This is a monthly series of album reviews I will be doing for DVL Audio here in Canada. I’ll be heading out to a local record store in Vancouver, digging through the bins, and coming up with an intriguing LP to discuss here on Part-Time Audiophile. I’ll never go out with something in mind beforehand, and there is no criteria for whether it’s a new album, an old album, an out-of-print LP, electronic, classical, jazz, punk – whatever – it just has to sound good to me.
I’ll come up with as much of the backstory as I can research, and include a small audio sample for listening. I hope you enjoy reading the reviews as much as I enjoy doing them.
The Bee Gees are one of those true enigmas of the recording industry in my mind. Their career has spanned decades, and they have touched heavily on several musical genres in that time – rock, pop, R&B, soul, and folk not to mention their enormous impact on dance music after the release of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, which won a combined five Grammys in 1978, and 1979, plus a 2004 Grammy Hall of Fame award. They’ve recorded through a lot of personal strife, huge popularity, and even breaking up for a period, yet they always managed to come back together, to create new music, to reinvent themselves, and to churn out massive, international-hit LPs in quick succession.
The trio is made up of the brothers Gibb, notably Barry, Robin, and Maurice. Younger brother Andy also had an extremely successful solo career in the ’70s with a string of Top 10 hits in the United States before succumbing to depression, drugs, and dying just after his 30th birthday. The group got it’s start in 1957 when the brothers started to harmonize together. The story goes that the boys were en route to perform a lip-sync to a 78 at a local cinema in Chortlon-cum-Hardy when the shellac they were running with fell, and was smashed. Forced to improvise, and sing live, the crowd went wild for their act, and the rest is… well, history.
I grew up listening to the Bee Gees, so when I saw the German-pressed, Deutsche Grammophon/Polydor album cover while perusing the stacks recently after raiding the CD bins at a local record store, I couldn’t help but remember being fascinated by the LP art: a painting depicting the naval battle by the British against the combined fleets of the French, and Spaniards at Trafalgar in 1805. I was obsessed with naval history as a child, and read everything I could find about sea battles through the centuries, so I was naturally drawn to it when I saw it. But it was after my father played it for me, and I heard the haunting vocal harmonies of the brothers laid over Maurice’s organ, and mellotron noodling that I was truly hooked.
The album looked pristine for its age, and a quick check at the shop for pops, and ticks revealed a dead-silent pressing. Getting it home, I ran it through the record cleaning machine, and dropped a Benz Micro Wood SL into the lead-in groove. The room filled with the familiar swelling vocals of the Gibbs, the deep decay of piano notes, full-bodied rhythm guitar strums, and Bill Shepherd’s orchestral arrangement. Trafalgar hit record store shelves in the fall of 1971, and was the ninth LP released by the group, who by then had already had several huge successes internationally. The album peaked at No. 34 in the United States, but the single “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart?” hit No. 1 in the US, and hearing it pour forth from my loudspeakers I couldn’t help but be spellbound by the emotional artistry of the songwriting, and the vocal, and instrumental composition.
This is a sweeping sonic landscape of an LP, with the Gibbs covering a huge amount of territory in their choices of instrumentation, pacing, and topics, from the politically-charged, and cryptic ballad “Israel,” the lament of “It’s Just the Way” to the jangly, shanty-esque “Somebody Stop the Music.” Beautifully produced, and impeccably recorded, cut after cut snares you in with a weighty, poignant, and oftentimes affecting melancholy as the brothers offer forth parables like “I went walkin’ through a grave-yard/Where the darkness is my friend/I heard all about the beginning/I want to see just where it ends…” from the track “I Don’t Want To Live Inside Myself.”
Getting up only once to flip the album, close to an hour went by as I travelled through time, a tapestry of love, spirituality, loss, heartache, and yearning alternately lifting me up, and crashing me down. This is an album for reflection, and real, personal listening as the sum of its parts tells a story that is worth hearing on your own terms, in your own home, in the context of your own system. Highly recommended.
Associated equipment for listening session:
- Pure Fidelity Eclipse turntable/TA-1000 tonearm
- Benz Micro Wood SL LOMC cartridge
- Audio Note AN-S2 Step-Up Transformer
- Audio Note Soro Phono SE Signature integrated amplifer
- Audio Note AN-E/SPe HE loudspeakers
- Audio Note Lexus/ISIS interconnects and speaker cables
- Audio Note ISIS AC/Mains cables
- PS Audio Direct Stream P20 Power Plant
- PS Audio P10 Power Plant
- Shindo Mr. T Power Conditioner