Ah, the early Bee Gees. Look no further if you seek the “at” at which it’s at! This stuff is consistently outstanding, and it should blow away whatever early-80s popular-culture disco-backlash hangover might still be foolishly coloring your preconceptions of the group. The Bee Gees were a fairly democratic five-piece in their early days – the Gibbs plus Vince Melouney and Colin Petersen – and while they very much wrote for the pop market/charts, they typically brought an intense sense of drama and seriousness to their weird little tunes, most of which were heavily orchestrated with an odd chamber-psych sound. Love songs about death row? “I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You.” Upbeat songs about alcoholism? “Indian Gin and Whisky Dry.” Songs about being buried alive? “New York Mining Disaster 1941.” AND SO FORTH! They mighta dressed every track to the nines (TENS?!?) in strings, horns, and xylophones, but the melodies and harmonies were ALWAYS beautifruggingtardedly memorable. Always!
And sure nuff, this Portugese EP sees the kiddies hitting their stride with four lush, ambitious, feelings-drenched mini-soaps, two of which are from the Horizontal LP, two of which are non-album. “Words” is just piano and a pleading Barry vocal before, at the second verse, swelling into a tasteful full-orchestra arrangement that is pretty enough and sweet enough to tamp down what would otherwise be quite reasonable accusations of appalling sappiness. In a similarly maudlin vein, droning organ and strings underpin a more mournful Barry on “With the Sun in My Eyes,” which is perhaps as psychedelic a lovelorn croonfest as ever you’ll hear. Then it’s time for more emotional sun-fun with “And the Sun Will Shine,” a slightly rockier ballad – in the drums, primarily – this time featuring Robin’s quivering lead. But! BUT! The TOTAL EARTH-SHATTERING MASTERPIECE on here is the rousing “Sinking Ships,” which has a beefy pre-Fridmann – dig them bells – arrangement, cryptic yet moving lyrics, and soaring vocals (when they up the volume and break into that “Take a look inside myself…” bit: YOW!). This was a B-side?! Generosity, thy name is Gibb!! Which is precisely why you oughta right now be buying Rhino’s reissues of the first three Bee Gee albums, each of which includes a full disc of outtakes and non-LP rarities. Rethink everything you ever pre-thunk once you spin these thingies! Solid gold. Bee Gees? More like BEE’S KNEES!!!!
Look, I tried. It’s late.