs on the 17-track 50 St. Catherine’s Drive were recorded between 2006 and 2008, but never released. The material was compiled by his wife Dwina Gibb and son R.J, who also co-wrote three songs on the album. Dwina writes in the liner notes that the selections were the ones Robin would have wanted to include.
Again, like Harrison, Robin was the most spiritual member of the group. That can be heard here on the divinely secular philosophy of “All We Have is Now” that speaks of celebration and recognition of living in the moment. The immanence of lines such as “All we have is love as we fly through space and time / We are only visitors and nothing’s by design” are not all that different than what Harrison sings about in Harrison’s Living in the Material World. The implied koan, we can make a change / nothing ever changes, suggests the importance of human relationships, music, and time.
As a whole, the individual songs on 50 St. Catherine’s Drive suffer a bit of generic instrumentation. The drums in particular seem to be too much in the foreground and don’t do much else than keep time. However, Robin’s has the good taste to sing and play beautifully no matter what is in the background. At this point, it is probably useful to note that Peter-John Vettese produced, did string and bagpipe arrangements, played keyboards, co-wrote many of the cuts, and sang backup on the record. While deciding who supplied what and how much to each song may be impossible, this clearly seems to be a Robin-dominated effort.
The best songs are the most triumphant. “Allen Freeman Days”, named after a British deejay from Robin’s youth, captures the carefree spirit of when music meant something wrapped up in love and life and provided the soundtrack to everyday existence. “Days of Wine and Roses” shows the glorious impermanence of it all. Romance is all the more valued when it is ephemeral, Robin proudly claims. “Time and tide wait for no one,” he sings bagpipes swell in the background. And the new version of the Whitmanesque “I Am the World”, which was written originally in 1966 and appeared as the B-side on the Bee Gee’s first hit single, “Spicks and Speck”, boldly proclaims Robin contains multitudes.
Americans may have never recognized Robin’s solo talents, but this album should cause many to go back and listen to his discography. Like George Harrison, whose career and influence only grew after his death, Gibb’s final efforts reveal that he too deserves a re-evaluation of his solo offerings. Those Germans must have recognized something that listeners in the United States did not hear.