Formed by Robert Forster and Grant McLennan in 1977, the Go-Betweens were one of Australia’s most electrifying musical exports, as this 129-track boxset proves…

Go-Betweens boxset

 

“Don’t the sun look good today?” Grant McLennan asks on Streets Of Your Town, the 1988 single that should finally have delivered The Go-Betweens’ first UK hit. “But the rain is on its way,” he adds, before depicting a butcher shining knives and a town full of battered wives. This may be why the single stalled at No.80: the (wo)man on the streets rarely likes to be reminded that, behind their town’s twitching curtains, lies a million dark secrets. But the public missed out. This 129-track boxset – containing vinyl copies of their final three albums before their first split in 1989, previously-unreleased 1987 double live LP Fountains Of Youth and five CDs of demos and radio sessions – confirms The Go-Betweens were to Australia what The Smiths were to Britain: master craftsmen of literate, melodically inspired indie pop.

The signs were audible long before their fourth album, 1986’s Liberty Belle And The Black Diamond Express, which displayed plenty of the era’s contemporary jangling guitars but mitigated the band’s earlier eccentricities. Admittedly, McLennan’s In The Core Of The Flame offered jagged edges, but The Wrong Road was seeped in delicious sadness, while his foil Robert Forster delivered the invigorating Spring Rain and lazy, Felt-like Head Full of Steam. Richard Preston’s production is undeniably of its time, but the demos compiled on The Devil Is In Your Dress – including Wrong Road Round, a delightfully piano-embellished demo of The Wrong Road – confirm the duo’s natural prowess.

1987’s Tallulah adopted a more ageless sound. Forster’s haunting The Clarke Sisters and McLennan’s romantically frustrated Someone Else’s Wife were emotionally complex but replete with lingering hooks, and if Cut It Out felt clumsy (though the album version was a vast improvement on the demo offered here), Bye Bye Pride – fronted by new arrival Amanda Brown’s oboe – and Hope Then Strife’s flamenco flourishes
ably compensated.

1988’s 16 Lovers Lane represents The Go-Betweens’ masterpiece, its gleaming acoustic guitars framing tales of melancholy and magic cast in an autumnal warmth. Love Goes On is irresistibly joyful and Love Is A Sign poignantly yearning – a KCRW acoustic session included here also offers intimate versions of both – while Quiet Heart was gloriously comforting and I’m All Right painfully, transparently self-deceiving. With Brown’s oboe-gracing closer Dive For Your Memory, the album offered a perfect, if fortunately temporary, conclusion to their career. Still, Loving Shocks, a 2CD set of demos for what would have been The Go-Betweens’ next album Freakchild, emphasises how frustrating their parting was. There may be cheaper ways than this to discover The Go-Betweens, but discover them you must.

9/10

Wyndham Wallace

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