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The Go-Betweens - Oceans Apart

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Artist: The Go-Betweens

Album: Oceans Apart

Label: Yep Roc

Review date: Jun. 6, 2005

The Go-Betweens’ appeal has always been their ability to fill a niche in the average underground music fan’s record collection. For 20 years now, they have been putting out distinctly underground or cult releases that consistently sound better than anything on commercial radio. There’s always a hearty amount of self-congratulation implied whenever someone talks about them; they’re the band that proves that while there’s more aesthetically satisfying music to be found at the edges of the mainstream, there’s better pop music there, too.

Oceans Apart marks the third release in the Go-Betweens’ second go-around. Originally formed in Brisbane, Australia, in the late 1970s, their career gradually moved from a series of primitive early singles – one of which, “People Say,” still stands up as one of the best things they’ve ever recorded – to increasingly complex albums. Two of those albums, 16 Lovers Lane and Before Hollywood, probably deserve to be included in debates about the best album of the 1980s. The original Go-Betweens line-up broke up in 1989, but principal songwriters Robert Forster and Grant McLennan reunited in 2000, and while the music world is no doubt a more interesting place with the Go-Betweens recording new music, the two other albums released since that reunion – The Friends of Rachel Worth and Bright Yellow, Bright Orange – were solid if unspectacular efforts that did not quite measure up to their 1980s output. Oceans Apart is the album that fans have been waiting for, the one that brings back the flawless production of their early releases and the cynical/idealistic tradeoff in Forster and McLennan’s songwriting.

Between the two of them, Forster seems more apt to focus his attention on his lyrics, worrying less about writing a clever melody than simply charging ahead with the song. “Here Comes a City” is a literate railway travelogue that manages to work the line “and the people who read Dostoyevsky, look like Dostoyevsky” into its up-tempo verses. McLennan writes the tracks with elaborate breaks and choruses, and if his willingness to reach for the big brass ring makes the quality of his songs a little more erratic – “Finding You” is probably too sentimental for most people’s taste, as he’s literally talking about the song, qua representation of its author, finding a lost loved one – it also gives them more upside. “Boundary Rider” is a pastoral meditation just like Before Hollywood’s classic “Cattle and Cane,” and probably its equal. Forster’s “Mountains Near Dellray” is a nice inversion of this dynamic, though: it’s his chance to write a poignant radio-ready pop hit.

Oceans Apart also contains a number of bonus tracks, including live versions of “People Say” and “Streets of Your Town.” Including the live material from their past albums was risky – it might, after all, invite unfavorable comparisons with the rest of the album. But the originals fit in nicely with the older songs – and considering the Go-Betweens’ past work, that’s the ultimate compliment.

By Tom Zimpleman

Other Reviews of The Go-Betweens

16 Lovers Lane

That Striped Sunlight Sound

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View all articles by Tom Zimpleman

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