Growing up in Queensland, and claiming to be a serious music fan, it’s pretty much a prerequisite that I love the Go-Betweens. They were the Brisbane boys who defied the town’s 80s backwards, redneck reputation by making clever, sensitive music that could be played on mainstream radio, and at parties by pretentious students studying Arts at UQ. They were a little before my time, and I even missed out on their brief reunion at the turn of the millennium before the death of co-founder Grant McLennan. But in the years since, I’ve developed a real appreciation for the band, and for the continuing work of surviving co-founder, Robert Forster. Which is why I was more than just little stoked to hear his latest, Songs to Play.
The guitar jangles and driving bass line don’t sound like the work of a song writer well into middle age, making Learn to Burn a great way for Forster to open an album and let us know straight away that being well into middle age doesn’t mean this is gonna be a record of quiet introspection and melancholic reflection.
Until track two, because as the title would suggest, Let Me Imagine You is clearly a look back at some sort of lost love. Or maybe the beginnings of a current love that has inevitably changed and evolved over the years. But at the same time, Let Me Imagine You is proof that reflection doesn’t have to be full of regret and sadness. Because there’s still a lot of life and affection in the remembrances that make up this song.
In full story telling mode on Songwriters on the Run, Forster fits an entire novel and its movie adaptation into just over three minutes of western infused acoustic guitars and tragedy filled vocals, complete with haunting female harmonies for extra effect. Then it’s time to prove that a white Aussie guy from Queensland can more than handle a bit of the ol’ mariachi, while merging with the quintessential Forster sincerity on A Poet Walks.
From what I know of the Go-Betweens, Forster and McLennan weren’t really co-writers in the collaboration sense. Instead, they would write their own songs individually, then split the track listing of each album. So I guess, technically, any Robert Forster song could be a Go-Betweens song. But, to me, I’m So Happy For You is the most Go-Betweens song on Songs to Play, combining that singer/songwriter vibe, with pop melody and hook perfection.
The title for Most Go-Betweens Like Song is rivalled a few tracks late on I Love Myself and I Always Have. While the samba hip swinger of Love is Where It Is sounds nothing like what I expect from Forster, yet it still fits perfectly within his oeuvre.
Songs to Play is one of those rare records that’s an artist totally comfortable with delivering what their long time fans want and expect, while still being vibrant, and fresh and totally current. But then again, Robert Forster has always been that kind of song writer. He writes Robert Forster songs, and by definition, they’re timeless.