Barry Gibb is an icon. Not only is he one of the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed songwriters of all time, but with his brothers, Robin and Maurice in the Bee Gees, he came to define the music of an entire generation. Here we are just over 13 years after the band hung up their polyester jumpsuits, following the passing of Maurice in 2003 and Robin in 2012, with Barry getting ready to release his first solo album of new material, In The Now.
Although we may be 40 years on from the disco era with which Gibb is most associated, there is still a certain amount of expectation that needs to be unpacked before digging into a record written by someone of that stature, especially someone with his recent, well, last decade or so worth of personal experience and tragedy. When writing songs Gibb has never struck me as someone who had an agenda other than crafting a solid gold hook or two. The man very clearly knows his way around the process but with this much time having passed would any of this be at all relevant?
The album kicks off with title track "In The Now." The trademarks that you would imagine to be a part of a Barry Gibb solo album are all here. The drummer keeps it all laid down with a tight four on the floor while the synths and guitars chime in a vaguely disco meets adult contemporary type of manner. The production is appropriately huge, all anchored by Gibb’s familiar falsetto. The passing of time may have worn down Gibb’s voice a little but he still can kick it out when he wants and "Grand Illusion" may feature the most striking performance that Gibbs gives on the entire record. The man sounds like he has something to say and needs to get it out. There’s some immediacy here to what he is doing and it’s a bit of a shame that Gibb and co-producer John Merchant didn’t stop to pull back the layers and layers of instruments filling every ounce of space and actually let the man take center stage. "Star Crossed Lovers" is a song Gibb wrote about starting his relationship with his now wife Linda when the Bee Gees were at the height of their success. The band’s handlers wanted him to break it off as being seen in a committed relationship was thought to be bad for business, but they refused and are still persevering. The main thrust of the album comes with "Home Truth Song." In the chorus Gibb sings, “I am the one who doesn’t fade away, I will be the one with my hand in the fire, feeling forever young, back where I belong, singing a home truth song.” Gibb sounds like he means it and after an extended time away from the spotlight it’s nice to hear him not only singing but seemingly with something to sing about.
Gibb definitely seems like he has a few things to get off his chest with In The Now but in many cases these sentiments fall flat and it’s not because of anything that he is expressing. I believe one of Gibb’s strongest assets is that he is extremely earnest and that earnestness is a big part of his likeability. The whole affair is diluted by a “HOT AC” sheen that is applied to every facet of the production from arrangement to the album’s final mix. It doesn’t play as sounding either especially fresh or especially classic. Written with his two sons, you can feel that Gibb really wanted to put forth the message that he is back and doing what he loves to do, that this is supposed to be a great reemergence or a solid capper to a fine career but through the languid pace of each song and distracting polish, unless under fine consideration, it all passes in one ear and out the other.
The album does close out in quite a lovely fashion with "End Of The Rainbow." The song is dedicated to Gibb’s brother Robin. Simple and elegant, the song is filled with lyrical clichés that don’t distract from its poignancy. Gibb says goodbye to his brother, letting him know not to ever worry because all their dreams had in fact come true, they made it to the end of their rainbow. It’s a touching tribute and although it is a rocky road getting to that moment, it finishes In The Now out in a way that is in character for an icon such as Barry Gibb.