The Go-Betweens’ second album, and the last the group recorded as a three piece, was their critical breakthrough, containing their signature song ‘Cattle and Cane’. Guitarist/songwriter Robert Forster, bassist/songwriter Grant McLennan and drummer Lindy Morrison had moved to London following their debut, and signed with Rough Trade. Before Hollywood was recorded in Eastbourne’s International Christian Communication Studios, with minimal overdubs, although guest keyboardist Bernard Clarke provides graceful piano on ‘Dusty In Here’ and swirling organ on ‘That Way’.
Despite the thin sound – the group’s other first tier records (Liberty Belle, 16 Lovers Lane, and Oceans Apart) are all much more studio based and lushly produced – Before Hollywood stands up as one of the group’s best records, one of their most consistent sets of songs. It’s McLennan’s childhood reminiscence ‘Cattle and Cane’ that’s the most noteworthy song here, recently voted as one of the ten greatest Australian songs of all time, with its weird time signature and nostalgic lyrics (“I recall a schoolboy coming home/through fields of cane/to a house of tin and timber.”) The organ led ‘That Way’, which sounds like a cross between The Monkees, Bob Dylan, and Television (a conglomeration which sums up the group’s sound pretty well) shows McLennan’s ability in well-crafted, understated pop. McLennan’s other stunner is the minimalist, understated ‘Dusty In Here’, almost pared down to a lonely piano. Balancing McLennan’s nostalgia and romanticism, Forster’s nervy pop is tense and hooky. ‘As Long As That’ (“I’ve got a feeling, sounds like a fact”) is his most accessible, while ‘Ask’ and ‘On My Block’ throw lots of energy around.
One of the best, and most over-looked, records to come out of late new wave, Before Hollywood is markedly different than the group’s subsequent albums, but excellent nonetheless.