Monday, July 11, 2011

The Go-Betweens - Talullah

Taulah met a man at a newstand who asked her how does she dream

Tallulah (1987) ****

Yes, another predictable four-star rating, but it's not as if there aren't some problems.  Expanded to a five-piece with the addition of violinist and occasional oboeist Amanda Brown, the sound is fuller and busier than the spare Liberty Belle, yet also more dated - a fault that can in part be laid down to Lindy Morrison lazily laying down processed drum tracks in lieu of her usual crisp snares (I read that she had some sort of mishap that made that necessary for part of the recording, but that's no excuse).  '80s sound aside, which truth be told isn't that drastic (compared to, say, Spring Hill Fair), the real problem is the Go-Betweens slipping a bit with more inconsistent songwriting.  Yep, as expected for a song not sound band, the Go-Betweens are only really as good as the Forster/McLennan songwriting duo allows them to be.  All traces of edgily angular post-punk are now thoroughly bleached and scrubbed; the Go-Betweens are now conventional jangle-pop softly rocking alt.rockers, with the only twists and barbed kisses contained in the lyrics and unconventional structures of the songs themselves.  And oh, how barbed-wire those kisses can be.  The album leads off with "Right Here," perhaps the most straightforward gusher of lovestruck confession that Grant has ever written, but notice between the lines that while he's definitely smitten, it's not all rose-tinted:  he notes that she's 32 but looks 55 and wonders aloud if for once in her life she can live without a crutch.  Grant's songs are the poppily smitten upbeat love songs this time round, undoubtedly inspired by his blossoming love affair with the band's newest recruit.  Even the bittersweet farewell to lost love, "Bye Bye Pride," sounds uplifting, particular when Brown's beguiling oboe countermelody snakes its accompaniment in.  "Hope Then Strife," remains positive despite its title - how couldn't it with such a chorus? - and while "Someone Else's Wife," starkly and bitterly recounts a tale of adultery in an overall moody piece, the chorus is quaintly surging, and it's an anomaly for Grant.  Forster's tunes are more self-consciously literate than usual (only a bit):  the subject of the album title and "You Tell Me," is none other than Tallulah Bankhead (oh, just do a Wikipedia search), though Forster's literary aspirations are responsible for the album's biggest dud:  "The House That Jack Kerouac Built," despite some intriguing lyrics and a not-bad chorus, can't possibly live up to such a title, and doesn't.  Actually, no - it's only the second biggest dud, with the gold taken by "Cut It Out," an ill-advised foray in mild funk that is more than mildly grating.  Whether "The Clarke Sisters," is a dud or not is a matter of taste.  While musically and melodically it creates an absorbingly grim atmosphere - a cobwebs-encrusted wooden room in the back of a feminist bookstore, with Brown's sawdust violin - the lyrics have long split fans down the middle.  It comes down to whether you view Bob singing about menstration as a bold move of feminist solidarity or just plain icky. 

Half ot the ten bonus tracks are alternate versions, but this time they are sufficiently different in arrangements to justify more than one casual listen.  While I won't claim that stripped down demo versions of "I Just Get Caught Out," "The Clarke Sisters," and "Right Here," are particularly essential, they are arrestingly dissimilar (and not in a bad way) from the final, polished versions to keep the fan coming back to compare, contrast, and savour the flavours of both versions.  Of the five unfamiliar tracks, "Time in the Desert," and "A Little Romance," are pleasant if unexceptional, and would've fit in fine as filler-ish album tracks.  "Don't Call Me Gone," is a slight but not totally unworthwhile genre exercise, a venture into pure Appalachia fiddle-stomp swing.  These sunbaked Aussies aren't cut out for this sort of thing, but they make a game enough try to salvage the track just this side of charming.  Barely.  "When People Are Dead," is the lost classic, another in a long line of spare'n'lovely VU-ish Go-Betweens ballads, and a neo-classic eulogy to fit snugly alongside "Dusty in Here."  "Doo Wop in 'A' (Bam Boom)" is the odd duck, a delightful slice of proto-Pipettes girl-group chipper/exasperated mooniness that you'd swear was an early '60s oldie, but nope - it's actually the lone McLennan/Forster/Morrison/Brown composition in the Go-Betweens' canon.  I'm assuming by the looks of things that the girls, who sing it like troupers, wrote the tune and had the boys come in and tidy up the finishing touches. 

Pay special attention to the video for "Right Here," as we witness the sight of two people, Grant and Amanda, swooning sweetly at the camera as they catch the first blush of l-u-v.  This is the face of a man absolutely smitten.  Awwww!

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