The Go-Betweens Send Me A Lullaby

The Go-Betweens: Albums Ranked from Worst To Best

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; the edgier Forster was a fan of The Velvet Underground, while McLennan was a fan of The Monkees. 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.

Forster and McLennan remained friends and reunited the band in the 21st century. They released two worthy but uninspiring albums before 2005’s more Oceans Apart, which measured up to their 1980s peaks 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 career of a great and over-looked band.

Here are The Go-Betweens’ nine studio albums, ranked from worst to best:

#9 – Send Me A Lullaby

The Go-Betweens Send Me A Lullaby

After some promising early singles, The Go-Betweens released an awkward debut album, where Forster in particular was trying too hard for weirdness. The “I shot you with my….. camera” line from ‘Eight Pictures’ is particularly cringe-worthy, and the iconic cover art is the album’s strongest point.

#8 – Bright Yellow, Bright Orange

The Go-Betweens Bright Yellow Bright Orange

The Go-Betweens’ second reunion album is a little monotonous. It’s largely acoustic and well crafted, but it lacks the spark of their best material. The country jangle of Forster’s ‘Too Much Of One Thing’ is one song worth discovering.

#7 – The Friends of Rachel Worth

The Go-Betweens Friends of Rachel Worth

The Go-Betweens’ first reunion album was recorded with members of Sleater-Kinney. Accordingly it’s alternative and stripped-down, a stark follow-up to 16 Lovers Lane. Forster explains his post-Go-Betweens’ activities on ‘German Farmhouse’, while McLennan shines on the haunting ‘Orpheus Beach’.

#6 – Spring Hill Fair

Spring Hill Fair The Go-Betweens

The Go-Betweens’ first album as a four-piece has great material from Forster, like the regretful ‘Part Company’ and the scathing ‘Draining The Pool For You’. McLennan’s writing is more scattershot, contributing the gorgeous pop of ‘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 fans of the Go-Betweens.

#5 – Tallulah

Tallulah The Go-Betweens

Multi-instrumentalist Amanda Brown had 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 a little inconsistent – ‘Bye Bye Pride’ is my favourite Go-Betweens song, but ‘Cut It Out’ is awkward white boy funk.

#4 – Oceans Apart

Oceans Apart The Go-Betweens

The Go-Betweens’ third and final reunion album is easily their best of the 21st century, recapturing the lush sound of 16 Lovers Lane, and with memorable 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.

#3 – Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express

Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express The Go-Betweens

Liberty Belle is a particularly solid effort from the band’s stellar run in the 1980s, and it’s a favourite of many dedicated fans. A crop-top wearing Forster emulates Prince on ‘Head Full Of Steam’ (and parodies him in its music video) while McLennan writes gorgeous songs like ‘The Wrong Road’ and ‘The Ghost and the Black Hat’.

#2 – Before Hollywood

The Go-Betweens Before Hollywood

Before Hollywood is the great step forward for The Go-Betweens after their awkward debut. McLennan’s evocative ‘Cattle and Cane’ is the group’s signature song, while Forster balances his partner’s sweetness with the jerky new wave of ‘As Long As That’ and ‘Ask’. Bass player Robert Vickers signed up in time to appear in the music video for ‘Cattle and Cane.

#1 – 16 Lovers Lane

16 Lovers Lane The Go-Betweens

After spending much of the 1980s in the UK, The Go-Betweens returned to Australia and recorded their most accessible album. The recordings were built up from Forster and McLennan’s acoustic demos, with Amanda Brown and new bass player John Willsteed adding overdubs. Willsteed plays many of the guitar leads, while Morrison is often absent and replaced by a drum machine. 16 Lovers Lane boasts McLennan’s most consistent set of songs, with ‘Quiet Heart’ and the minor hit ‘Streets Of Your Town’. Forster’s writing is more approachable than usual with ‘Clouds’ and ‘Dive For Your Memory’.

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

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  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.

    • 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.

  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.

    • 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.

  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?

    • 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.

    • 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.

  4. I remember hearing ‘Streets Of Your Town’ reviewed on one of those Radio 1 round table sessions where musicians hear snatches of other bands’ new singles and give their immediate impression. Don’t remember who it was, but someone likened it to Deacon Blue, which seemed a little unfair at the time and more so now. I seem to recall REM’s ‘Orange Crush’ was dismissed on the same show as ‘a rip-off of The Byrds’. Can never decide whether Liberty Belle or 16 Lovers Lane is my favourite Go-Betweens album,

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