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Aussie art-poppers carry on their second life . . .

Go-Betweens, Bright Yellow Bright Orange

Don’t know about you, but for me one of the best pieces of music news to come out in the past few years was the resurrection of the Go-Betweens.

The 80’s-spawned Australian art-pop group has long been one of the great smart secrets – at least in the U.S., where open intelligence and pop are frequently treated as incompatible entities. To these ears, though, Robert Forster and Grant McLennan’s shifting unit of folkish melancholiacs have proven to be heirs to the promise made (and only sporadically kept by original promise-maker Lou Reed) in the Velvet Underground’s 3rd studio album. 2000’s reunion release Friends of Rachel Worth (created with members of femme cult yowlers Sleater-Kinney), though tentative at times, showed the boys were still capable of picking up where they’d left off.
The band’s sound is much as it was when it disbanded after 1988’s 16 Lovers Lane: thoughtful guitar-based rock played at an easy tempo, frail male voices with periodic sprigs of girl harmony in the background, the occasional cello or violin added to spice the sound. As one who has more pure pop, sixties garage and Ramones-style punk in his CD collection than anything, I theoretically should loath this stuff. But instead it consistently gets under my skin.
The band’s new 2nd generational release, Bright Yellow Bright Orange (Jetset Records), finds Forster and McLennan once more working their moody tuneful pop voices. Though the current Go-Betweens is less a stable band than a vehicle for its two leads’ themes, BYBO is solidly packed with understated musical flourishes: clearly the work of guys confident enough in their material to hold back and let it all seep in.

The ‘tweens have long straddled a line that’s kept ’em from being embraced by any one camp: a point they themselves acknowledge. Are they quasi-acoustic singer/songwriters? Throwbacks to Left Bank baroque pop-rock? A bunch of pretentious alternative rock gits? Or one of the few adult rock bands in existence? How you respond to that set of questions depends on your tolerance for songs that seek the nebulous half-ground ‘tween lost and struggling hope. Me, I find they speak to me the more I listen to ’em.
“You might think you see purpose,” Forster sings in “Too Much of One Thing” (the disc’s overarching statement song), but “what you see is a band.” Okay. But this “just a band” continues to write and sing deftly melodic observational songs about women you’d love to know (e.g., “Mrs. Morgan,” with its “Sweet Jane” structure and story of a too-honest fortuneteller) or the ultimate futility of secrets. Most pop music is about selling: Forster and McLennan would rather just tap on your shoulder and respectfully ask if you’ve noticed the Eyes in the Sky. . .

About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.

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