An interesting project, certainly, but the Gibbs’ requiem lacks any gravitas.
Daniel Ross 2012
The most famous nautical disaster in history has received many interpretations over the years. On the whole they conclude that, yes, it was very much a tragedy, officially a bad thing to have happened. Consequently, the news that Bee Gee Robin Gibb and his son R.J. were to collaborate with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (and feature vocal guest spots from Isabel Suckling and Mario Frangoulis) to create the latest artistic re-imagining of the event was at least interesting. Gibb the elder’s performances for the Bee Gees were often marbled with a yearning or a wistful glance over the shoulder at sad things in the past – perhaps this could be ripe territory for a creative re-awakening.
Well, don’t get your hopes up. As soon as the clang of bells (shamelessly nabbed from Shostakovich and supposed to mimic the swelter and grubby grind of industry) is heard giving way to a murky male choir on the opening Shipbuilding, we’re in disappointingly safe waters. Shipbuilding is followed by The Immigrant song – neither of them covers, immediately a disappointment to both Costello and Zeppelin fans – which is brighter but no less thievish in its plundering of classical timbres, themes and moods. Facile approximations of Beethoven at his most pastoral evoke very little in the mind of the strong narrative source, no matter how sweetly executed they are.
That the melodies are so plain and, at worst, unmemorable highlights how pop writers can be sunk without their poetry to engage the listener. The Gibbs (it’s unclear exactly which has written what) appear comfortable in this medium, certainly, but there’s little display of verve, terror or anything that might be considered either exciting or relevant to the Titanic. Maiden Voyage sounds like a canter around the maypole rather than a ship launching into virgin waters, and even the final moments of the whole disc reveal an overwhelmingly positive, predictable plagal cadence.
The biggest niggle, though, is that rather than creating a work that reacts to the movement of its narrative, the Gibbs have elected to shoehorn it into a classical requiem form. Rather than lend gravitas or a quasi-religious, spectral quality to the drama, it actually makes it rather segmented and lumpy. Even Robin’s dramatic vocal on Don’t Cry Alone (easing back into singing a new composition after a well-documented break) sounds over-wrought and too sentimental. It’s encouraging to hear him have at it so convincingly but, like much of this disc, it is energy misspent.