Saturday, March 25, 2017

Oceans Apart (2005)

I came to know the Go-Betweens by way of frequenting record stores, where all clerks seemed generally and quite volubly in favor of them. I picked up a couple of the vinyl albums released toward the end of their first commercial incarnation, in the late '80s (Tallulah and 16 Lovers Lane), and later let myself be steered toward the CD anthology 1978-1990, which I have never really stopped listening to. A collection of 22 songs is a strange project when there weren't actually that many hits—the Go-Betweens' high point commercially is probably "Streets of Your Town" from 16 Lovers Lane, which in 1987 made it to #30 in New Zealand and #80 in the UK. ("Finding You," from Oceans Apart, went to #17 in Australia in 2005.) For all that, it's arguable that the pop song was the very métier of songwriters Robert Forster and Grant McLennan, and greatest hits anthologies are what pop songwriters do. It was the pop song, to be precise, filtered through strains of folk, rock, punk/alternative, and, most importantly, book-reading literature. Dostoevsky, for example, makes a brief appearance on Oceans Apart. More often, it is the scenes and settings, points of view and voice, that are literary. When the Go-Betweens came back in 2000, after variously interesting solo and/or multi-collaborative flings, I kept a respectful distance (even as 1978-1990 continued to play whenever I thought of them). Then, with the outpourings after McLennan's unexpected death in 2006 at 48, I took a plunge on Oceans Apart. It's worth it, totally—this chapter in their career is as valid as the other. In many ways it is richer, deeper, and more affecting than the earlier songs, marked by maturity in the themes as well as the writing. In the period of their separate projects I noticed I had a clear preference for McLennan's work over Forster's, but on Oceans Apart—their final album, after The Friends of Rachel Worth in 2000 and Bright Yellow Bright Orange in 2003—I heard how they are greater than the sum of their parts. It was a special collaboration. The production here indulges many lush emotional points, swooning orchestrations to sweeten the moods, and it's often hot, recorded with such clarity you practically hear every brushed string and all moves toward and away from the mic. Every song is poignant and beautiful, with hooks you can't forget—hooks you know them by: the way the title phrase swells forth in "No Reason to Cry" (and the response from electric guitar), the sense of memoir in "Darlinghurst Nights," the refrain ".. don't know where I'm going, don't know where it's flowing...," a touch of Neil Diamond in "Finding You," the churning electric guitar on "Statue," the brisk and jaunty way that "Born to a Family" moves ("a family of workers ... what could I do?") and then those backup singers toward the end, and the geographic features (shades of the Chills) in "Mountains Near Dellray." Mostly the album plays as a shifting, warping, beautiful mood piece, casting spells. Sad that it was the end forever, but a really nice way to go out.

1 comment:

  1. I think there are those who would argue that The Friends of Rachel Worth is their best album. I'm not so sure but it does indicate how highly regarded their comeback was and it's up there w/ their best. What strikes me in retrospect is how consistently good they were as album artists, such a rare attribute anymore. It's very hard to pick a best w/ them and their debut was probably the closest they came to a bad album.