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Round two
The Go-Betweens stay reunited
BY MIKE MILIARD


The Phoenix goes indie-pop:

Stephen Malkmus moves past Pavement

The Go-Betweenís stay reunited

Michael Giraís reckonings with Angels of Light and Young God Records

The Clean and the Tall Dwarfs, two of Flying Nunís original exports, resurface

 

When in 2000 singer-songwriters Robert Forster and Grant McLennan decided to reconvene as the Go-Betweens, 12 years after the band had imploded in a heap of exhaustion and penury and romantic intrigue, the album that resulted was musical manna for many old fans. Forster and McLennan had no trouble conjuring the kind of plangent, literate pop that had made them one of the most beloved underground groups of the í80s. All the same, it was assumed that 2000ís The Friends of Rachel Worth (Jet Set) was a one-off proposition, since each performer had meanwhile established a solid solo career.

Maybe it was the warm reception Forster and McLennan were afforded as the reborn Go-Betweens. Or perhaps the two songwriters finally realized that working together they had always amounted to more than the sum of their talented parts. Whatever, The Friends of Rachel Worth turned out to be just the beginning of a new chapter for the Go-Betweens. Their unlikely tale continues on the new Bright Yellow Bright Orange (Jet Set), a bracing yet breezy collection of contagious hooks, elliptical lyrics, and wry romantic pop pleasures that finds Forster and McLennan working together with the ease and inspiration that fueled their initial collaborations way back when.

" Weíre back for phase two, " says Forster from his Brisbane home. " I really donít know how long this phase will last, but I must say Grant and I are energized, and weíre already talking about what we want to do next. "

Forsterís enthusiasm is reflected in Bright Yellow Bright Orange, whose coruscating bursts of bright, punchy acoustic guitars are gilded with embellishments of chiming electric guitars, thrumming Hammond organ, and alluring vocals by bassist Adele Pickvance. The compositions are disarmingly straightforward; the pacing is relaxed and deliberate, with warm production burnishing everything to a golden sheen. Forsterís string-laden elegy " In Her Diary " and McLennanís stately coda, " Unfinished Business, " may lack the stirring push/pull of melodically counterpoised guitars and the lush orchestral flourishes that were hallmarks of the Go-Betweensí mid-í80s efflorescence, but they ring with the honest vitality that comes from emotionally resonant lyrics sung over three well-chosen chords. Forster says this new-found simplicity doesnít signify any intentional attempt at stripping down. Itís just " the mood we were in at the time. "

Moments in time are central to the album. Its lyrical tropes, characteristically recondite but still somehow recognizable, are all about glimpses of faded photographs, ruminations on maturation, contemplative reflections on the evolution of lives and loves. " Caroline and I " is a nostalgic backward glance at a girl who was " born in the very same year " as Forster, who was with him as they " rattled through our teenage years, battled and loved who we fought. " But the song, all jaunty angular riffs and wistful keening, isnít a paean to a lover long past. " Itís actually about Princess Caroline of Monaco. About the idea of these connections, sort of going through the same things at the same age. When I was growing up, she was all over the press, and she was always doing things that I was doing, but she was doing them in public, many miles away. Thereís always been this sort of connection between us. Itís a friendship song. "

Itís not the only one. " Too Much of One Thing, " a countryish ballad that bounces on spry strumming and lightly ridden hi-hat, is a heart-tugging tribute to another person with whom Forster has long shared a deep, complex relationship: Grant McLennan. " It came from the fact that we were working so closely together. Grant wrote the music over the weekend, I wrote the lyrics. " Whatís more, McLennan sings one of Forsterís verses in a rare joint effort for a duo whose separate-but-equal songwriters usually collaborate on each otherís numbers only in an instrumental capacity. " I took so much pleasure in writing him a verse, " Forster says. " It was almost like writing lines for an actor. "

A few numbers later, the staccato, sunshiny " Old Mexico " finds the pair singing buoyant choruses in unison. These songs suggest an invigorated new reciprocity in a working relationship thatís come far in the 25 years since Forster and McLennan were gangly, Jonathan RichmanĖsmitten teens recording shambling songs about librarians and Lee Remick on Forsterís four-track. And for fans who had despaired of ever again hearing their heroes record together, moments like these are hugely affirming.

Issue Date: March 20 - 27, 2003
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