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 Scott Creney

The Go-Betweens – Quiet Heart (EMI Australia)

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The Go-Betweens

By Scott Creney

It isn’t available outside Australia or New Zealand. But it’s great. Of course it’s great. It’s The Go-Betweens.

But the title doesn’t feature the double-L’s.

The last compilation, 1999’s Bellavista Terrace, probably works better as an entry point for new listeners. At the very least, it has ‘Draining The Pool For You’, a four-minute pop song that combines Raymond Chandler and Sunset Boulevard into something cheaper, more tawdry, and way more beautiful.

But this one works too. It spans more time than Bellavista did, extending back to the band’s beginnings and forward into the reunion. It’s got a live show from the Tallulah-era attached as a bonus disc.

What the fuck is going on with that cover?

It’s great to listen to, but for a band that changed its sound so often, the decision to limit the live album to one particular show feels like a missed opportunity (and Bellavista’s live bonus disc might be even better). Still, it allows people to hear a couple of classics that didn’t make the cut on Quiet Heart, ‘The Wrong Road’ and ‘The House Jack Kerouac Built’.

I have lived this song on at least four separate occasions — its blur of masochism, love, illicit sex and co-dependent revenge. They stole its insistent rhythm from the Birthday Party’s ‘Mr. Clarinet’ and went somewhere even darker, in its three-dimensional fullness, than that band ever accomplished.

On the subject of rhythms, I wish more people noticed that Lindy Morrison was one of the most brilliant drummers in the history of rock. Try to imagine ‘Spring Rain’ without her fills going into the chorus. Listen to the way she drives the narrative in ‘The Wrong Road’. Listen to the entirety of Before Hollywood, the way she marries the inventiveness of Beefheart to the humility of Ringo. This one isn’t on the comp either.

It’s why I could never fully embrace the post-2000 albums. Nothing against the other drummers, but Morrison had a way of playing that brought out the best in Forster and McLennan’s songs. It’s one of the reasons why their solo albums MOR. The woman was brilliant.

There’s a recurring idea in David Nichols’ excellent Go-Betweens book, the belief that The Smiths were unfairly taken to heart by the world’s introverted bookworms when The Go-Betweens were obviously so much better, so much more literary etc, but there’s a teenage desperation at the heart of The Smiths’ music that The Go-Betweens never touched. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As someone who loved the Smiths as a teenager — and still in some respects admire them — I’m not a teenager anymore. In my 20s, I liked the Go-Betweens. In my 30s I loved them. As I prepare to enter my 40s, I am in awe of them. By the time I reach my 60s, they might be all I listen to.

Because they were storytellers as much as they were songwriters — they seemed like novelists or film directors who went into pop music because it was more immediate, more social, more sexual — The Go-Betweens represent a pinnacle of a certain type of pop music. There’s a subtlety to their work, a quiet dignity, that — while it worked against them in the marketplace — allows the music to unfold its pleasures over a period of years. It’s music that lasts. And regardless of the merits/deficiencies involved with this particular compilation, the fact that it exists at all means that The Go-Betweens continue to exist.

The Go-Betweens had a different kind of bravery than you normally see in rock and roll, the courage to be vulnerable. This performance is as gutsy as anything in the history of rock.

You could trade 20 book award winners for a five-minute Go-Betweens song and still come out ahead.

Such great writing, the details in the lyrics. One could spend their life trying to reach the bottom of a line like, “His father’s watch/he left it in the shower”. The way it hints at something darker, communicating through implication, you rarely find this in literature (Henry James is a good example), let alone music.

And then consider that stanza from ‘The Wrong Road’, “When the rain hits the roof, with the sound of a finished kiss, like a lip lifted from a lip, I took the wrong road round”. People compare them to The Smiths, but where Morrissey sang about Keats and Yeats, Forster and McLennan equaled them.

They were too good, and too unlucky, to be stars. The general public likes their music to function as music. When you start putting other shit in there, it just confuses them. Even if The Go-Betweens had made the Top 10, it would have been an accident of melody, success on the world’s terms not their own.

This compilation is just an excuse to listen to The Go-Betweens all over again. This review is just a chance for me to post my favorite Go-Betweens. Both ideas are wonderful and pointless, but redeemed by the beauty, the bruises and the blood, of the music. May it last an eternity.

There’s an interview with Robert Forster about the compilation, featuring a song-by-song breakdown, over at Mess and Noise that is pretty much essential reading for a Go-Betweens fan. http://messandnoise.com/articles/4512537

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