Almost every band seems to have a "Great Lost" album somewhere. The
whole thing started with the Kinks way back in the early '70s; The
Great Lost Kinks Album really was great, and lost (in fact, it
pretty much remains lost, never having been reissued on CD). Like the
Kinks, the Go-Betweens were so ahead of -- and out of -- their time
that their best work was ignored when it was made, leading to
personnel changes and a degree of melancholy. More to the point: like
the brothers Davies, the band's singer/ songwriters, Robert Forster
and Grant McLennan, have influenced many wealthier and less worthy
bands while continuing to be paid mostly in lip service.
It's hard to believe that the Go-Betweens' first release, Send Me a
Lullaby, came out in 1981; the music was as intense as the Velvet
Underground but as spare and funny as the Talking Heads, neither of
whom I imagine the Go-Betweens heard much in their native Brisbane,
Australia, at the time. Albums came and went throughout the '80s
despite the band's attempt to make the big time by moving to England
and adding some talented musicians to the mix: Before Hollywood
(1983) and Spring Hill Fair ('84) were challenging and quirky
albums, but it wasn't until the Go-Betweens were nearing dissolution
that the band's talents really blossomed.
Tallulah ('87), and Liberty Belle & the Black Diamond
Express ('86) both saw some radio airplay, especially the latter,
with its indelibly tuneful "Right Here." But the best came last: 16
Lovers Lane (1988), a sharply observed, deeply felt mini-classic
whose "Streets of Your Town" and "Dive For Your Memory" can still earn
astonishment and adoration, should anyone bother to listen. A few
poorly chosen compilations never helped much, despite the fact that
the Go-Betweens' music sounds as good today, or even better, than it
did in the first place. Forster and McLennan, meanwhile, have put out
some worthy albums since, especially McLennan's great Horsebreaker
Star ('95). All of the aforementioned are worth exploration by
anybody who's read this far, and if you're still with me because
you're actually a fan, you'll be thrilled to know about the recently
unearthed Lost Album.
Actually, the Lost Album isn't some gem that an evil record
company hid in the vault. Instead, it's a youthful Forster and
McLennan running through their dream set of tunes (i.e., what the two
would have recorded had they been given the money to make an actual
record) in somebody's living room with a pal on drums, and some stray
later singles tacked on. "Lee Remick"
(RealAudio excerpt) is the chief reason for having
this disc. The early single is both funny ha-ha and funny peculiar.
How many bands try to have a hit with a song whose refrain is "She's a
darling" and features the lyric, "She was in 'The Omen' with Gregory
Peck/ She got killed, what the heck?" Not entirely a joke, it also
continues, "She comes from Ireland, she's very beautiful/ I come from
Brisbane, I'm quite plain." A near-classic, to be sure. "Karen," the
flip side, is quite a rant ("I wish I heard voices, wish I was a
telephone") and features the inspirational rhyme of "Hemingway" and
"Genet." It's a bit like Jonathan Richman, only dumbed up instead of
The ensuing tracks are the bedsit concert, complete with lousy sound
and pisstakes. "Help or Something" is the young duo's bizarre idea of
'70s pop -- Raspberries by way of Talking Heads -- while "Just Hang
On" is squarely in the genre of the reassurance tune (the Beach Boys'
"Don't Worry Baby" or the Four Seasons', um, "Just Hang On"). The
self-explanatory "Long Lonely Day" is almost unbearably sincere and
features, well, a long, lonely guitar solo.
"Day For Night," a song about mood swings, features a tiny glimpse of
the quirkiness to come and mentions the "psychic beat" of a woman's
walk. "Love Wasn't Made For You and Me" describes how "Late at night I
just wanna rock/ You take all your records, you say it's 10 o'clock."
Everyone's had a bummer of a relationship like that, right?
More impressive is "Summer's Melting My Mind"
(RealAudio excerpt), an unintentionally (I think) hilarious song that is about as minimalist as psychedelic music
gets. You can envision Grant and Robert imagining themselves as Pink
Floyd, though you can't hear it. "Obsession With You"
(RealAudio excerpt) (a knack for titles, eh?) is positively swell: "I'm gonna scream for you until my
voice turns blue!" and "I never knew that our Maker had such good
taste" explain said obsession. "Rare Victory" is serious and gentle,
and thus more like the Go-Betweens you will come to know and love.
Then it's time for more would-be hits. "The Sound of Rain" was to have
been a single on, of all labels, Berserkley UK, the Brit branch of the
label that first perpetrated Richman and bands like Earthquake. The
jangle quotient is upped, all to the good, and we finally hear Grant's
great voice. (Interestingly, all the songs on the CD are Robert's;
Grant would only emerge as a full equal in the songwriting department
later on.) "People Say" is more lyrically advanced and, cheesy
organ-blah-blah notwithstanding, a great leap forward: His girl can't
keep a job, or food in the fridge, but what the hell, he's mad about
her. And lastly, "Don't Let Him Come Back," literally the flip side,
is a Brian Wilsonesque bit of innocence wherein the singer has dark
visions of the guy who's gonna steal his love away, resulting in an
out-of-place harmonica blast and a strangulated vocal.
No one should begin investigation of the Go-Betweens with the Lost
Album, of course; 16 Lovers Lane is the one you can't do
without, and there's finally gonna be a well-chosen Greatest Hits out
soon. But anyone could love "Lee Remick," and fans won't want to miss
out on this glimpse into the origins of the band. The Go-Betweens were
lost ... but now they are found.