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The Go-Betweens remind us why this Aussie band is still so beloved, with "5 Album Set"

The new "5 Album Set" from The Go-Betweens.
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ALBUM REVIEW: The Go-Betweens - 5 Album Set (EM) 2014

Featuring five discs, highlighting the first five albums released by Australia’s Go-Betweens from 1982 to 1987, the recently-released 5 Album Set collection includes Send Me a Lullaby, Before Hollywood, Spring Hill Fair, Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express and Tallulah.

Here in the States, Aussie bands like INXS, Midnight Oil and The Church were far better known than Brisbane’s The Go-Betweens (a name, I learned from a Brisbane denizen, comes from a well-known bridge that “goes between” two points of land) didn’t really make much of a dent in the U.S. until 1988’s 16 Lovers Lane and the single “Streets of Your Town.”

That album, however, is not included in this fine collection of five LP’s, which were all re-released individually a decade or so ago, with plenty of bonus tracks thrown in.

But for the curious non-completist with a little extra cash, this snug little 5-CD collection of the Go-Betweens key early albums is an important one to have.

With Send Me a Lullaby, the core trio – singer/guitarist Robert Forster, bassist/singer/guitarist Grant McLennan and drummer Lindy Morrison – is tight and crisp on every song. Hearing Morrison really bash away on “Eight Pictures” is exciting, while McLennan reminds me of Bill Goffrier of Kansas band The Embarrassment (later Big Dipper) on songs like “All About Strength” and “Careless.”

Recently included in the Australian National Film & Sound Archive, making it one of the best Australian songs ever recorded, their Queensland, Australia-centric song about a loss of innocence and “memory-wastes” on “Cattle and Cane” on the Before Hollywood LP, released in 1983.

I recall, a bigger, brighter world / A world of books / And silent times in thought / And then the railroad / The railroad takes hm home / Through fields of cattle / Through fields of cane / From time to time / The waste, memory-wastes …

The story is that singer/guitarist Grant McLennan (who died of a heart attack in 2006), wrote the autobiographical song on Nick Cave’s acoustic guitar while McLennan was in his London apartment and Cave was in a drug-induced coma. McLennan said he was homesick for Australia while the band was in England. The band The Wedding Present would later cover the song and make it a b-side to their 1992 single “Blue Eyes.”

Before Hollywood – the album that saw the introduction of new bassist Robert Vickers (although McLennan maintains most of the bass duties) has plenty of other highlights, including the arty, post-punk power popper “Two Steps, Step Out” and the sharp “Ask,” which brings to mind David Byrne at his most stripped down.

With interest in the band really spreading following the success of “Cattle and Cane,” the 1984 follow-up Spring Hill Fair takes on a more produced, lush sound, as the band incorporates more string arrangements, brass and keyboards.

The results, under the production of John Brand (recorded in France), are good but the organic, live feel is a bit tamped down.

The first track and single “Bachelor Kisses” has a bittersweet melancholy about it, with interesting subtle key changes that add much to the mood.

Forster’s “Part Company” is a muscular semi-ballad that is about having mixed feelings when a relationship ends. He asks: “And what will I miss? Her cruelty, her unfaithfulness? Her fun, her love, her kiss, part company.”

And “Slow Slow Music” has an almost Spandau Ballet soul-pop groove about it. The 80’s were finally catching up with The Go-Betweens. That said, of the five albums in this set, I feel it is the least inspired.

Things pick up again on their 1986 release Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express, where a song like Forster’s “Spring Rain” seems to return to their earlier and more suitable sound, particularly with Morrison’s snappy snare back to the forefront, reminding me of Let’s Active drummer Sara Romweber in its fluidity of style.

There is a nice 60’s feel to “Palm Sunday (On board the SS Within)” while the folk-rock number “Apology Accepted” rounds out Liberty Belle quite nicely. I could imagine Jeff Tweedy pulling this off rather nicely in 2014.

McLennan, meanwhile, brings us the downbeat “The Wrong Road” while we get a jangle-pop number with “Head Full of Steam.” McLennan’s guitar leads are mighty fine here, as are the hooks. They sink in, ever so-sweetly.

This album is often considered their best, by both fans and band members alike. One fan called it a cross between the best of Leonard Cohen and The Monkees.

By 1987’s Tallulah, the last choice in this five-album set, multi-instrumentalist Amanda Brown had been added as an official member. And with Tallulah, the band was comfortable in staying close to what it new. Their international breakthrough with 16 Lovers Lane (and essentially their swan song) was still a year or so off.

Brown’s talents shine across the course of these 10 songs, as is heard on, say, “You Tell Me” or “Someone Else’s Wife.” McLennan and Forster both sound solid while maintaining a bit of that “dark” feel about their song lyrics. There is an edge to the lyrically surreal and somewhat dreamy “Spirit of a Vampyre,” with unusual lyrics like “The dull mask of action on circus staff / Mobility the hood of the Hindu scarf.” You just hope things work out, right?

And then there’s “The Clarke Sisters,” one of the band’s more interesting tunes, again, with a dark mood about it, enhanced by Brown’s violin and the Morrison/Vickers rhythm section.

Interestingly, the same year this album came out, complete with the moody number “The House That Jack Kerouac Built,” 10,000 Maniacs released the song “Hey Jack Kerouac.” The Beat Poet was a popular figure among this generation of indie-rockers.

Tallulah ends with “Hope Then Strife,” a song that has a desert-like beauty, thanks to that flamenco guitar from guest musician El Tito.

We very much enjoyed each album in this 5 Album Set. This up-and-coming generation of musicians could learn a lot from listening to each and every one of these discs. As for me, I’m just a big fan from way back. And had there been more extras, like extra liner notes and such, this would have easily been awarded 5 Rusties.

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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