The Go-Betweens, Oceans Apart

Elisabeth Vincentelli

By Elisabeth Vincentelli

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

The Go-Betweens 'reunion may not have made as much of a bang as, say, the Pixies', but since they got back together in 2000 after a decade-long hiatus, the Australian band has been pulling off an ever greater feat: It's been releasing noteworthy albums. The comeback CD, 2000's The Friends of Rachel Worth, recorded with members of Sleater-Kinney, was a pleasant surprise, and although 2003's Bright Yellow Bright Orange displayed an alarmingly dull side, Oceans Apart is accomplished enough to take its place along the Go-Betweens 'finest achievements of the '80s. Anchored by returning bassist Adele Pickvance and drummer Glenn Thompson, the Go-Betweens now sound supremely cohesive again.

On Oceans Apart, the core quartet is augmented by a horn section, giving the sound a subtle richness that harks back to the halcyon days of 1987's Tallulah and 1988's 16 Lovers Lane — perhaps not coincidentally, it's the first Go-Betweens album recorded in London since Tallulah and it's produced by Mark Wallis, who worked on 16 Lovers Lane. But arrangements can only take a band so far; what makes this album so great is that Robert Forster and Grant McLennan are back writing at peak level. Clearly distinct (you can always tell who wrote which song), they are also so complementary that none of their solo efforts has ever equalled their collaborations. Among McLennan highlights are the elegiac "Finding You" and the darker "Statue," while Forster shines on the bouncy "Born to a Family."

Exploring the past is a running theme of the album, one which the two songwriters channel each their own ways. Forster's "Darlinghurst Nights," for instance, reminisces about acquaintances and events in a positively giddy manner, while McLennan's melancholy "Boundary Rider," about his growing up on a Queensland cattle station, is like a short story that unfolds in less than three minutes. Few musicians — in any style — can reach so many grace notes with such frequency as these two.