The G Stands For Go-Betweens box set is a cracker. I wrote a review of it which for, well, reasons, had to share space with a far less interesting release. This is what I originally wrote when all I was writing about was the Go-Betweens. Yes, I know I had an interview with Robert Forster recently. Too much? Sorry, I don’t understand the point.
G Stands For Go-Betweens vol 1
Can we have a few minutes first of all to talk about beauty? Not in this case (or at least not immediately) in the melodies of Brisbane’s Robert Forster and Grant McLennan, or in the elegance of their best lyrics, or even the fabulous red dress which Forster wore on one tour in the 1980s to the astonishment and delight of many of us.
Elegance and grace were as much a part of the Go-Betweens’ appeal as their wit or angularity or simplicity, from the elevated teenagehood of early singles Lee Remick and People Say (“people say I’m mad to want you”), through the shadows of doubt and regrets in Cattle And Cane and One Thing Can Hold Us (“We stand, tongue tied with our lies”), to the anything but hidden romanticism of Bachelor Kisses and Man O’Sand To Girl O’Sea, (“feel so sure of our love, I write a song about us breaking up”).
Nor do I have in mind talking about the seemingly fractured but actually constructed and essential patterns of both Lindy Morrison’s drums (just about all of their second album, Before Hollywood, is testimony to that) and her intellectual input into the hot-housed fervour of two boys from Brisbane who didn’t just dream of Paris and New York but already saw themselves there (“The fact that the Go-Betweens were pretentious was thrown at us early on,” Forster recently told me. “People looked at us in Brisbane with a cocked eye.”). There is never enough written about how important Morrison was to the Go-Betweens – she wasn’t their first person on drums, but she was the drummer who made them this band – and this won’t be enough to correct that imbalance.
And at least right now I am not looking to discuss the fluidity and style of both Robert Vickers’ suits and bass playing (though you can start at the all-over-wonderful Part Company while you wait) when he joined a band which had begun as two, coalesced ideally as three, achieved perfection it seemed at four and was to reach another peak as five in the last stages of what might be called the first half of their life as a band.
Attractive and, yes, often beautiful as all those things were in the Go-Betweens – as covered in this box set which takes us from their earliest recordings to their third album, Spring Hill Fair, or from 1978 to 1984 – there’s something that shouldn’t be ignored. And that is the beauty of this box set itself.
When you have already reissued albums several times – the 2002 reissue with extra discs of rarities and live tracks – you understand that even straight down the line suckers for box sets (like, well, me) come with certain expectations. In essence, if we fork out the not insubstantial bucks we want to feel special by holding something special.
Open this relatively plain green box, the quasi-medieval/pseudo-Elvish “G” on the front the only hint of elaboration (until you see the liquid psychedelia of the box cover’s inside), and past the full-size and pretty Lee Remick poster and a recreated, home-typed first GoBs press release, the large format booklet is already a winner.
Its front is a postcard image of a sliver of beach beneath a bushy clump of greenery, “Greetings From North Queensland”, the Brisbanite’s northern outpost from where were written a number of early songs and whose streets would fill later ones. Its interior is full of photos and posters, drawings, covers and scrawled lyrics, early writings such as McClennan’s review of Woody Allen’s Annie Hall and poetry, several essays from Australian, UK and American perspectives and detailed histories of their early recording and emotional moves in Brisbane, Sydney, Glasgow and London from Forster and others. You can immerse yourself.
Then there are the vinyl albums. The three originals, Send Me A Lullaby, Before Hollywood and Springhill Fair (establishing the unimportant but actually typically amusing/nerd-baiting career pattern of each album having a double l word) are reproduced perfectly, but now on thicker vinyl, their labels changed to Domino but their essence unchanged and undimmed. They are unashamedly attractive things to hold and sound very fine.
There’s also a fourth record of their first five singles and b-sides that even for those of us who had some of them is a genuine reward. Not just for its condensing of the work or for the chance to hear again the prickliness of Hammer The Hammer, the oh-so-New York aspirations of Karen and World Weary and the existential gloom of Your Turn, My Turn but also its hugely appealing ocean/sky/van Gogh-quoting cover art and label from a 1980 McClennan painting.
All this before you get to the four relatively plainly-packaged (but still fully detailed) CDs which offer 70 (!) additional songs of nascent, sometimes stumbling, sometimes compelling, writing and performing.
We could diverge into the way I Want To Be Today expands on its Jonathan Richman naivety (“Saturday’s in the sun, time off for everyone”) with something aligned to early Dire Straits and the live-in-82 Your Turn, My Turn has menace, much like A Peaceful Wreck, in a way they would soon move on from. Or how The Sound Of Rain (“I’m going to write a song where a murder happens,” Forster says in the liner notes about his plans for the song), pays its dues to the gentler end of Velvet Underground while already showing the Go-Betweens who emerge even more in the jauntily winning Emperor’s Courtesan. And note the rough Big Sleeping City’s significance as the first Forster/McClennan co-write while leaping quality to Circle You, a song whose febrile edge could and maybe should have been on their debut.
Or we could just say, there’s so many things quite delicious and delightful – quite beautiful really – about this box, these songs, this band.