Robin Gibb – Saved By the Bell (review)

Robin Gibb – Saved By the Bell – The Collected Works of Robin Gibb 1968-1970 (Rhino / Reprise) review

“I’m a dreamer and my hobby is writing”

Robin Gibb stated the above quote during a BBC interview conducted during his brief separation from the Bee Gees, which is covered in a new, three-disc set, Saved By the Bell. Gibb possessed one of the most unique voices in all of popular music. Capable of intense emotion, he took centerstage on Bee Gees’ hits like “I Started a Joke,” and “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart.” Yet this set shows an artist bursting with ideas – an incredible watershed of singular creativity. He released one solo album, recorded music for a second, and wrote songs for a third, all in a span of about twelve months.

Disc one covers his debut solo record, Robin’s Reign, and it’s a logical extension of the Bee Gees’ previous album, Odessa: full of big, sweeping statements, lush orchestration, topped off with Robin’s signature, quavering vocals. Yet, most of the record is powered by a primitive drum machine, which gives everything a homemade feel. The gorgeous “Saved By the Bell” was a huge smash in the UK, solidifying Robin’s decision to set out on his own. “The Worst Girl in This Town” has an eerie, Phil Spector feel, while the horns on “Give Me a Smile” sounds like something Burt Bacharach would’ve produced. There are times when Robin’s aspirations run afoul, as on the epic “Hudson’s Fallen Wind,” which clocks in at over twelve minutes.

Disc two covers what would’ve been Gibb’s second solo record, Sing Slowly Sisters, which contains a lot more diversity. There are still plenty of orchestrated ballads, but they’re tempered with additions like the countrified “Engines, Aeroplanes,” and the acoustic “Avalanche.” “Anywhere I Hang My Hat” is one of the most straight-ahead pieces on this set. Demos of several tracks featuring just Robin and a Mellotron are sparse in their beauty.

Disc three is entitled Robin’s Rarities and it contains some of the most compelling work of the entire set. “Janice” is possibly one of the saddest songs ever recorded. There are several demos which feature just Robin on guitar and vocal. These are quite revealing because they show off a more restrained side of his persona, but are nonetheless breathtaking. Also included are several tracks recorded for the BBC, as well as a couple of interviews (that’s where the quote at the top of this review comes from). The disc closes with a pair of large orchestral arrangements, one for the moon landing, the other based on Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

Robin would return to the Bee Gees’ fold in 1970, helping score their biggest hits to date, “Lonely Days,” and “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart.” As a result, much of these solo tracks were left in the can for decades. While not essential for the casual Bee Gees’ fan, Saved By the Bell shows that Robin Gibb was more than just a member of the Bee Gees – he was capable of creating beautiful, and oftentimes fragile, music on his own. —Tony Peters.