A valiant but unsatisfying effort to reappraise a band loved by the masses and loathed by critics.
The Bee Gees, Manchester-born brothers Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb, had been performing around Australia for nearly a decade before bursting onto the British scene in 1967 with the Beatles-esque lament “New York Mining Disaster 1941.” Within a year, they rivaled their idols for top spots on charts around the world. Addictions and sibling rivalry between eldest (and arguably most talented) brother Barry and the more volatile Robin caused the band to implode within three years. After reconciling, the Gibbs scored a couple more hits (including “How Do You Mend a Broken Heart?”) in the early 1970s before sinking briefly back into obscurity, only to resurface in a big way with a wholly new sound rooted in the subversive beats of disco with “You Should Be Dancing” (1975). With their association with the monster hit Saturday Night Fever, the Bee Gees never had to look back—at least as far as the public was concerned. Critics, however, have always considered them imitators and also-rans. Meyer (Twenty Thousand Roads: The Ballad of Gram Parsons and His Cosmic American Music, 2007, etc.) convincingly argues that the band innovated (e.g., by inventing the drum loop on their huge hit “Stayin’ Alive”) as much as they imitated. Oddly, his narrative stalls when the Bee Gees are on its stage, mainly since he quotes decades-old interviews by other journalists. The book comes alive when tracing the history of disco that led to the making of SNF and telling the tragic tale of the youngest Gibb, Andy, whose growing up in public foreshadowed the reality TV culture of today. Otherwise, the history drags and repeats itself. The Gibbs quotes and connecting narrative could have used a tighter edit.
This inelegant argument won’t change many minds among critics or the public.