Pop Culture Gadabout
Tuesday, May 06, 2008
      ( 5/06/2008 04:32:00 PM ) Bill S.  

"THE AFTERNOON WAS DYING; THERE WAS PURPLE AT ITS FEET." When it comes to the Go-Betweens, it has never been precisely clear where the band's two singer/songwriters, Robert Forster & Grant McLennan, began and ended. As with many great bands, a big key to the Brisbane art poppers' success was in the way the 'Tweens' two major creative forces jostled against each other. So when McLennan passed away from an unexpected heart attack in 2006, fans of the band who had already experienced what it was like when the group temporarily disbanded in the nineties understandably mourned. Though both artists had produced their share of well-reviewed solo discs in the years before the trio of great albums (Friends of Rachel Worth; Bright Yellow, Bright Orange; and Oceans Apart) released by the revitalized revamped Go-Betweens, as a rock band, they remained something special: pop heroes in some alternate universe where the VU's Loaded went platinum the first year of its release.

Two years after McLennan's death (has it been three years since Oceans Apart already?), his surviving band partner has picked up the pieces, bringing bassist Adele Pickvance and drummer Glenn Thompson from the group's final configuration with him. Forster's first post-post-Go-Betweens album, The Evangelist (Yep Roc), is exactly what you'd expect it to be: a mourning eulogy for McLennan ("There was melody, there was harmony, there was sweet Sherrie, but it was melody he loved most of all.") and a continuation of the tuneful blend of journaling and storytelling that Forster has developed over the years. Yes, it's not the Go-Betweens, but for lovers of Forster's moaningly articulate expressiveness, it's still pretty darn fine.

Three of the disc's ten tracks turn out to be posthumous songwriting collaborations with McLennan, and none-too-surprisingly, they're among the most instantly accessible cuts on Evangelist. Though in practice the dichotomy didn't always hold, McLennan's voice was frequently the more overtly poppy of the duo, where Forster was the band's moody boho. You can really hear the ghost of Grant in the jaunty mandolin-driven "Let Your Light In, Babe," and even more hauntingly in Forster's Kinks-y tribute to his former bandmate, "It Ain't Easy." The third McLennan-touched track, "Demon Days" even hearkens back to the chamber folk sound (courtesy cellist Audrey Riley) of pre-breakup Go-Betweens discs like Tallulah and 16 Lover's Lane.

Which is not to slight any of Forster's solo creations since they also have their highpoints. Among these: the rockin' story song "Pandanus," with its unironic lyrical callback to Scott McKenzie's "San Francisco;" "Don't Touch Anything," which sounds like something Rolling Thunder Dylan might've concocted and the sparely melancholy album opener "If It Rains." That last track admittedly had me nervous the first time I started playing this disc. Compared to an immediate attention grabber like Oceans Apart's rousing "Here Comes A City," the low-key "Rains" is almost too modest for its own good. But once Forster and his partners started picking up the pace, I was able to skip back and appreciate the opener's Sweet Jane-y charms.

Forster's bandmates are also happily given room to make themselves felt. In "Did She Overtake You," for instance, bassist/background vocalist Pickvance provides the grounding for Forster's story of a doomed uneven relationship, while "Let Your Light In, Babe" shows Thompson drumming with the single-minded enthusiasm of a full-blown power-popper. (In the latter track, fiddler Gill Morley makes the Grant tribute even sprightlier.) The Go-Betweens may be gone for good, but it's clear that Forster and his cohorts still have some moody pop music in 'em.
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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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