by Kristin Battestella
I’ve waited far too long in tackling Odessa! A very ambitious review I’m sure. The over the top, red felt and gold impressed 1968 double LP says it all about this album-Barry, Robin, and Maurice’s ambitions, talents, and conflicts all rolled into one. Fans in the know recall that this album is what briefly split the group in the late sixties and early seventies. The concept that was too big for the Brothers Gibb. Dang.
The album is supposed to tell the story of a man shipwrecked, and each song is to represent him telling his tales of life and loves lost. Odessa with it’s parenthesis (City on the Black Sea) opens the concept smoothly. At over seven minutes in length, the title song sets the mood for the wavy waters we are about to traverse. My mom hates this song’s repetitions and ups and downs and seemingly stupid lyrics. It took awhile for it to grow on me, but the twists and turns make sense if the music is to tell the destruction of the HMS Veronica. Robins croaky delivery of the title makes me want to turn blue. Where does he get that much air?
You’ll Never See My Face Again is much shorter than Odessa, and Barry’s delivery is smooth. Already we’re seeing the multiple personality of this album. Odessa is quintessential orchestral pop, and You’ll Never See My Face Again is a touch of sardonic country. Can we boil it down directly to Barry versus Robin? Maybe.
Robin returns for Black Diamond, and he is much more listener friendly this time around. The poetic lyrics make more sense than Odessa, and Diamond is just the right length. The ending turns into a bit of Auld Lang Syne. I’m not sure why the boys chose to do so, but it’s unexpected and well done.
If you want truly sardonic country than Marley Purt Drive is for you. The story in this one has all the honest details, and Barry’s voice fits the ho-hum routine. The kicker at the end is a real topper. You can’t help but sing along and smile during Marley Purt Drive. I must not spoil it! Must not!
At first I thought Edison was kind of stupid and would skip over it. Do I really want to hear an ode to Thomas Edison? No. Even with the content snafu, Edison has its moments in Barry and Robin’s lead. They break up the monotony and keep the bland subject fresh. The placement of Edison might also hurt it. It’s got tough competition before and after.
Melody Fair is incredible. The strings and echoes and story all combine superbly for a tear jerking dang good song. Who is Melody? Is she the lost sailor‘s woman? Or was she a missed chanced never to be realized? It‘s sad either way, and all this is reflected in a different way each turn around. Brilliant. (We’ve also reviewed Melody Fair on Best of Volume 2.)
I actually have several sound bites from Odessa on my computer and Suddenly is one of them. Somewhere here in the middle the concept gets wishy washy and we’re left with a song for each brother. Suddenly is Maurice’s trippy track. Once again he seems short on actual lyrics, but what little is said is brass, if you catch my drift. My mom didn’t mind me singing it in public until I got to the ‘How can you tell humans are real?’ line. Just the noises Mo makes in this one are worth the listen, especially his Oh yeah!
Whisper Whisper starts off slow and quickly picks up into a swinging sixties tune. It reminds me of Hullabaloo, although I don’t know why. My sister caught part of Whisper in my car one day, and said ,”Ew, Kristin. What a horrible song!” Whisper’s orchestral music mixed with British pop is sharp to me. The drums and sound effects are tops. Whisper Whisper also has some raunchy lyrics. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll! I suppose it takes a special ear to enjoy Odessa all together. ;0)
My Mom hates Lamplight. Robin’s creaky voice can take some getting used to, but my mom says its nails on a chalkboard! The story lyrics are great, and the tone perfectly captures those old fashioned thoughts of quills and inkwells. The chorus is strong, and the three part harmony carries to the end. All the Robin songs here seem to carry the shipwreck concept. His woe is me voice is just meant for such melancholy drabble. I’m not so sure Barry is even on this track. The echoes might just be over dubs. The closing echoes might drag on too long as well, but they sound pretty.
Barry definitely makes his presence known for Sound of Love. The soul ballad is the first of two Baz slow songs presented. The words tug at your heartstrings, and Barry’s voice matches perfectly with the ups and downs in the music. A very under appreciated song.
Currently my computer opens with Give Your Best. The snappy dialogue and banter show the fun side of the boys, although I wonder how forced the track was, considering they hated each other at the time. The ironic lyrics are very sing along, even for those of us who don’t like country. I have no clue how this song would fit in with the lost concept!
The Seven Seas Symphony is an instrumental that captures everything Barry, Robin, and Maurice wanted to say in its 4 minutes of non lyrics. The opening is soft and beautiful. The oooos and aaaahhhhs in the middle help accentuate the up and down composition and that shipwrecked feeling. I am really hung up on the shipwreck! I love playing Odessa’s instrumentals for my classical music friends. They are wowed and ask who it is, and I am more than happy to share this underutilized facet of the Brothers Gibb.
With All Nations (and I can’t forget the parenthesis International Anthem!) continues the more orchestral and less pop begun in the Seven Seas Symphony. Not as ominous, Nations seems happy to start, but its booming ending is a real kicker. The vocals are the same as Symphony, and I’m not sure why these two are listed as separate rather than one big song, since Nations is only 1:42. I often confuse which instrumental is titled what. They all sound like they belong together and in my playlists that is how I play them. The boys could have had a whole ‘nother career composing ballets. Who knew?
I Laugh In Your Face opens with some sort of circus talk. I’m not really sure how this is supposed to tie into the lost concept, but this tune always reminds me of the old fashioned turn of the century circus posters with Death!Defying!Stunts! Another strong chorus with harmony and top notch music. What is the rest of the song talking about? Does it really matter? It’s amazing how I think I can absolutely hate a song, and then the boys bring in one single hook that can make me listen to a whole crappy song. Thankfully, Face isn’t crappy.
Never Say Never Again is a cute song. The rhyme is stretched by the way the boys say again-stretched to rhyme with Spain! The story isn’t really anything new. We’ve heard love lost melodrama before, but the chorus here is so easy and fun to sing. I’ll even let the double negative slide.
And now I come to First of May, the song that broke the Brothers Gibb, albeit briefly. Barry’s second slow tune was chosen as the single over Robin’s Lamplight, and the wounded younger Gibb went solo. I like the opening lines about Christmas trees being tall and kids being small. It reminded me of being a very young child, when the Christmas tree really did seem so huge. Barry’s easy tale is soft and moving, yet has some pretty senseless lyrics. Careful, it can bring a tear to one’s eye. Is First of May better than Lamplight? I’ll leave that one up to you!
The British Opera is the closing instrumental and matches the concept and over the top bravado begun in the opening track. The tune is a tight orchestral opus that ends the album with power and impact. I wish With All Nations would have been the closer with its booming ending, but I digress.It is debatable whether Odessa failed in its concept or not. Enough of the story was put into place, and just enough lies undone for the listener to fill in the blanks. Odessa is more of a treat for its look into Barry, Robin, and Maurice both working separately and together. Maybe they did try at a linear album and failed, but the talent of The Brothers is obviously not linear. Odessa displays the multifaceted trio perfectly. The red felt may not last as long as the music, but a must have on CD.