Robin Gibb was an undisputed musical legend even before his passing from colon cancer in 2012.
On a superficial level, he may not have been THE voice or the face of the Bee Gees- one of the greatest pop groups of all time- like older brother Barry Gibb, whose lead falsetto on classics like Stayin’ Alive and Tragedy has infiltrated popular culture.
Robin has even been parodied as timid and unmemorable by Justin Timberlake in the ‘Barry Gibb Talk Show’ skits on Saturday Night Live. He was not an obvious musician live on stage like Barry (who played guitar) or twin brother Maurice Gibb (who mostly played bass and keyboards).
However, it is Robin’s quavering yet moving vibrato and songwriting that made pop masterpieces out of hits like I Started A Joke, How Can You Mend a Broken Heart, Run To Me, You Win Again and Alone: tracks ranging over three DECADES. Without the three brothers working together, the Bee Gees would never have received the commercial and critical acclaim it has earned, including inductions into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Since the end of the Bee Gees following the death of Maurice, Robin remained musically prolific. Most of the tracks off eighth studio album 50 St. Catherine’s Drive (named after the Brothers Gibb’s childhood home on the Isle of Man) were recorded between 2006 and 2008 with son Robin-John and producer Peter-John Vettese.
Unlike Barry and Maurice who lived mainly in sunny Miami, Robin preferred the green of England. As a result, the album consists mainly of orchestral, organic and even occasional synth-pop.
Wistful opener Days Of Wine And Roses is an early emotional peak, supported by delicate bagpipes and strings that erupt with joy towards the end. Other quintessentially British tracks include Alan Freeman Days (an ode to the British radio DJ who supported Robin’s first solo single Saved By The Bell), with its swirling guitars and summery piano chimes and the haunting love song Wherever You Go, with its pleasant, head-swaying chorus and naturally pitched harmonies.
Robin’s production choices also set him apart from Barry and Maurice, as he opted more towards a poppier, keyboard-dominated sound with vocal experimentation and pitch-bending. The catchy Instant Love (a duet with Robin-John) radiates vitality with thick, synthesised harmonies that would rival the choruses of Barry’s falsettos during the Bee Gees heyday. The unashamed, electronic pop of Broken Wings has the bounce of a Eurovision entry with a hooky ‘no, no don’t go’ chorus that is a brilliant example of punchy yet subtle disco. The nonchalant yet sinister indie pop-rock of Sanctuary is probably the most Bee Gees-like track on the album, with the thumping beats of You Win Again before the chorus.
Despite a few tracks in the middle that are mediocre by Bee Gees standards, the end of the album has Robin at his best even as his health declined. Don’t Cry Alone (off Robin and Robin-John’s classical music composition The Titanic Requiem) is so magnificent and majestic, that it is impossible not to be moved by it. Mother Of Love is a tribute to his mother (who endured the passings of Maurice and younger brother Andy Gibb) that is as beautiful and as difficult to listen to as One (1989) album highlight Wish You Were Here.
A genuine highlight comes in the sparsely produced Sydney, Robin’s last ever song recorded just months before his death. Listeners can only imagine the potential had Barry been able to work on this poignant track about Robin imagining seeing all three Brothers Gibb back in Sydney singing together again. Robin’s rich, evocative voice is sadly reduced to a weathered falsetto following the ravages of his illness, yet the song remains tender and heart-wrenching.
Robin Gibb’s contributions to pop music are invaluable. On much of his final collection of songs, he is in very fine voice as he hardly sounds his age. 50 St. Catherine’s Drive proves that Robin went too soon, as he lost none of his mastery of songwriting with catchy tunes and the plethora of musical styles explored on the album. He certainly deserves more recognition than just being a member of the Bee Gees who sometimes sang lead.