You have to hand it to The Go-Betweens. By sustaining a second wind for six years with three great releases, they seem to have shaken what could have been called a “comeback,” and will now only be referred to as The Go-Betweens’ second era. But what’s even more commendable about Robert Forster and Grant McLennan’s newest series of albums is that they’re all good. Some artistic returns can go either way, but in the case of these Aussie legends, the results are nothing short of wonderful.
Oceans Apart, the latest in this series, recalls the best moments of the band’s late eighties albums. A little Liberty Belle here, some 16 Lovers Lane there — it’s all of the best aspects of The Go-Betweens, without the forced over-production or experimentation that often comes with musical second-waves. In some cases it works (i.e. Wire’s metal machine punk, XTC’s lush chamber pop) and in others, it fails miserably (the second disc of Frank Black Francis, every other installment of The Cure’s comebacks). Luckily, we never have that problem with The Go-Betweens. From day one, good songwriting has been the core of this band and remains so to this day.
Listening to the songs on this release, it becomes easier to discern the distinctive, respective songwriting styles of Forster and McLennan. In just the first two songs, the two seem to present opposing sounds that somehow work well alongside each other. “Here Comes A City,” Forster’s composition, is a nervy, paranoid bit of power pop. Meanwhile, McLennan’s “Finding You” is a gorgeous, acoustic number with perfectly plucked guitars and just the right amount of whirring ambient sounds underneath. You could use the Lennon-McCartney comparison (which combined sort of makes McLennan), but I’m not going to. These two songwriters, though individual songwriters and voices, work incredibly well together, which is why The Go-Betweens are such a great band.
Forster’s “Born To A Family” is peppy and fun, while McLennan’s “No Reason To Cry” is serene and pretty, creating a contrast that may not be as pronounced as, say, every other Mekons album. But the diversity and versatility of these two songwriters is just right, adding enough variance of shade to each musical hue.
An added bonus disc of live tracks comes packaged with Oceans Apart, for those who want a little more with their album. All of them are, of course, great, though honestly, this album is good enough to stand on its own, bonus disc or not. Many of these songs are among Forster and McLennan’s best, and if they really are here to stay, than they certainly won’t be the last we hear either.
Robyn Hitchcock – Globe of Frogs
Belle and Sebastian – Dear Catastrophe Waitress
Go-Betweens – Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.