Go-Betweens : Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express

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The Go-Betweens are one of those bands whose records I’ve been meaning to buy for quite a while now, but thanks to freshly mailed promos, don’t have to. Having played “Part Company” on my college radio show a few years back, I grew deeply interested in the Australian band’s storied career. And it wasn’t long before that that a renewed interest in the band had surfaced, thanks to a new album featuring contributions by the likes of Sleater-Kinney. And so, my original intent was to seek out the band’s early work, as the best place to start is usually the beginning. Not so with the Go-Betweens, I have learned. Jetset Records has reissued the band’s last three albums and the first of these three, Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express, might be the best place to dive in.

For someone like me, a two-disc reissue of a classic college rock album is a truly beautiful thing. Yet, being a newcomer to the G-Bs, it was also a bit overwhelming. And in all honesty, the second disc is great, but I know I’ll be listening to the first more. Nonetheless, I had no idea how brilliant these Aussies truly were. They’d been compared to the likes of The Smiths, which makes sense, as the two bands were chronological contemporaries and played witty, literate, jangly pop music. But the Go-Betweens had an earthiness about them that was missing from Morrissey and Marr’s equation. While one reflected the cold climate of industrial Manchester, the other seemed warmer and less affected. In any case, The Go-Betweens wrote some freakin’ great songs.

It’s easy to draw Marr comparisons to “Spring Rain,” Liberty Belle‘s bouncy, jangly opening single. It’s catchy and rockin’ enough to fit in alongside the Mancunian heroes, yet almost sounds more American in its rootsy twang. “The Wrong Road” is a brooding, minor key waltz that’s bathed in a bit more melodrama than the rest of the album. One of the album’s prettier tracks, “Twin Layers of Lightning” employs piano and vibraphone, fusing their style with jazz textures, something that very few of their peers attempted at the time. The album’s other well-known single, “Head Full of Steam,” is another song that bears similarities to The Smiths. But it’s Grant McLennan’s voice that gives it away each time. Sounding like a cross between Robyn Hitchcock and Tom Verlaine, his voice is no less unmistakable than Morrissey’s.

The bonus disc is chock full of demos, b-sides and rarities, which will entice many a longtime fan to take a shopping trip. But for first-timers like me, it’s an exciting discovery that just so happens to be padded with extra goodies. But like I said earlier, it’s the first disc that I’ve become most attached to.

Similar albums:
Smiths – Meat is Murder
Camper Van Beethoven – Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart
Mekons – OOOH!

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