High Civilization, by the Bee Gees
It is strange that it took me this long to discover the greatness of the album High Civilization. To be sure, this album’s greatness is not obvious nor has it ever been particularly popular, either when it was selling very few copies in 1991 when it was released to general puzzlement nor in the streaming age where it remains a very obscure and little-known album. Yet this album is a great album nonetheless, and it is well worth exploring why that is the case. How is it that an album could be this good and yet be so totally unknown, despite being from a group that had a lot of prior success and would have some success later on as well with a comeback starting in the mid-90’s and continuing on until the death of Maurice Gibb in the early 2000’s put an end to the group as an active concern.
Among the more obvious deterrent factors to this album is the length of its songs. Only one of the songs on the entire album is less than 4 minutes, and that was the only single from the album and the only song from this era of the Bee Gees that remains somewhat well-known, the moving but also ambivalent “Secret Love,” which gives a great deal of fondness for a clandestine relationship about which the careful listener should probably have a lot more questions. Beyond that, there are no obvious single choices–probably why no other singles were cut to help support a project that clearly was not selling well–because most of the tracks are well over five minutes here. This is a dark album–songs like “Human Sacrifice,” “The Only Love,” “Evolution,” “Ghost Train,” and “When He’s Gone,” a sizable part of this album–are melancholy and often gloomy and reflective songs about love. Still some of these songs are surprisingly upbeat, from “Dimensions,” which has a jaunty tone about the many sides to a complicated woman, to “Party With No Name,” which offers its own surprising take on a predatory sort of love.
It seems strange that an album with the title of High Civilization would be full of such odd and quirky and eccentric–and even savage–meditations on love. It is quite possible that in this the Bee Gees were ahead of the curve when it came to having a well-developed sense of irony. Be that as it may, this is an album that deserves attention. If you are a fan of the Brothers Gibb, as I am, this album is a neglected and obscure era in their body of work that deserves far more attention than it receives. Whether a single edit on one or two of the songs here could have turned this album’s fate around, as it is clear that “Secret Love” was not enough to make this album accessible to the masses of the early 1990’s who were enjoying similarly lengthy projects from such artists as Bryan Adams, whose songs were in the same length as these ones is too late to answer at this point, but it is certainly an interesting thought experiment nonetheless. For those who do pay attention to this album, the mix between period instrumentation and production and surprisingly pointed lyrics about love and relationships make this a distinctly unusual pleasure in the body of work of the Bee Gees as a whole.