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The Go-Betweens – Worst To Best

The Go-Betweens Send Me A Lullaby

Brisbane’s The Go-Betweens are one of my favourite bands, but it’s sometimes difficult to explain their appeal. Robert Forster and Grant McLennan are limited as guitarists and vocalists, but they balance each other beautifully (Forster was a fan of The Velvet Underground, and McLennan a fan of The Monkees), and their songs are literate, graceful, and melodic. Apart from their debut, each of their albums has ten songs, five from each writer, and most of their album titles feature a pair of Ls.

The Go-Betweens’ 1981 debut Send Me A Lullaby was recorded as a three piece, with McLennan on bass and Lindy Morrison on drums. The group gradually expanded throughout the 1980s, adding English bass player Robert Vickers, and then multi-instrumentalist Amanda Brown on violin and oboe. By 1988’s 16 Lovers Lane, the band’s sound was lush and layered, a drastic evolution from their austere early albums. But band tensions took their toll, with two pairs of lovers and former lovers, and the band called it a day in 1989.

But Forster and McLennan remained friends, and reunited the band in the 21st century without the other members. They released two passable but uninspiring albums before 2005’s lush Oceans Apart, which rivalled their 1980s albums with some great songs. But as their career was regaining momentum, Grant McLennan passed away from a heart attack at the age of 48, ending the band. I’ve recently reviewed their debut, so it’s a good time to go through and rank The Go-Betweens’ albums from best to worst.

The Go-Betweens Send Me A Lullaby#9 – Send Me A Lullaby (1981)
The awkward debut, where McLennan contributes a few nice songs, but Forster’s trying too hard for weirdness. The “I shot you with my….. camera” line from ‘Eight Pictures is particularly awkward, and the iconic cover is perhaps the album’s strongest point.


The Go-Betweens Bright Yellow Bright Orange#8 – Bright Yellow, Bright Orange (2003)
I’ve always found The Go-Betweens’ second reunion album a little monotonous – it’s largely acoustic, and well crafted, but it lacks the spark of their best material.

 


The Go-Betweens Friends of Rachel Worth#7 – The Friends of Rachel Worth (2001)
The Go-Betweens’ first reunion album was recorded with members of Sleater-Kinney, and it’s alternative and stripped down, a different approach from their lush records in the second half of the 1980s.

 


Spring Hill Fair The Go-Betweens#6 – Spring Hill Fair (1984)
The band’s first album as a four piece has great material from Forster, but McLennan’s a little scattershot, contributing both the beautiful ‘Bachelor Kisses’ and the awkward experimentation of ‘River Of Money’. But like the next five albums on this list, Spring Hill Fair is an essential purchase for Go-Betweens fans.


Tallulah The Go-Betweens#5 – Tallulah (1987)
Multi-instrumentalist Amanda Brown joined The Go-Betweens, and her skills on oboe and violin help fill out their sound. As with most of the band’s 1980s albums, Forster’s writing is excellent with overlooked songs like ‘You Tell Me’ and ‘I Just Get Caught Out’ but McLennan’s is inconsistent – ‘Bye Bye Pride’ is my favourite Go-Betweens song, but ‘Cut It Out’ is awkward white boy funk.


Oceans Apart The Go-Betweens#4 – Oceans Apart (2005)
The Go-Betweens’ third and last reunion album is easily their best from the 21st century, recapturing the lush sound of 16 Lovers Lane, and with great songs like Forster’s ‘Darlinghurst Nights’ and McLennan’s ‘No Reason To Cry’. Some of the early CDs have poor mastering jobs, however – I’m no audiophile, but it’s bad enough that I notice.


Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express The Go-Betweens#3 – Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express (1986)
A particularly solid effort from the band’s stellar run in the 1980s, and one which I suspect is a favourite of many hardcore fans. A crop-top wearing Forster emulates Prince on ‘Head Full Of Steam’ (and parodies him in its music video, below) while McLennan writes gorgeous songs like ‘The Wrong Road’ and ‘The Ghost and the Black Hat’.


The Go-Betweens Before Hollywood#2 – Before Hollywood (1983)
A huge step forward from the awkward debut from the Australian three piece. McLennan’s terse, autobiographic ‘Cattle and Cane’ is perhaps the group’s signature song, while Forster contributes the jerky new wave of ‘As Long As That’ and ‘Ask’. Bass player Robert Vickers joined in time to appear in the music video for ‘Cattle and Cane’, below.


16 Lovers Lane The Go-Betweens#1 – 16 Lovers Lane (1988)
After spending much of the 1980s in the UK, the group returned to Australia and recorded their most accessible album. The recordings were largely based off Forster and McLennan’s acoustic guitars and voices, with Amanda Brown and new bass player John Willsteed adding lushness with their overdubs – Willsteed plays a lot of guitar leads – while Morrison is often absent and replaced by a drum machine. It’s McLennan’s most consistent set of songs, with ‘Quiet Heart’ and the minor hit ‘Streets Of Your Town’, while Forster is less arty than usual with ‘Clouds’ and ‘You Can’t Say No Forever’.

Are you a fan of The Go-Betweens? Do you have a favourite album?

17 thoughts on “The Go-Betweens – Worst To Best Leave a comment

  1. Can’t argue with your number one. I’d place “Liberty Belle…” at number 2. Dare I say it…my third pick would be “Spring Hill Fair”. I didn’t hear the two recent albums. I should really give them a shot.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Spring Hill Fair is a totally legit pick – I’d respect a list with it as the top choice – the first six on my list are all essential IMO.

      Not everyone likes Oceans Apart but I like the hooks and lushness. The other two reunion albums weren’t catchy enough for my liking, but Oceans Apart has ‘Boundary Rider’, ‘Darlinghurst Nights’ (one of Robert’s best ever songs IMO), ‘No Reason To Cry’, and ‘The Mountains Near Dellray’ – lots of great songs.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Their first LP “Send Me A Lullaby” was very interesting. Too bad The Go-Betweens started making British songwriting. “1-16 Lovers Lane” is certainly a good creation-album, but The Go-Betweens are already their own imitators.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think they stayed fairly Australian, although they certainly strayed away from indie and towards the mainstream in terms of sound. But ‘Cattle and Cane’ from the second album is very Australian, and there are plenty of other songs that recall McLennan’s childhood or are situated in Australia. 16 Lovers Lane was recorded after they returned to Australia too – they’ve said it was inspired by the bi-centennial celebrations in 1988.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I think I tried checking these guys out once a few years ago when I went looking to find out where Allo Darlin’ got the name for their song “Tallulah”. I wasn’t super impressed though. Maybe it was a time and place thing? Like trying to read “Catcher in the rye” for the first time in your twenties?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Which album(s) did you hear? I started with a greatest hits, and while I liked some of McLennan’s poppy stuff (‘Bachelor Kisses’, ‘Streets of Your Town’) straight away, it took me a while to appreciate some of their other songs. And as I said in my post, Forster and McLennan’s guitars and voices aren’t particularly polished, so they’re probably not for everyone.

      Like

    • Maybe the vocals more than anything? Smith and Brown both have thin whispy voices, and McAloon and McLennan both have some natural warmth. ‘Streets of Your Town’ is kind of heading into sophisti-pop territory, but a lot of The Go-Betweens’ music is less adorned. I’m sure the two bands were aware of each other though – both indie pop bands in the UK in the same era.

      Liked by 1 person

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