Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Go-Betweens - The Friends of Rachel Worth

I don't want to change a thing when there's magic in here

The Friends of Rachel Worth (2000) ***1/2

Surprisingly or unsurprisingly depending upon your perspective, Forster and McLennan reunite after a decade's separation and sound exactly the same as when they parted company.  During the intervening '90s they'd both released a succession of solo albums (which I have yet to hear, but I'm presuming sound exactly like the Go-Betweens), so this reunion sounds like the best tracks sifted from a pair of solo albums with an even 5 song/5 song split.  Flows seamlessly, as even after all these years I still can't tell whose songs are whose.  The other stylistic unity comes from their choice of backing band, indie-rock darlings Sleater-Kinney (whose music I've never cared for), which presents something of a problem:  frankly, their dry, ultra-drab perfunctory indie-punk drains the performances of all color - in other words, the music is plain and spare to the point of dullness.  "German Farmhouse," doesn't rock out as it intends to, and so gets by the way that every other song here does - solely upon the strength of Forster/McLennan's lyrics, laconic vocal delivery & attitude, and tunesmelodyship.  On the other hand, it is the songs that matter here, and Sleater-Kinney's faceless backseat musicianship never threatens to interfere with the two frontmen's folk-rock/pop.  So how do these 10 (as usual!) tunes stack up to the duo's classic '80s canon? 

Bad news:  they're not improving. 

Good news:  they're not declining. 

Neutral news:  they're running in place.

Remember how in my introduction I observed that the Go-Betweens' artistic curve resembled a straight line?  This is one of those albums I was thinking of when I came to that conclusion.  There are some obvious highlights, such as the sunny pop of "Going Blind," that hoists its deceptive cheeriness right next to "Streets of Your Town," which is to say it's the greatest Go-Betweens song ever if you're in the mood; the opener, "Magic in Here," which must have reassured Go-Betweens fans immensely back in 2000 with its reassuring quality underscored by the quite, erm, magical chorus refrain; the surging, almost-rockin' power-pop of "The Clock,"; the wistfully nostalgiac "Surfing Magazines,"; and the - heck, this is the Go-Betweens, every song has something to recommend for itself:  paragons of quality control these surf-baked Aussies have effortlessly matured into.  The only reason that this earns a lower than average score than the previous 4 or 5 albums is that, as I said, the band performances are rather lackluster.  Oh, and I find the Patti Smith tribute, "When She Sang About Angels," kind of awkward.  Do like the line about wishing that she'd namedropped Tom Verlaine instead of Kurt Cobain, though - the skinny-necked guitar wizard did have more talent than the scoliosis-infected suicide victim, IMAO.

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