Classically trained multi-instrumentalist Amanda Brown joined The Go-Betweens for Tallulah, and her skills on violin, oboe, guitar, and keyboards helped usher in the band’s most commercially oriented era. The Go-Betweens benefited from a lusher, more detailed sound – the richly textured 16 Lovers Lane and Oceans Apart are among their most successful albums.
Song for song, however, Tallulah isn’t the most consistent Go-Betweens album, mostly due to inconsistent writing from Grant McLennan. It’s almost as if he’d put all his effort into one song – the sublime ‘Bye Bye Pride’ might be my favourite entry in the entire Go-Betweens’ catalogue, a warm, enigmatic breakup song (“When a woman learns to walk she’s not dependent anymore/A line from her letter May 24”). But McLennan’s other songs are all flawed – ‘Right Here’ squanders a great verse melody and terrific lyrics on a predictable chorus, while ‘Someone Else’s Wife’ and ‘Hope Then Strife’ largely neglect verse melodies, and only come alive on their dynamic choruses. Meanwhile, ‘Cut It Out’ is perhaps the most awkward song the Go-Betweens ever put on an album, with an unnatural funk rhythm and stilted female vocals.
On the other hand, Robert Forster’s material is becoming more aligned with McLennan’s melodic pop – ‘You Tell Me’ and ‘I Just Get Caught Out’ are hooky and urgent, while ‘The House That Jack Kerouac Built’ is haughty and compelling – only ‘The Clarke Sisters’ really steps into arty territory, and its portraits of three feminist bookstore workers are engrossing.
When this record works it’s amazing, and I’ve probably spent more time with Tallulah than any other Go-Betweens release.