Image: The Go-Betweens – supplied.
Author: Sean Lees
The Go-Betweens’ 5 Album Set is a collection I see on my friends’ CD shelves with increasing frequency. While underappreciated at the time, many of Australia’s local bands have come forth with releases that hold more than a passing influence to The Go-Betweens. Look no further than fledgling groups like Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, Flowertruck or Backyard, who have recovered their pop melodies and adapted the lyricism from Brisbane fringe suburbia to inner-city hubs. And for $20, you can’t complain. There is plenty of bang for your buck if you’re an aspiring Go-Betweens fan; wanting more context for Right Here: Finding the Go-Betweens’ documentary; or furthering your understanding past their more instantly recognisable 16 Lovers Lane.
Send Me A Lullaby (1981)
The Go-Betweens debut record is almost schizophrenic in nature. For what’s described as off-kilter guitar pop with quick successive lyrics; that as a band sounds clumsy yet so well-rehearsed. There’s manic drumming patterns that change at will, almost every instrument heard is working against each other; you’ll hear the bass and guitar exchange blows at first yet upon each successive listen the parts suddenly slot together and the picture becomes clearer.
If you’re thinking about Talking Heads, XTC or Orange Juice but faster and with much drier production, then you’re not far off. Most songs sit at around 2 to 3 minutes in length and fitting 12 tracks into a thin 35-minute set is no easy feat. ‘One Thing Can Hold Us’ and ‘Careless’ highlight the sweet desperation of love, gasping out words until physical fatigue sets in.
Before Hollywood (1983)
Sinister yet gratifying, Before Hollywood is overall a more accessible album. While the rhythms are still jagged and frantic, there’s a cleaner and more direct approach to songwriting – poetic lyricism with a country town vibe meet art-pop sensibilities.
Not all is lost though, dedicated listeners will still take the time to hear out the subtle bass changes in the title track during the verses, while any listener can feel relief and elation during the outro as the guitar mimics the vocal melodies. Another example being ‘Cattle and Cane’, while dressed up as a simple pop tune – try concentrating on the rhythm; it’s a bizarre 13/8 beat that feels so effortless, yet mesmerising. ‘Dusty in Here’ might be the best ballad ever written, Grant McLennan singing an ode to his father who died prematurely, the song accompanied by a constant bass guitar with bright flourishes of piano and guitar.
Spring Hill Fair (1984)
Soft synth, mechanic drumming and restrained plucking of guitar, tense build-up to the chorus ‘Oh won’t you save…’ followed by straight relief as ‘these Bachelor Kisses now, they’re for your brow’ alleviates all tension. ‘Bachelor Kisses’ is the sensation of catching lightning in a jar; a sharp pop song that brings forth the growing simplicity of musical ideas as The Go-Betweens progressed, and a more conversationalist approach to lyricism.
Everything about Spring Hill Fair feels much more polished; each song sits upon its own independent peninsula. Present as always are the folk-country tinged numbers featuring guitar tones where you can hear every strum. ‘River Of Money’ is an incredibly bold song choice, a repeated drum and bass rhythm pinned to rough guitar tones blaring intermittently – spoken yet sung expressions of loss and longing; it’s unlike anything heard before or since.
Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express (1986)
Liberty Belle expands The Go-Betweens past 80’s pop contemporary. While their records always fit an art-pop space, Liberty Belle pushes their sound to the greenest of pastures, the type that you step into and feel refreshed when the grass bristles nuzzle against your toes.
Everything sounds organic – this is in effect a result of simpler songwriting creating the space for heartfelt lyricism and fuller instrumentation in songs, piano and vibraphone in ‘Twin Layers of Lightning’ creating a sense of romanticism. Traditionally, the instrumental section of ‘The Wrong Road’ has starred a guitar interplay in previous records, this time we’re indulged by a free-flowing string quartet.
Tallulah feels decidedly more pop, albeit in a sterile manner. Drum machines are ever-present, matched with a rhythmic bass pattern that can create the wrong type of 80’s pop; the flip-side of the drum machine creating sparse energy and moodier atmospheres. The harshest extremity of sterile pop is ‘Cut It Out’. The percussion riff comes across as grating, the chorus offers mild reprieve by introducing guitar and fading the percussion to a whisper – coming out of Liberty Belle where everything sounds fresh and lively, to the mechanical soundscape of Tallulah is hard to come to terms with.
‘Bye Bye Pride’ stands out like a diamond in the rough, McLennan singing poetry of optimism and love, with Amanda Brown also playing oboe on this song. The inclusion feels like a warm brush of energy that peaks after the final chorus of ‘The door is open wide!’ Wedged in-between Liberty Belle, and 16 Lovers Lane; Tallulah can’t be faulted, experiences building the foundation of what can be accomplished next time.