The Bee Gees are like a ghetto cockroach. Step on them, throw blowtorches at them and they won’t go anyway. Since they scored their first hit single in the 1960s, there have been several periods when the hits completely dried up. Then out of nowhere, Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb would come back with another hit single or album.
Still Waters was their Nineties’ comeback album. They’d only released one album in the decade so far (1993’s Size Isn’t Everything), and that didn’t fare too well on this side of the Atlantic. The brothers hadn’t had a hit in the U.S. in eight years and not much was expected of this album. So of course it became their highest charting album since 1979 and went platinum, what else could it do?
I got this album when it initially came out and somehow misplaced it. I remembered the album fondly when I saw a copy in a used record store for $3, so Still Waters became one of the few albums I’ve bought on CD twice. Ultimately, I’m glad I paid what I did. Had I shelled out more cash, I would have felt gypped. The album’s not quite as good as I remember it.
Still Waters is basically your prototypical soft pop/adult contemporary album of the time. Substitute Celine Dion’s voice in for the Brothers Gibb and she would sound right at home on these songs. The main issue with that sound is that there are only two speeds: slow and slower. The album never really takes off from a tempo standpoint, which is strange since The Bee Gees experienced their biggest success playing dance/R&B.
The highlights are few and far between, but there are several. First single and opening track Alone has a swaying, soft rock feel, with synthesizers played to resemble bagpipes. Those Gibb harmonies are in full effect-you can say many things about the Bee Gees, but no way can you say that they don’t sound great together. The (sort of) title track Still Waters Run Deep has a fairly pedestrian arrangement, but the harmonies bail the song out. I Will is by far the album’s best ballad, and then there are my two favorite tracks: Closer Than Close, which has a mysterious, eerie vibe with the brothers singing over a tinkly piano line that repeats the chorus melody. With My Eyes Closed is a chugging groover that has a little bit of an edge to it. It’s funky enough to make you bob your head. Nevertheless, it’s surprising when you read the liner notes and discover that the song was produced by Tony Toni Tone frontman Raphael Saadiq. I’d love to have heard what an entire album produced by him would’ve sounded like.
Unfortunately, the rest of Still Waters is produced by guys like David Foster (Celine Dion, Whitney Houston) and Russ Titelman (the guy behind Steve Winwood’s 80s comeback). These guys are known for a ballad-heavy, synth-heavy, antiseptic sound, and that’s just not a good look for the Bee Gees. Neither is letting a brother other than Barry Gibb sing. I’m assuming it’s Robin that sings on Irresistible Force (which is, at least, lively compared to the rest of the album) because I don’t think Maurice ever sang lead, but damn. His pinched voice is irritating as all hell. I’m all for sharing the wealth as a family, but Barry should have kicked Robin out of the vocal booth that day.
All Music Guide called Still Waters “a professional effort from the consummate professionals”, and that’s a fairly accurate judgment of this album. It sounds like a factory-made Nineties’ soft-pop album with The Bee Gees’ voices piped in. While all three Gibb brothers were alive, very few groups sang better harmony. Unfortunately, take the pretty vocals out and what you’re left with isn’t much different than the average adult-period Backstreet Boys album. Now excuse me while I put on some Saturday Night Fever.