Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Go-Betweens - Before Hollywood

I've got a feeling, sounds like a fact

Before Hollywood (1983) ****

Finally, the Go-Betweens as we know them arrive, and would stay in near-exact terms of quality and more or less sound for the next quarter of a century.  Stylistically, it isn't a drastic departure from the debut, in fact barely a departure at all, as they stick to same dusty three-piece jangle; it's simply that the playing and production have improved a bit, and the songwriting improved immeasurably.  As usual, this album takes some time before it all sinks in - on first listen, once again the succession of tough jangly rockers blend into one another, but subsequent careful listens reveal the hooks that set each individual track apart.  And there's nary a weak track, even including the bonus.  Even the weaker tunes have their considerable merits to consider:  note how wonderfully tight and intuitive they sound as a band on "On My Block," as McLennan's show-offy complex bass lines counterpoint Forster's snakily subcontinental guitar lines, and Lindy Morrison's crisp, militaristic strums keep the beat propulsing along.  Perhaps the key to the rapid progress from album #1 to album #2 is the growth of Grant McLennan as a songwriter, a crucial step in the Go-Betweens' evolution, as he gets off with the two clear highlights of this disc, one of which is so strong that it threatens to overshadow every other tune on here:  yes, this is the one with "Cattle and Cane," on it, that beloved standard (in Australia only, of course) that ranks as the band's most famous and popular (among fans and Australians only, of course) tune.  A dreamily evocative slice of childhood nostalgia, in its own modest way a Queensland farm boy's "Strawberry Fields," it's airily evocative of late summer in the long tall grass.  Secondly ranks "Dusty in Here," a spare VU-style ballad that uses its quiet minimalism to echo like a mausoleum, as it evokes McLennan dusting off a bottle of wine in a dank cellar while contemplating his father's demise before he was old enough to know him.  A deeply personal song that like "Cattle and Cane," is rooted in childhood memories, and more emotionally moving.

Another reason those two songs are the standouts is that they standout:  they're the two acoustic ballads, and nearly every other track follows the same mid-tempo jangle-rock pattern.  Forster's moody, "As That," stands out as possibly the third best track for breaking the pattern with its brooding, measured gloom.  Of the jangle-rockers, the two best are the two first tracks.  "Bad Debt Follows You," immediately demonstrates how much progress they've made as a band since Lullaby, excitingly kicking the album off with its thumping bass line and swirling organ before it reaches its anthemic but understated chorus.  Even better is "Two Steps Out," with its, "I'd walk a hundred miles," refrain hitting the head like hot summer rain.  Hot summer rain sums up the vibe of this album, methinks - though recorded in England, this is one of their most deeply Australian albums in both sound and imagery.

If there were any doubts that this wasn't quite a four-star album, the bonus tracks mitigate any such doubt, as they are uniformly excellent.  Forster's "Man O'Sand to Girl O'Sea," was the "hit," clearly single material with its unusually straightforward rocksy drive and "I want you back," pleading chorus, but he adds an acerbic twist to his commerciality by opening the song with the lines, "I feel so sure about our love, I'll write a song about us breaking up."  "Hammer the Hammer," is a worthy artifact of their New Wave days, with its bubblesome bassline and pounding chorus that reflects the title.  "Just a King in Mirrors," could be an inferior rewrite of "Dusty in Here," for all I know, but it's a fine third VU-album pastiche in its own right.  "Heaven Says," and "A Peaceful Wreck," sound much more epic than their 4 and 2 1/2 minute running times, respectively, with the latter boasting a hauntingly cruel, "Throw him away," refrain.  "This Girl, Black Girl," is lovely folk-pop with a sprightly jingle in its crisp step, and deservedly one of their classic B-sides.  "Near the Chimney," isn't all that memorable compared to the others, while "The Exception of Deception," is a poorly recorded acoustic songwriter strum from a live date that isn't worth the bother.  10 songs on the original, 8 bonus tracks = 18 songs total, nearly all good.  The type of consistent quality the Go-Betweens have now begun and shall continue to deliver uninterrupted for the rest of their career.

1 comment:

  1. This is a brilliant lp.
    At the time, the singing, the playing seemed evocative of a pre-Neighbours Australia. Somewhere that was vaguely known and deffinately exotic.