I always say that the very best thing about reviewing music is the discovery – the joy in that discovery; it’s wonderful to get to share that too. You kiss a lot of frogs though. So it’s always special when something really sticks. When something arrives to you – it really does feel like a gift.
Sometimes you miss bands the first time around. And that was the case for me with The Go-Betweens.
I first heard them when, in the year 2000, reviewing for one of the wee rags, I received the brand new album, The Friends of Rachel Worth. I didn’t like it when I first heard it. It was deeply underwhelming. I then researched the band – found out this was a comeback, a reunion record, the first time in over a decade that songwriters Grant McLennan and Robert Forster had reconnected under the old band name. I checked out some of the earlier work. And then back to Rachel Worth. I did something I’m pretty sure I’ve never done since: I wrote two reviews. The first one based on the earliest impression was not positive. The second, with a lot of time spent listening to the album again and again, was far more of a rave. I ended up sending in the second review.
There are much better Go-Betweens records – I was reminded of that recently reading a list that ranks Rachel Worth at the bottom – but it has its charms, and some great songs. It’s also responsible for introducing me to not one but two of my favourite bands – the rhythm section for this record features Janet Weiss on drums. Her band-chums from Sleater-Kinney appeared on a couple of songs and seemed to have a pervasive influence on the sound of the record. I left a fan of Sleater-Kinney too.
The best Go-Betweens record, according to that list, and it’s my favourite too is 16 Lovers Lane. In-between, in what is a finite selection, quite easy to get your hands on and to wrap your ears around, there are records from their “second” stab that are as good as anything the original band line-up offered. There are also a couple of records I’ve still not heard. You can get most of the albums now as deluxe-reissues, with bonus discs of demos and outtakes. And I collected up a few of those.
The two songwriters had solo careers too – Dave Dobbyn produced a couple of McLennan’s solo albums.
As time went on I found more reasons to stay, to soak up The Go-Betweens.
We were in Sydney in 2006. Part of our Honeymoon. Actually a wee holiday tacked on the end, a chance to catch up with some friends. The Sydney Festival was on and there was a Go-Betweens show. One of their last. Billed as an evening of story and song it featured Grant and Robert and then the original line-up and a cast of others, some banter, some solo songs, some tunes by these two old friends, and a mix of the old with the new. Fortunately, I have a friend who works in procurements – he was able then to get us tickets.
Only a couple of months later Grant McLennan died of a heart attack. He was 48 years old.
Forster has released a couple of new solo albums in the last decade – his most recent has the ghosts of the old band rattling about, providing influence, a spiritual guidance. He’s also just released a book about his time on this earth with Grant McLennan. It will be a must-read – his earlier collection of essays is one of my favourite books of music-writing. And Forster has a real talent as a journalist. You’ll find his occasional pieces, concert and album reviews, a summary of an era or label. And they’re always worth reading.
The Go-Betweens are never far from my mind – or my stereo for that matter. But this week I’ve thought about them a lot. Reviewing Forster’s new record, recently visiting Australia, reading that list of the album rankings, anticipating what could well be one of the year’s best music books – one of the best books, period. There’s been more than one thing in the air. Little reminders of a really great group. And Robert Forster is playing here – really soon!
Wonderful band – so many great songs, the writing, the playing, just perfect.
I miss them. Even though it’s as easy as going to the stereo to call them up, to tap back into it.