- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 12, 2001

BEE GEES

This Is Where I Came In
(Polydor)
Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb have the rare distinction of being among the most unfairly maligned musicians of the rock n roll era and at the same time among the most successful. From the still-unmatched string of top-selling hits from "Saturday Night Fever" to their role as poster boys for the anti-disco backlash, the Bee Gees have experienced it all, and that was just one phase of their 40-year-plus career. To their credit, the brothers Gibb continue to plug away, for as Barry noted in a recent interview, they are songwriters first and foremost.
"This Is Where I Came In" is the brothers first new studio album in four years, and its a stunner. This is a band that after all these years and after all its successes is still taking chances. Where 1997s "Still Waters" album was strong on the synthesized R&B; sound, complete with Barrys unmistakable falsetto, the new record is much more rock-based, grounded on real drums and, on at least one memorable occasion, driving electric guitars. The vocals are strong and more controlled, taking in stride the inevitable deepening of age. Theres even a surprisingly uncharacteristic 20s number, "Technicolor Dreams."
For longtime fans of the band, the new record is reminiscent of "Two Years On," the 1970 reunion album highlighted by the megahit "Lonely Days." That album brought together several solo compositions produced during an acrimonious 18-month breakup, and the material was not up to the standards the three produced working together. During the years since, the Bee Gees have for the most part kept their solo efforts off group albums, but the new record changes that: It features two solo numbers from each brother. Thirty years on, however, each of the Gibbs has developed into a strong individual performer and writer. The biggest surprises on the new record are the numbers by Maurice, the instrumental mainstay of the group who through the years has happily conceded the limelight to his two lead-singing brothers. Maurices "Man in the Middle" and "Walking on Air" are summer radio gems.
Barry contributes the beautiful "Loose Talk Costs Lives," another winner in the stable of ballads he has written over the years and the closest thing to the "Bee Gees sound" on the new CD. The title cut, the albums first single, highlights all of the bands strengths and the new reliance on acoustic/natural sounds: The break is impossible to ignore.
They may be losing their hair, but the Bee Gees remain among the handful of 60s artists who are still making every release count. — Fran Coombs


PAUL MCCARTNEY
Wingspan: Hits and History
(Capitol)
Paul McCartney is one 60s artist who clearly understands his own place in music history. First with the Beatles Anthology series and now with his new release, "Wingspan," a two-CD best-of collection from his Wings years, Mr. McCartney is releasing records that try to bring a more formalized context to his career than just the average collection of greatest hits.
Maybe thats why "Wingspan," with its accompanying ABC-TV special, is so disappointing because there appears to be no rhyme or reason to why many of the songs are included. Sure, all the hits are here, but the second CD, the "History" part of the release, features only one B side and overlooks a number of Mr. McCartneys obvious album and B-side classics. Instead of offering up some of his treasured rarities, we get reissues of songs that he has done on a couple of live albums and that are readily available almost anywhere and theyre only marginally better in sound than previous releases. No "Dear Boy"? No "Sally G"? No "Beware My Love"? In addition, the set includes a couple non-Wings numbers from the "Tug of War" and "Pipes of Peace" solo albums of the early 80s but leaves off the huge hits "Ebony and Ivory" and "Say Say Say" from those same records. Whats that all about?
For fans, the collection is sure to be a disappointment except for a number of previously unseen photos. A short essay by ace Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn adds little. For those who want a McCartney hits package from the period, the set includes a number of songs that wont mean or matter much.
All in all, "Wingspan" comes across as a half-hearted effort. The only good news is that the two CDs are selling initially for not much more than one. — F.C.


IONA
Open Sky
(Alliance Music)
This Celtic group has put out several winning albums about faith and hope in God. The CDs first cut, the nine-minute "Woven Cord," may be its best piece, with imagery full of open seas and Scottish landscapes. "Wave After Wave," the second cut, is addressed to God, but as in many of Ionas offerings, He is not named. Angels and prayer are very much mentioned.
"Castlerigg," the fourth cut, begins with the haunting reminder that humans are not made for this Earth but are meant for something much greater. Therefore, "We really cannot stay," sings lead vocalist Joanne Hogg, the spiritual leader of the five-member band. Mystic bagpipes and Middle Eastern rhythms jazz up this offering.
"A Million Stars," an instrumental piece, also drives home the point that heaven is the home for which all humans ache. The album focuses on a purer form of Christianity known by the sixth-century monks who evangelized the British Isles, in particular St. Columba, who had powerful experiences of the Holy Spirit.
Ionas most interesting experiment, which in my opinion does not quite succeed, is its three-part "Songs of Ascent," based on the climb to Jerusalem that Jews used to do yearly during biblical times. The songs were the psalms sung by Jews as they climbed 2,000 feet into the hills of Jerusalem. The idea was that peoples fervor and worship grew to such a pitch that Gods presence would burst among them like a rain shower. Although the concept is enchanting, Im not sure the music Iona chose has the needed intensity and beauty. Julia Duin


AIR
10,000 Hz Legend
(Astralwerks)
Airs proper follow-up to 1998s masterpiece "Moon Safari" is a darker romp through the same synthesizer-fueled dreamland the French duo have made their territory. "10,000 Hz Legend," referring to the sound at which human brains supposedly turn to mush, is an apt title for an album that is not as immediately accessible as its predecessor.
"Moon Safari" was the perfect lounge soundtrack to wind down a party, but the sophomore album from Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoit Dunckel is a deeper, moodier work. It traces much of its influence to the bands outing on the soundtrack to Sofia Coppolas film "The Virgin Suicides," released in spring 2000. That soundtrack, rooted in the crazy days of disco and teen-age angst, turned Airs sound inside out, showing the bands darker side and its growth musically.
The new album continues that growth. The opening track, "Electronic Performers," sounds like Radioheads "Kid A" for the lounge set. Always conscious of its audience, Air soothingly sings "How Does It Make You Feel?" on one track before switching to an upbeat funk sound for "Radio #1," the albums first single and best dance track.
The music is more diverse than the groups previous work, which gives the new album added depth. One of the standout tracks, "The Vagabond," an electric-folk collaboration with Beck, shows that Air can rock confidently without losing its techno-based sound.
Pinning the band down to any subcategory, though, is a fruitless endeavor. Air playfully skirts across musical boundaries, breaking the rules of disco, techno and rock while embracing all three. Like "Kid A," Airs "10,000 Hz Legend" likely will disappoint many fans, but the album is a perfect road map for the future of music. Its worth watching Air to see where that road leads. — Derek Simmonsen


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