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.
Desire, I Want To Turn Into You
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.
The Candle and the Flame
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.