KUTX Music Editor Jeff McCord’s take on the box sets to buy this holiday season. Albums are rated on a five-point scale.
Australia’s Go-Betweens never seemed to fit in. Helmed by two bookish songwriters, Robert Forster and Grant McLennan, the pair seemed to finish each other’s sentences as their crafted idiosyncratic folk-rock overlapped an era of punks, synths and drum machines. Despite an 18-year career encompassing nine albums, multiple singles and compilations on over a half-dozen worldwide indie and major labels, they never came close to a top ten hit, even in their hometown of Brisbane. But their fanbase was rabid. They wrote weird, awkwardly phrased songs that buried their subtle hooks like a splinter in your finger. They couldn’t get arrested on some tours, yet since disbanding, their legend has blossomed. In 2010, Brisbane named a bridge in their honor. The Go-Betweens were a band from 1977-1989, until McLennan walked away, frustrated at their lack of success. Both songwriters pursued solo careers, reunited with a new lineup in 2000 and played up until McLennan’s sudden death in 2006. G Stands For Go-Betweens, Volume 2, is the second over-arching career collection (the first was released in 2015). Covering their middle years, this hybrid 5-LP, 5-CD set contains their three albums from this period, Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express, Tallulah and 16 Lovers Lane along with an unreleased double live album from 1987, all on vinyl. There’s also an astonishing five CDs full of unreleased material. As might be expected, some selections are better than others, but the best of this material is revelatory. (And there is a lot, including a KCRW live session and two CDs of 1989 demos of songs planned for a future album scrapped after their breakup.) Though 1983’s Before Hollywood and 1984’s Spring Hill Fair are absolute triumphs, in many ways the late eighties was the band’s peak. With angular classics like “Cattle And Cane”, “Part Company” and “Draining The Pool For You” already behind them, each new album found the band building writing confidence and refining their sound. Their more polished production would prove to be a double-edged sword, alienating, at least initially, some fans of their indie coarseness while doing little to up their visibility. But there was no denying the songs. McLennan, in a relationship with new Go-Between Amanda Brown, seemed to be bringing a sunnier tone to songs like “Right Here” and “Streets Of Your Town”. Laden with woodwinds and strings, they are as close to traditional pop as the band ever ventured. Elsewhere, heart on the sleeve songs like “Apology Accepted”, the driving “Head Full Of Steam” and a barbed “The House That Jack Kerouac Built” fit in more with their earlier sound. Fountains of Youth, the previously unreleased 1978 live album, seems to capture the band at exactly the right time. The recording, setlist, and performance are all first-rate. Even if you already own the studio albums on this set, the live recordings, and the 1989 demos alone are essential listening. In a time where the band is more widely known, it’s hard to remember how frustrating it must have been for them to be producing such unique and urgent work for so few ears. Equally brilliant and prolific, the Go-Betweens were a band apart. The evidence is right here, on one of those rare collections that will please uber-fans and the uninitiated alike.
Review by Jeff McCord