Monday, March 5, 2012

The Black Sheep: Robin Gibb: "Saved by the Bell"

And now, dear readers, we turn away from big statement singles recorded live to the more mundane world of family struggles and "you're too beautiful to suffer" sentiments. Despite all the big happenings of the summer, there were still those who wanted a sad ballad and a pin-up for their locker; Robin Gibb was as likely a candidate as anyone (so he felt) and he was tired of having to squabble over who sang lead on Bee Gees songs. When a song of his was demoted to a b-side (the a-side being Barry's quite good "First of May"), he left, determined to have a solo career, knowing the audience for him was already out there. He was the runaway child of the group, the one his parents threatened to have made a ward of the state. His parents must have had second thoughts on this, and instead the whole family watched as he went his own way, musically and otherwise.

Thus, I cannot be too harsh over this song. Sure it's clunky; sure, Robin is as usual singing like a particularly lost lamb.

Even if there was no evidence of drug use, no one puts out a single like this totally straight; and the more I think about it, the stranger the song gets. Who is this "two" he mentions - him and his ex-girlfriend, or himself and some other guy? Has he had to lie about who he is in order for her life - a "carousel" of men - to continue peacefully? The whole aura here is of a man who is sacrificing himself to someone and then bleating about it, as if that would, or could, change things. Will this other man love her? He is crying for both of them, just in case he doesn't. Oh Robin, where will you go? "Now I'll walk down heartbreak lane" he sings at the end, needlessly*, rhyming with nothing else in the song. (Is it me, or does he also sing "heartbreak place" as well? And are either of these near a certain hotel on lonely street? Ah the mysteries of music.)

This is, in essence, a wail of a song that was simple enough to be a big hit and yet, for all that, not quite enough. Robin's Reign came next but was not a success; and Gibb doesn't recall making his next album, Sing Slowly Sisters at all, which may well point to stresses that the music itself was unable to ease. "Saved by the Bell" was the whole high point (commercially, at any rate) for Gibb, who returned to the Bee Gees in 1970, having had his say and said his piece (even if Sing Slowly Sisters wasn't ever officially released; I think bootlegs of it must have appeared in the 90s, but I'm not sure).

For a while, Robin Gibb got to make his own music, pained and melancholy and beautiful, in its own way. The weight of the world is on his shoulders, walking alone; a mixed-up kid, learning the hard way that independence means sacrifice and isn't always the joyous thing it's made out to be. For now he walks alone, apart from his brothers...who are next.

*By the overly orchstrated near funeral march pace, we already know this is a song of heartbreak, though not in the Housewives of Valium Court style, exactly.


Bob Stanley said...

I used to think the last line of the chorus was "Now I walk down our grey lane", which suits the song's Dickensian pallor.

The repetition of the verse - basically "I cried for you" eight times with just the odd word change" - paints a fabulously bleak picture. It's as if the male character in Eloise has been ground down, reduced to walking in circles, repeating the same words to his lost love over and over.

I really like this record.

One more observation - first hit single to feature a drum machine, two years ahead of Family Affair.

harveyw said...

I always thought it was "our grave lane", which is even bleaker.

There's really nothing to this song in terms of lyric, and the melody is rather rudimentary too. But wow, what a record it is. Definitely a yin/yang thing going on with Eloise.