MUSIC REVIEW | The Go-Betweens – 16 Lovers Lane (1988)

In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “What they lacked in vocal range was always more than made up for in sincerity.”

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I like to think of myself as a serious music fan.  I try to consume as much as possible, I try to make sure I catch up on classics form before my time, even when I’m pretty sure it’s a band, artist or genre I won’t like.  Which makes it shameful that as a wannabe serious music fan from Queensland, Australia, I haven’t heard nearly enough of one of the area’s most revered bands, The Go-Betweens.  I own an album or two that I really like, I know the hits, and I know I should be a whole lot more familiar than I am.  Which is why I listened to the swansong of their original 80s era, 16 Lovers Lane.

Turning their standard acoustic, melodious rock seamlessly into flamenco passion, the impeccable song writing of the Grant McLennan and Robert Forster is on immediate display with Love Goes On!  Then the 80s vintage of the record is impossible to ignore on Quiet Heart.  It was a time when producers could make even centuries old instruments sound digitally artificial.  It’s a beautiful song, the production just does its best to strip it of all genuine beauty and feeling.

Which makes the more organic sound of a song like Love is a Sign stand out all the more.  Neither McLennan nor Forster have (or had, in McLennan’s case) the strongest voices.  But what they lacked in range was always more than made up for in sincerity.  The arrangement and instrumentation of Love is a Sign is undeniably lush, even gorgeous.  But it’s the vulnerability in the vocals that really stands out.

The bigger production sound returns, and this time to much better effect, on You Can’t Say No Forever.  Legit rock drumming and bass work join the more standard Go-Betweens acoustic sensitivity making sure that as it reaches the half way mark, 16 Lovers Lane is in no danger of getting into a repetitive loop of predictability.  This song is still perfectly in sync with what’s come before, it’s just not beholden to it.  A sentiment just as true when it comes to the almost Celtic meets spiritual twist of The Devil’s Eye.

Then it’s time for what I assume is the biggest, most well known song this band ever recorded.  And with its unmistakeable opening notes, it’s clear why Streets of Your Town is what I assume is the biggest, most well known song this band ever recorded.  Sure, the chorus is gloriously infectious in its gentle perfection, but it’s the world built by the lyrics that makes it so enduring.  “Don’t the sun look good today?
But the rain on its way.  Watch the butcher shine his knives, and this town is full of battered wives” is the kind of stuff that makes a song feel so real and lived in.
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As much as the timelessness of Streets of Your Town still impresses, I think it might be slightly beaten out as 16 Lovers Lane’s highlight by the passion and energy that comes with the bigger, faster, almost aggressive force of Was There Anything I Could Do?  It just feels so urgent and untamed that it stands out immediately amongst the rest of the record’s restrained contemplation.

The Go-Betweens

Other Opinions Are Available.  What did these people have to say about 16 Lovers Lane?
Pop Matters
Spin Magazine (via go-betweens.net)
Jukeboxparables

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