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High Civilization (1991)
Audio CD
Track Listing

1. High Civilization
2. Secret Love
3. When He's Gone
4. Happy Ever After
5. Party With No Name
6. Ghost Train
7. Dimensions
8. The Only Love
9. Human Sacrifice
10. True Confessions
11. Evolution

by Nicholas James

For a group that had been making music for almost 30 years, the Bee Gees were still able to surprise their audience. High Civilization was the band's third and final album with Warner Brothers and, following the dark and intense One album, they changed direction again.

High Civilization is an upbeat, electronic album, with numerous interesting, often humorous touches that ensure that the album works on several levels. The song writing is as good as, if not better than, One (which was itself better than ESP). The title track is a perfect example of what is good about this album. This inspired song has genuinely biting lyrics that have taken on new meaning since September 11 (listen to the middle eight), especially with one of the Twin Towers featuring on the front cover. The production of the song is truly innovational, with an electronic back beat and synthesizers dominating the musical accompaniment, backed up by the ticking of a clock, tribal beats and - towards the end, as we reach Armageddon - the noise of a crowd. These sorts of genuinely clever touches, aimed at adding to the effectiveness of a song, feature all over the album.

The first single, 'Secret Love' a major UK and European hit, is an impossibly catchy track, with great vocals from Barry and Robin and a nifty guitar lead-in. Cynics might say that here they were ripping off 'Chain Reaction' (which, don't forget, is one of their own songs), just as 'Ordinary Lives' tried to play the 'You Win Again' card again. But that is to miss the point. 'Secret Love' is almost a cynical ploy, sitting as it does within an album of experimentation and new directions, with the Bee Gees saying "we can do an intelligent album, demanding the attention of the listener, and we can also have a major pop hit while we are at it." Fine by me, guys!

The best track on the album may well be 'When He's Gone'. This has a thrilling synthesizer-led opening, as the melody crashes in, eventually to be joined by Robin's stirring lead vocals. This is the Bee Gees sounding fresher than they ever have before, and they even have the audacity to throw in an addictive chorus with a harmony that almost sounds like Abba! And the video that accompanied the song is probably the most animated they have done - remember, these guys were in their forties when they made this. The song plays out with a superb, lengthy guitar solo from Alan Kendall. The only downside to this track (and it sort of affects the whole album) is the sound quality of the vocals. For some reason, they are not as clear as they should be, and sometimes it is necessary to open the lyrics in the CD cover to work out exactly what has been said.

The album just keeps on coming. 'Happy Ever After' opens with the washing of waves across a beach, and develops into a crisp, blissful ballad. 'Party With No Name' blasts in like some black dance track (yes, those first lines really are Barry Gibb!) and 'Ghost Train' ends to the sound of crying children and smashing glass.

'Human Sacrifice' is a taught dance track, showing that the Bee Gees had their fingers on the pulse of early 90s music, and 'True Confessions' is another frantic, up-tempo track. 'Evolution' - like many songs on this album - finishes the album but leaves the listener thinking. This is not an album to play as background music!

Of course, there is a 'How Deep Is Your Love'-style ballad, this time called 'The Only Love', and it is a beautiful, heart-rending song (I am sure they could actually write this sort of thing in their sleep - I wish they would write some more). Only the 'token' Maurice song disappoints this time, with 'Dimensions' sounding like a group playing with technology that they don't fully understand. Given Maurice's knowledge of synthesizers (and the fact that the album was engineered by Femi Jiya, whose influence was undoubtedly partly responsible for this fresh new sound), I am sure this was not the case, but it is perhaps the only track that should have seen the cutting room floor.

As you can probably tell, I love this album. If I am feeling down, I play it. Then I am down no more! In the period 1991-1993, I believe that the Bee Gees were at the height of their powers, both creatively and vocally. Music doesn't get much better than this. Well, until the nest album, that is...

Why Buy High Civilization?

Great songs, a fantastic, fresh sound. You will love 'When He's Gone'.