Go-Betweens : 16 Lovers Lane

Jeff Terich


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If you’re in a band on its way to extinction, the best way to go is with a “bang,” as they say. You don’t burn out. You don’t fade away. You explode into a giant spectacular flare and disappear. I’d like to cite some examples of how effective this is, but quite frankly, it doesn’t happen that often. The Clash’s final hour was Cut the Crap, an album that’s best left not mentioned. The Velvet Underground’s Squeeze didn’t include Lou Reed, Nico or John Cale and, like the prior album, is best left in the vaults. The Cure and The Fall seem to keep going, so who knows what their final albums will sound like. In recent years, the examples are more numerous – Beulah’s Yoko, Jawbox’s Jawbox, Dismemberment Plan’s Change. But the finest example of the importance of ending at the right time is The Go-Betweens’ 16 Lovers Lane.

16 Lovers Lane is often cited as the finest album made by a band sometimes referred to as Australia’s finest pop group. Though the band had many high points throughout their career, Lane is the culmination of all their efforts, a masterpiece as perfect as an album can possibly get. One of many in history’s long series of concept albums about relationships, 16 Lovers Lane is the quintessential collection of love songs from the eighties, if not of all time. Rumors and 69 Love Songs may spring to mind, but 16 Lovers Lane is an often overlooked piece of romantic artistry.

Grant McLennan’s lyrics are the centerpiece of the record, offering nuggets of verbal genius among ten tracks of instrumental sublimity. The opening track, “Love Goes On,” is an instant classic. Over a catchy, almost Spanish-sounding guitar, McLennan sings “There are some times when I want you/ want you so much I could bust/ I know a thing about lovers/ lovers lie down in trust.” The yearning continues throughout the song, building into an even greater emotional rush, the likes of which continue in “Quiet Heart,” in which McLennan offers “I tried to tell you/ but I can only say when we’re apart/ how I miss your quiet, quiet heart” over a melody that Robert Smith would give his weight in hairspray for.

On a purely aesthetic level, the music on 16 Lovers Lane is among the best of its era. “You Can’t Say No Forever” has a subtle groove about it, while “Was There Anything I Could Do” has a driving melody as memorable as that of “Bigmouth Strikes Again” or “Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others.” “Streets of Your Town” made a minor stateside hit for the band, as it has one of the catchiest choruses on the record. But this writer still has a fondness for “Love Goes On,” the most perfectly concise and compelling track of the album and, quite possibly, the band’s entire discography.

16 Lovers Lane has yet to make any of those Top 100 or 200 or 587 albums of all time lists, but as we’ve seen with Pink Flag and White Light/ White Heat, it’s never too late to discover how great an album is. The Go-Betweens didn’t exactly break up for good with this record, as they’ve put out two records in the past five years. But in preparation for what was supposed to be the end, the Australian group created the brightest, most beautiful flash they could ignite. And it’s still burning.

Similar albums:
Neil Finn – One All
Robyn Hitchcock – Globe Of Frogs
Morrissey – Viva Hate

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