As the Bee Gees set forth into the 90s, they did so with fresh goals to achieve and, like any long-term act, a glance over their shoulder. After the 1989 release of their One album, they greeted the new decade by contributing to the multi-artist Nobody’s Child set, which raised funds for the plight of Romanian orphans. Then, at the end of 1990, another career retrospective by the chart-conquering Gibb brothers arrived in the UK, a Very Best Of collection that reached No.8. To the outsider, it seemed as though they may have been consolidating their past before taking their next step into the future, in this case with the 1991 album High Civilization.
It was full speed ahead with the new album, and to coincide with the release of its lead single, the bouncy, expressive “Secret Love,” the Bee Gees set out on a 34-date European tour. In some ways, “Secret Love” echoed the feelgood No.1 the brothers had written for Diana Ross, the 1986 smash “Chain Reaction.” But though their new song never became a single in the US, it glided to No.5 in the UK and, better still, No.2 in Germany and Austria.
“Happy Ever After” attracted airplay in the US, notably on Adult Contemporary radio stations, and another track from High Civilization, “When He’s Gone,” attracted attention at VH1 and at Top 40 stations. As “Secret Love” entered the upper echelons of the British charts, it made the Bee Gees only the second group in history, after Status Quo, to achieve a Top 10 hit in four consecutive decades. It was a sequence that had started all of 24 years earlier with their No.1 hit “Massachusetts.”
‘A much more modern dance feel’
The European tour started on February 27 in San Remo, Italy, and moved across the continent over the course of several months. It included an extensive run of dates in Germany, in particular, and concluded with UK arena shows, including one at Wembley Arena on July 7. The tour ended two days later at the Birmingham NEC.
The British release of High Civilization was on March 25, 1991, with the US following on May 14, when Billboard hailed its “trademark harmonies and lite-R&B stylings.” The Gibbs had crafted the record, as usual, at Middle Ear Studios in their adopted home of Miami Beach, Florida. Unlike their last two albums, and 1987’s ESP and 1989’s One, which also had credits for Brian Tench, this time the Gibbs served as sole producers themselves.
Musicians on the project included the Bee Gees’ longtime collaborator Alan Kendall on guitar and top-notch session men such as George “Chocolate” Perry on bass and Lenny Castro on percussion. Julia Waters and her sister Maxine Willard Waters provided background vocals. In the lead-up to High Civilization’s US release, the Gibbs made an appearance on The Arsenio Hall Show. Back in Europe, the album hit the Top 50 in Germany and Austria, and amassed worldwide sales of over a million.
As usual, Barry Gibb was featured vocalist almost throughout, taking six solo leads and sharing four more with Robin. Maurice was the lead singer on “Dimensions,” which, like much of the album, had a strikingly modern sound. As the group’s own website observed, “the use of heavier drums and electronic effects led the album to have a much more modern dance feel.”
Buy or stream High Civilization.