Inconvenient Music Club: Robin’s Reign

RobinsReign.jpg image by plaxico81

In 1969, Robin Gibb left the Bee Gees.  Although they had just recorded their arguable masterpiece, the psychedelic epic Odessa, he and his brother Barry had clashed over the choice of A-side for their latest single, and Robin was rumoured to perhaps not be in the best of ways.

Nevertheless, his solo career got off to a flying start with his single, ‘Saved By the Bell’ going to no. 2 in the British charts.  The accompanying album, Robin’s Reign, with the lone Gibb brother standing in full Royal Guardsman’s regalia on the cover, did less well.  As always in the world of Inconvenient Music, there’s a reason for that.

A track-by-track analysis of the album would be pointless, as by and large they all do the same thing.  Never getting above mid-tempo, the mood is generally mournful, with relationships crumbling and hard facts faced at every turn.  Occasionally, whimsy breaks out, when the eponymous heroes of ‘Mother and Jack’ go to see the Emperor in order to stop their house being knocked down.

The album’s appeal isn’t really found in its songs, however, good though they are.  Ultimately, its most striking quality is its overall sound.  Drums are often absent, the beat kept instead by a primitive drum machine.  On top of this are thick string arrangements, and on top of that, a choir, all the members of which being one Robin Gibb, overdubbing himself, and on top of all that, Robin’s lead vocal, quivering with more vibrato than Marc Bolan sat on a washing machine.

Listening to the album is like bathing in a warm, thick, melancholy soup of sound.  It’s surprisingly relaxing, although you wouldn’t want any getting up your nose.

More than this, it feels like a tremendous act of will on Robin’s part; a fragile soul producing something eccentric and glorious because it simply has to.  It’s an orchestrated MOR answer to Skip Spence’s Oar and Syd Barrett’s The Madcap Laughs, although it never gets as excited as either.  The terminal heartbreak would later be echoed in the oeuvre of Daniel Johnston, while the funereal pace would be taken down a notch by the moribundly odd outsider musician Jandek.

Like Brian Wilson, Robin Gibb was, briefly, an outsider artist who operated on the inside of the music industry.  Then, while a second solo album Sing Slowly Sisters was left in the vaults, he rejoined the Bee Gees, and it would not be too long before disco changed their path forever.

With his brothers or by himself, Robin would never again make anything that touches on the strangeness of Robin’s Reign.  Long out of print, it still occasionally haunts car boot sales and record fairs, a reminder of a sad, sweet moment when the disco ball was definitely not spinning for Robin.





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