New Music Reviews: Caroline Polachek and Robert Forster

It’s the first proper batch of new album reviews for 2023. Former Chairlift vocalist Caroline Elizabeth Polachek is onto her second full-fledged solo album. Robert Derwent Garth Forster, previously of The Go-Betweens, is up to his eighth.

Caroline Polachek

Desire, I Want To Turn Into You

2023, 9/10
Caroline Polachek released her official solo debut Pang in 2019. She’d previously dabbed with solo records under pen names during her time with Chairlift. Desire has been slipping quietly out for a while – ‘Bunny is a Rider’ was a single back to 2021.

Where Pang balanced pop and art-rock sides, Desire emphasises the pop aspects of Polachek’s music. Polachek lost her father during the first wave of Covid – he was an academic who felt like Polachek was squandering her talents making pop music.

I am my father’s daughter in the end
He says watch your ego, watch your head girl
You’re so smart so talented
But now the water’s turning red
And it’s all your fault and it’s all your mess
And you’re all alone can’t go to bed

A hyperactive child, Polachek’s parents played Enya to calm her down. The Irish easy-listening queen is a tangible influence on Polachek’s music – the Celtic break on ‘Blood and Butter’ is the most obvious example. She’s also covered The Corrs, while Dido guests on this record. The arty pop of Kate Bush is also an obvious reference point for Polachek – Bush also dabbled in Celtic influences on her 1980s records. There’s also Spanish guitar on the excellent ‘Sunset’, while the swirling organ of ‘Butterfly Net’ recalls the ambient swirl of Pink Floyd.

Desire, I Want To Turn Into You is a supremely confident second album from Polachek, seemingly at the height of her artistic powers.

Robert Forster

The Candle and the Flame

2023, 7.5/10
Robert Forster is known as the co-founder of literate Brisbane indie band The Go-Betweens, releasing nine, mostly exquisite studio albums between 1981 and 2005. With the passing of Go-Betweens partner Grant McLennan, Forster has continued releasing solo records, while also writing – he’s worked as a critic, while he’s also working on his first novel.

In 2021, Robert Forster’s wife Karin Bäumler was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. It was a relatively serious case, too large for surgery, and she had to undergo seven rounds of chemotherapy to shrink it. The couple turned to music as therapy – working with their son Louis Forster, formerly of the Goon Sax, and Adele Pickvance, who’d served as the bassist on the 21st century Go-Betweens’ records. Forster had already written a lot of these songs, although opener ‘She’s A Fighter’ was only a riff and was given lyrics to fit the situation. Happily, music as therapy seems to have worked – Forster posted on Facebook that “one night, when sitting cross-legged on the couch, after we had played a song, Karin looked up from her xylophone and said, ‘When we play music, i[t’]s the only time I forget I have cancer’”.

Even though Forster had most of the songs written before his wife’s diagnosis, ‘Tender Years’ hits hard in its evocation of a happy relationship.

Her beauty has not withered
From her entrance in Chapter One
I’m in a story with her, I know I can’t live without her
I can’t imagine one
I know it’s growing daily, lately I see how far we’ve come

With most of the instrumentation coming from the Forster family – daughter Loretta also plays some guitar – Candle is a quietly dignified record. There’s some lovely violin on fiddle – normally Bäumler would have handled the violin part, but her teacher had to substitute for it.

Rock and pop music’s usually a young person’s game, but Forster’s 8th solo album, released at the age of 65, largely breaks free of the diminishing returns of ageing.

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Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande. Aphoristic Album Reviews features reviews and blog posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.


    • When I saw Robert Forster I said, I didn’t know he made albums. Ha ha. I was thinking of the actor Robert Forster who’s gotta be dead by now anyway. He was in all these cool 70s movies about the Mafia and stuff and also my favorite Marlon Brando movie Reflections in a Golden Eye. The Go-Betweens were all right though. I always loved that song Lee Remick but it took me years before I found out who did it. Actually, she was another cool actor too. She was Damien’s mother in The Omen, as the song says. I’m gonna listen to this album and see if it sounds like the Go Betweens.

      • I generally find Forster and McLennan better together- Forster is austere by himself and McLennan is a little saccharine, so they balance each other out nicely. Danger in the Past from 1990 is generally reckoned as Forster’s best solo record. This new one has some McLennan-sequel warmth in places, though.

        • I can’t believe Lee Remick is from 1978. I thought it was from the late 80s or early 90s. I didn’t know they were around that long.

          • They didn’t put out their first album until 1981, and that’s their weakest IMO – so they didn’t really get going until 1983 with Before Hollywood and Cattle & Cane.

    • Yup, pretty sure it will make my top ten list at the end of the year, unless it’s a crazy good year.

  1. Robert Forster is the one that I connected with…no surprise. I never cared if an artist is 14 or 80…as long as the song moves me…it’s fine. It’s cool that the Forster family is incorporated into it all.

    • I think most rock/pop artists make their best material young – it’s often driven by youthful angst or lust. It’s different than jazz or classical, which is more about perfecting a complex craft.

      • Most do I agree make their best music while in their early 20s but some can rise to the occasion…take Dylan…Blood on the Tracks. One of his best albums but yea…for the most part I agree.

        • Even with Blood on the Tracks, Dylan was still under 35, so not terribly old.

          It’d be interesting to think of favourites. My favourite recent album by someone old was Pharaoh Sanders with Floating Points, but jazz tends to be different like that.

          • Yea jazz is…. I thought about this subject today. I think there are some exceptions but most of the time not…for no other reason than using up all of their material and ideas by their late twenties.
            Sometimes a few good songs can come out. Petty had some later on…but it’s not the rule.

          • I’ve been reviewing The Cars. Have you heard their 2011 reunion album Move Like This. It’s pretty impressive from an older band without Ben Orr.

          • No I haven’t…I’ll check it out Graham. Funny you mentioned The Cars. I’ve been asked to write a bout one of the best debut albums that I like. Their first album is always the first album that pops up to me.

            Oh totally off-topic…have you ever done a “worse covers” list? If you ever do…I have a song for you. Piece of My Heart by Faith Hill. Souless and no passion. I heard it a few minutes ago for the first time in a while…

          • It’s a lot better than I expected – lots of room for Robinson, Hawkes, and Easton to do their thing.

          • For a second I thought you meant the Faith Hill song lol… I will check it out tomorrow at work.

          • I think worst covers list is beyond KY expertise – it would involve listening to a lot of bad artists.

          • Some make me laugh…but I guess being a fan of Joplin…that one just made me angry.

    • It’s a bit warmer than is usual for Forster – he often comes across a bit austere without McLennan.

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