Grant McLennan in the 1990s: Five Best Songs

Along with Robert Forster, Grant McLennan was one half of the song-writing team behind The Go-Betweens. While The Go-Betweens were on hiatus during the 1990s, Grant McLennan embarked on a solo career, releasing four solo albums, two albums with The Church’s Steve Kilbey, and one album with the Far Out Corporation.

I’m not going to pretend that McLennan’s 1990s work out-shines his songs in the 1980s with The Go-Betweens. It’s certainly not uncommon for pop musicians to do their best writing in their twenties, and there was a sense of McLennan struggling to find his solo identity in the decade. After balancing perfectly with the acerbic, angular Forster in The Go-Betweens, he could be a little overwhelmingly saccharine by himself, and he flirted awkwardly with the mainstream on his first two solo records.

But 1994’s countrified double album Horsebreaker Star is a masterclass of song-writing, even if it tends to blend together, and McLennan is one of my favourite song-writers, like a comforting blanket with his warm voice and melodic charm. McLennan didn’t get the chance to add to his solo catalogue after The Go-Betweens’ reunion in the 2000s, dying prematurely from a heart attack in 2006, but here are some highlights from his 1990s:

Providence (Jack Frost)
McLennan’s collaboration with The Church’s Steve Kilbey was recorded in 2 weeks, with the pair playing most of the instruments themselves. McLennan’s work with Kilbey is moodier than his other solo work.

Surround Me
Like his debut, Watershed, McLennan’s sophomore album was recorded with New Zealand singer-songwriter Dave Dobbyn. The mainstream sound works for this hooky slice of pop/rock, and its big chorus.

Another song from Fireboy, a moody piano ballad that missed the cut for Intermission, the excellent compilation that McLennan released in tandem with Robert Forster, documenting their respective careers in the 1990s.

Simone and Perry
1994’s double album Horsebreaker Star was recorded in Athens, Georgia, and adds a country tinge to McLennan’s songs. Opener ‘Simone and Perry’ sets the tone nicely, similar to previous character sketches like The Go-Betweens’ ‘Right Here’.

In Your Bright Ray
The title track from McLennan’s final solo album is beautiful and restrained, a sunny, thoughtful piece of pop.

Are you a fan of Grant McLennan’s solo career?

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  1. Can’t say I’ve ever listened to the chap before, but some of that is pretty good. I particularly like Providence and Fingers.

  2. As of a month ago (thanks to you I believe), I”m now familiar with one Go Betweens – so I suppose this would be like hearing Wings after being at least introduced to the Beatles!

  3. I’ve been spinning the Go Betweens. Really enjoying it. I guess I’m in the state of mind for it. Good stuff!. After I listen to the album(s) I get random bands in the same vein on my player. Hearing some good new music and old favorites. Thanks.

    • I think they’re special – their songs have a kind of economy and elegance that makes me want to return to them. Lots of their 1980s’ album tracks are really good – ‘To Reach Me’, ‘Unkind and Unwise’, ‘Dive For Your Memory’, ‘I Just Get Caught Out’.

      • A couple of our mates on this blog thing steered me to Spotify so it’s easy access. Overwhelming so I have to focus for a while and really get the feel. I can hear why you like them so much. I’m going to continue to play them. Thanks again.

          • I was slowly pushed into it . I like it. Amazes me how for example after I play the Go Betweens album(s) it will continue on with what it feels is similar music. It hits the mark on it’ choices.
            (I’m going to feature a band next as a companion to Vinyl Connections ‘Various Artists’ that you might find interesting).

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