"It is tough being a millionaire rock star these days."

(Robin Gibb / Reuters, May 2001)

Just when people had finally stopped blaming the Bee Gees for the disco revolution, the three brothers Gibb are now being tagged as the original "boy band," the forerunners of pop crooners like 'N Sync and the Backstreet Boys.

Yes, Barry, Maurice and Robin Gibb can still send female fans into ecstasy with their high harmonies and ballads. But they do not dance and arguably they are not as cute as Howie D., Justin & Co. One other key difference, of course, is that the Gibbs actually write their own songs and play instruments. And none of those boy band members can boast that he is married to a bisexual Druid priestess, as can Robin Gibb.

Just to emphasize their heritage, the Bee Gees' new album -- the 28th of their career -- marks a return to the way the British natives recorded in the late 1960s: a live sound with more vocals and less production.

"We're a proper band more in the Beatles sense rather than the boy band sense," Robin, 51, said in his first of several Fab Four references during an interview with Reuters.

"What we're also trying to say is that a lot of music today is a mixture of the whole last four decades. ... Technology is different, but the actual structure and the melodies are very much the same."

The new album, "This Is Where I Came In" (Polydor/Universal), features the trio's brand of easy-listening "adult pop" -- well-crafted ditties that probably will not set the world on fire the way such massive hits as "Jive Talkin"' and "Too Much Heaven" did in the 1970s.

Nowadays, the Miami-based Bee Gees score their biggest chart success when those dreaded boy bands cover their hits: Boyzone, Take That and Steps have gone to No. 1 in Britain with "Words," "How Deep Is Your Love" and "Tragedy," respectively, and U.S. R&B divas Destiny's Child plan to release a cover of "Emotion" in a few months.

"The covers are fine because you don't have to go and sit in the studio and write for them, but then there are artists who want new songs too," Robin said.

The songs rejected for "This Is Where I Came In" will likely be snapped up by other groups, he said, and generate more income than the tracks that did make the cut.

Despite their good fortunes during nearly 40 years together professionally, the Bee Gees have rarely received the respect one would normally accord to an act that has sold an estimated 107 million albums worldwide. Most people associate them with their disco hits such as "Stayin' Alive" and "Night Fever, both from 1977's mega-selling "Saturday Night Fever" soundtrack.

To make matters worse, they often have been labeled (unfairly) as cranky old men. Robin, especially, was supposed to be the grumpy one.

"I think I'm more of a thinker," he said. "I'm less trivial about things than probably I should be, but I do have a great sense of humor ... maybe grumpy with a great sense of humor."

Not to mention an interesting domestic life. Four years ago when Robin went public with the lesbian tendencies of his second wife, Dwina Murphy, the British tabloids went wild with love triangle shocker headlines.

Robin, calling himself "a very modern-thinking kind of guy," was so traumatized by the breakup of his first marriage, to Molly Hullis, a former secretary for Beatles manager Brian Epstein, that he vowed never again to open up his heart.

"We go through our lives with one person and it isn't fair, and you depend on them emotionally and physically even," he said. "At the end of the day when something happens you're completely, totally devastated and lost and you've got no one ... to turn to. No one knows you like that person. That can be a very negative thing."

He put his philosophy to the test in 1985 when he married Murphy, an Irish artist who went on to be ordained as a Druid priestess. Their open marriage arrangement, which produced a daughter, allowed Murphy to seek emotional support elsewhere, and Robin occasionally made it a threesome.

She and her girlfriend have since broken up but remain good friends, and she has not found a replacement yet. Robin does not have any say in the girlfriends she picks, begging the question: What happens if he does not like the choice?

"It's her choice, really. I just go to the studio and make an album!" he said.

Barry Gibb, 54, the group's nominal leader and the man behind the Bee Gees' trademark falsetto, was annoyed when Robin went public with his sexcapades, concerned it would hurt the brothers' image. He has generated his own headlines recently by talking about his struggle with arthritis, but Robin says Barry tends to exaggerate the extent of his illness.

Barry has been depicted as being rather standoffish, but Robin says his big brother is "very sensitive and shy, but very, very sweet with it, very passive."

Robin's twin brother, Maurice, is considered the most approachable one, "a social animal," Robin confirmed.

Maurice used to be a party animal too, going on drinking binges that brought out an abusive side. He is now sober and proudly wears an Alcoholics Anonymous lapel badge.

The siblings plan to spend the rest of the year promoting "That's Where I Came In" and will embark on a world tour next year. It will reach the United States in the spring.

The tour will capitalize on the newfound respect the group has gained in recent years. In 1997, when they released their last studio album, "Still Waters," the Bee Gees were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and they have received lifetime achievement awards at various music shows.

The critics belatedly went into revisionist mode, but Robin says underappreciation is an occupational hazard. "There were periods in Elton John's career where he felt that, and Rod Stewart -- people who have been around a long time will go through phases of that. But definitely the last five years have been very good and we feel kind of redeemed in a way."

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