Monday, November 21, 2011

The Go-Betweens - Oceans Apart

What would you do if you turned around and saw me
Not in a dream, but in a song?

Oceans Apart (2005) ****

After all these years, I've finally gotten the knack of discerning between Forster and McLennan.  Or rather to say, in their middle-age their styles have diverged substantially enough that even on first listen it's easy to spot who's who.  Would McLennan have opened an album with a jittery, paranoid and brittle rocker, "Here Comes the City," that awkwardly (but endearingly) drops a gratuitous reference to Dostoyevsky?  Well into his 40s, is Robert still trying to impress tantalizing librarians?  And the second track, "Finding You," with its clear-eyed soft-folk melodic strum and thrum, could only have flowed from the pen of Grant in his mellifluous middle age:  its instantly memorable lilt and tenderly poetic lyricism mark it as a clear highlight.  However, as on the previous album, Forster manages to come up with the smarter batch of tunes, mostly because they are smarter and tougher.  McLennan, traditionally the more pop-tuneful of the duo (Sir Paul to Bob's John), has grown more lush and atmospheric in his approach, and while I have no doubt that an entire album of lushly atmospheric soft-rock numbers would prove soporific, the flow of the 10 songs on this album (you expected a different number of tracks?) nicely balances the generally more pointed Forster numbers with the gentler McLennan tunes.  Not that Grant's anything approaching a slouch:  aside from penning the album's aforementioned highlight, he also snags in a few more with "No Reason to Cry," (which boasts an exquisite guitar solo), the lovely melodic wash of "Statue," the blink-and-it's-over-too-soon "Boundary Rider," and "This Night's For You," which adds some pleasingly coo-ing doo-wop "ba ba ba's" to the backing chorus, and all of which give Adult Alternative folk-pop a grand name.  Hmm, perhaps on second reflection, Grant's the clear winner this time out, with a stronger set of tunes despite the soft, blurry edges.  And with the exception of "Lavender," a straightforward ballad that gratingly lacks any discernable hook, none of Forster's tunes misfire, either.  Some might irk at "Darlinghurst Nights," dragging a little too long at 6 1/2 minutes, but hey - does the word Dylanesque mean anything to you?  The semi-autobiographical "Born to Family," in which Robert recounts of how he broke with the family tradition of hard, honest toil to follow the path he had to follow as a working musician, is another clear highlight.  And finally, rural elegy of "The Mountains Near Dellray," could be Forster's attempted rewrite of McLennan's classic from way back when "Cattle and Cane,"  - fittingly capping off the Go-Between's career, full circle with one of the strongest albums of their career, not to mention their most commercially successful:  after all this time, they were finally gaining the success and recognition they deserved, which makes Grant McLennan's death the year after this release all the more tragic.  From this evidence, the Go-Betweens could've kept cranking out quality albums at a steady pace until they were physically too infirm to pick up guitars.

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