Today’s POP RESCUE from a fate unknown is the 1987 seventeenth album E.S.P by the British-American sibling trio, and dukes of disco, Bee Gees. Will this album be a Win Again and again, or should you come to your senses? Read on…
This 11 track LP opens with the titular track and second single E.S.P, and we’re plunged straight into those wonderful vocal harmonies that Barry, Maurice, and Robin Gibb were so famously known for. Soon though, a beat drops in and we’re given a nice upbeat thoroughly 1980’s sounding mid-tempo song, with a guitar that gets a nice solo mid way through and often duels with those high vocals. The vocals are also often quite whispery at times, helping to give the song some interest. Sadly, the track stalled at #51 in the UK singles chart.
Next is the lead single You Win Again which arrives with a ton of drums, that open with an industrial machinery sound. The track gave the group a #1 hit in the UK, and rightly so. It’s a wonderfully catchy track that flows seemingly effortlessly from verse to chorus and back again, and it showcases their vocals perfectly against the repetitive chug. I remember this song being in the charts and it seemed to be everywhere, with plenty of Top Of The Pops appearances as it hit that top spot. Excellent!
That’s followed by a heavy piano note ushering in Live Or Die (Hold Me Like A Child). Barry has the lead vocal here, and he gets to show off quite a nice vocal range that isn’t so dissimilar to Tina Turner. This is a heartfelt ballad, which of course gives plenty of time and space for the trio’s vocal harmonies in the chorus – and these are spot on, although a very high vocal section feels like it is meandering a bit close to comedy as we head towards the end.
Giving Up The Ghost is next and this carries a particular funky fresh 1987 pop style – reliant on plenty of bass, synths, and drama drums. This time, Robin is on lead vocals, flanked by his brothers. An intricately impressive piano solo stands out here from Robbie Kondor, as the song becomes increasingly experimental/abstract. Ah, the 80s…..
Robin continues to lead on the mic with The Longest Night, and we’re back in soft ballad territory. This softer beat and vocal approach, is complimented by the acoustic guitar from Barry, which sound really nice and warm here. It’s a nice slow finish to side one.
Side Two opens with more 1980’s drama of This Is Your Life, that very briefly echoes Queen’s track One Vision, and then it gives way to an upbeat track that makes me think that La Toya Jackson could have taken this track on with it’s flittering vocal ranges. In the mess of Barry’s vocals and the musical randomness, they even manage to throw in a burst of Jive Talkin’ and How Deep Is Your Love, all of which fits in with the ‘your life’ theme of the song, given it’s the Bee Gees’ career.
That’s followed by a much more calmer Angela. My teen years saw me have a neighbour called Angela, and so I’m instantly reminded of her with this song… which is somewhat amusing. This is a tender slow ballad, that Barry is able to show his vocal range and power off to a better end. It’s quite a nice mid-tempo ballad.
Overnight follows that, with guitars and thudding bass drum leading us in. Maurice has the lead vocals this time, and he sounds more at home with this guitar-led rock-pop song that almost reminds me of The Darkness (ok, almost) although the sudden guitar burst made me jump (you’ll know it when you reach it). I can imagine this song appearing in an 80’s film with a load of ‘coupling’ footage alongside action footage (think Tom Cruise in Top Gun). Its 80’s sound leads it to the fade.
Next is Crazy For Your Love, the album’s third and final single, and it didn’t fare very well – I can almost see why. It feels like some kind of 60’s Motown-styled hangover played on a cheap keyboard. Barry takes the lead vocals here and unfortunately it feels like he’s trying to be The Supremes, and this doesn’t really work very well, and the singles buying public agreed in the UK, taking it to the dizzy lows of #79.
Backtafunk follows that with Barry on lead vocals, and lyrically this seems to be a play on the phrase ‘back-to-front’ – ‘you got me backtafunk and I’m still turning‘ he sings. It’s quite a chilled out song though with some well-placed backing vocals from the siblings, over a nice bass and synths, and of course Mr 80s Obligatory Saxophone also makes an appearances.
The album closes with E.S.P (Vocal Reprise), which gives us some more of that unmistakeable Bee Gee vocal pitch and harmony. It is fleeting, but a wonderful reminder of their talent.
Over all, this album is completely Bee Gees, yet very much experimenting with the 1980s too.
Whilst I would have thought I could safely say that there’s no Jive Talkin’ here, there is, albeit briefly, but this album is wholeheartedly the Bee Gees – as songwriters, vocalists, musicians, and producers, so your joy or dislike of this album is almost entirely down to them.
The huge number one hit You Win Again is by far the stand out track here, and is a masterpiece of the late 1980s. It’s bookended by two other strong songs – the titular E.S.P, and the very differently sounding Live Or Die (Hold Me Like A Child). It’s unfortunate that this latter song didn’t become the final single with its slower tempo. Backtafunk and the E.S.P (Vocal Reprise) sound great, and whilst I can’t imagine the former (and certainly not the latter) becoming singles, it is an enjoyable listen.
Sadly there’s a few songs here that sound dated now, but must have sounded cutting edge at the time and so kudos goes to the Gibb brothers for venturing into those sounds. Sadly, these weaker songs like This Is Your Life sounded disorientating and too abstract to really find a coherent melody – they give you the lyrics, but good luck singing along. Crazy For Your Love sounds like something they forgot to release in the 70’s.
The strength of the lead single, and the group’s brand undoubtedly carried this album to success, and aside from a few glimmers of progression, it’s a fairly okay album.
- POP RESCUE 2023 RATING: 3 / 5
- 1987 UK ALBUM CHART PEAK: #5, certified Platinum by the BPI.
- POP RESCUE COST: £3.00 from a Discogs.com seller.