The Bee Gees displayed admirable craft and created their biggest hits during their disco-era second coming, but it’s their early pop work that shines brightest for me. If you feel similarly, break out the champagne because Robin Gibb’s three-CD Saved By the Bell is like getting a fresh dose of that late-60s music. This is the period that produced pop gems like “Massachusetts,” and “I Started a Joke,” both of which feature Robin’s arresting lead vocals.
Note the dates in the new album’s subtitle: what we have here is not the singer’s complete collected works but rather his output during a brief solo period that began in early 1969 after he quit the group, reportedly because he felt creatively stifled when brother Barry’s “First of May” won out over his own “Lamplight” as the choice for the first single from Odessa. The Bee Gees reunited less than two years later, in late 1970.
Robin, who died in 2012, delivered more solo work in the early 1980s, but you won’t find that here. What you will discover is an expanded, 20-track version of Robin’s Reign—a solo LP recorded in 1969, when the artist was 19—plus 20 tracks from sessions for an aborted album that was to have been called Sing Slowly Sisters, and 23 other rarities. Among them: some excellent live BBC recordings; songs sung in Italian; a few brief interview snippets that suggest the extent of Robin’s ambition; demos, including one of “Indian Gin and Whisky Dry,” a tune that surfaced on the Bee Gees’ Idea; and the 12-minute “Hudson’s Fallen Wind.” Only 17 of the package’s 63 tracks have previously been released.
Gibb’s penchant for experimentation is on display here, and not everything he attempts pans out. The aforementioned “Hudson’s Fallen Wind,” for example, opens with an awkward spoken couplet (“This is a tale / of a storm worse than hail”) and features music that is arguably closer to grandiose than to grand. But even songs like this find him in fine form vocally, and the bulk of this package is just plain fine. Beautifully orchestrated, well-hooked pop songs predominate; and on the best of them—numbers like “August October,” “The Flag I Fly” and “Saved by the Bell”— Gibb’s quavering, prominently mixed vocals are nothing short of magnificent.