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Monday, June 06, 2005
  I'm Gonna Take You 'Til the Kingdom Comes : The Go-Betweens, Part One

Okay, we’re finally going to do our week of updates about the Go-Betweens. Australian-bred but London-based, the Go-Betweens song-writing team of Robert Forster and Grant McLennan was responsible for some of the best unpopular pop hits of the 1980's. Too refined for both the mainstream and the underground, they were respected by critics, but mostly ignored by the public. They maintained a tenuous grasp upon a major label contract throughout the decade, before breaking up for ten years or so at the end of the '80's. They never broke through to commercial radio, but never came close to being as widely beloved as such '80's college-radio staples as REM, Sonic Youth, or the Replacements. Perhaps they would have found some degree of success in those amazingly alternative '90's, but they were long-gone by then.

It feels odd to be starting this off, since Sean is a much bigger fan of the band than I am. I like them a great deal, don’t get me wrong, but I’m fairly certain that they’re Sean’s favorite band, and, as such, he should introduce them, in a perfect world. I own their first album, though, and Sean doesn’t, so I drew the assignment out of necessity, and shall get down to it now after wasting everybody’s time for the last two paragraphs.


Go-Betweens: "People Say"

It’s easy to see why the Go-Betweens have never been very popular. Their literate pop-music, while catchy, was never as overtly melodic as, say, the Magnetic Fields, or as wistful or mawkish as Belle and Sebastian. This is especially true of their early work, which is what we’ll be discussing today. "People Say" was the a-side of their second single, recorded in 1979, and included on the 1999 cd 78 'til 79 The Lost Album. The Lost Album is just that, a previously unreleased collection of random two-track recordings from the late '70's, sandwiched between the band's first two singles. It is not in any way a remarkable collection, despite the pleasantness of the two singles, but it is a good snapshot of a young band that has yet to find its way. "People Say" is a terrific little tune, clearly in the thrall of the Clean, with a nice keyboard line bouncing about a catchy, almost Velvets-y pop song. The musical sophistication which later became their calling card is not much in evidence, however. It's very much the sound of a band still tentatively exploring their possibilities, groping towards an approximation of pop songcraft, and, with "People Say", finally coming up with something truly worthwhile. Most of The Lost Album vacillates between the charmingly ham-fisted and the marginally interesting; "People Say" is obviously the highlight. It may sound like a group of inexperienced college kids, but that's basically what the Go-Betweens were at this point.


Go-Betweens: "One Thing Can Hold Us"

If The Lost Album is the result of a young band who has yet to discover their own path, then Send Me a Lullaby is that same band hopelessly lost in the woods. The Go-Betweens did progress between 1979 and 1982, but it can be hard to tell. 1982's Lullaby, their first full-length album, is quite fairly regarded as the least of their records. Maybe their songwriting skills didn't yet match up to their ambitions, or perhaps they were ashamed of or uncomfortable with said goals; either way, Lullaby is a frequently awkward and unwieldy album. Between indifferent instrumentation, lackluster lyrics, and downright ugly melodies, Lullaby sounds like the product of a thoroughly confused band. This is not to say it's bad, though, or unworthy of attention. The band's future greatness can occasionally be glimpsed, and some of the slightly more experimental aspects are surprisingly rewarding. At the same time, though, "One Thing Can Hold Us" is probably more recognizable as a Go-Betweens song than anything they had yet to record. It remains a little rougher around the edges than future recordings, but in its tasteful catchiness, and moderately mature, sedate accoutrements, the future of Forster/McLennan is apparent. This is the Go-Betweens sound, not fully fleshed out, but entirely evident, and quite enjoyable. "One Thing Can Hold Us" is the launching pad for greatness.

Tomorrow: um, that greatness I just spoke of.
 
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