Beggars Banquet / RCA Records, 1987
REVIEW BY: Alison Bellach
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/04/1998
My roommate is obsessed with what I call "Bedtime Rock." That is, she obsessively listens to Enya and Enigma while studying yet manages to stay awake and actually get things done in the process. Any type of rock that slows your heartbeat to that of a hibernating bear draws her in; thus, it was no shock to me that when I popped this album in the CD player, she reacted much like she does when forced to listen to Dream Theater - she ran out of the room hollering "Ewww!"
I feel that Tallulah doesn't fly with her due to its pure and unadulterated rawness. Much like Paul Westerberg, singer Robert Forster doesn't mind rubbing your ears raw with his vocal style and somewhat repetitive lyrics. Of course, this repetition is something that makes pop songs work, and The Go-Betweens almost deliver the perfect "Make me famous!" formula throughout the album -- verse, chorus, verse, middle 8, chorus.... etc., etc., dull, dull, dull.
This standard song construction isn't something that necessarily bugs me, though. When it comes down to it, what I want to hear is a nice hook, some cool and intelligent lyrics, and a great musical composition. This album is pretty smart in all of the above ways. Unfortunately, many of the moments of genius on this album are quickly slapped down due to the intense mediocrity of the songs that follow. The catchy "Right Here", which is cutesy at it's core yet enjoyable in that two-minute pop song fashion, is countered by the entirely too weird and out of place "The House That Jack Kerouac Built". The pure lyrical genius of "Bye Bye Pride" is forgotten once listening to the lame lyrics of "You Tell Me". I don't like listening to stupid end-rhymes, and while the great songs are completely and magically void of them, songs like "You Tel Me" wallow in them! Example:
"Tallulah took a shower for an hour, [ed: bad and cheesy rhyme]
Then she walked down the street feeling beautiful and clean" [ed: what the hell is this?!]
I want to fly over to the UK and drag writer Forster and his cohort, Grant McLennan, out to a high school poetry class to teach them the evil of cliches and rhymes like this.
The odd thing about these less-than-wonderful songs, though, is the fact that they grow on you. Even though I hated the "Jack Kerouac" song initially, I found that I was oddly drawn to the darkness and eeriness that marked the song. What didn't make for great radio play actually somewhat accurately reflected the historical circumstances around Kerouac's life. It speaks of the extreme loneliness Kerouac felt, and even ends with the line "You're on the road." (You know, like the book.)
"Someone Else's Wife", which I thought was annoying due to the horrid lyrical content of the chorus, grew on me because I almost thought it was funny:
"Don't say you've got a home and new life;
I won't stand in your way 'cause you're someone else's wife."
NO, really! These lyrics say things that are overly obvious to the standard human being. I don't know a lot of people who are into annoying married women. (This could be due to my age, but oh well…) It seems hilarious to hear someone actually say this to another person - it is much like reading a love letter from an obsessed weirdo who is in denial. You can't help but think, "Ha ha ha! You are a loser!"
My favorite song on the album would have to be "Bye Bye Pride." When I originally heard the song, it was as a cover done by Del Amitri. I was so intrigued by it that I searched out the original artists, which led me to this album. Every part of the original is amazing - the use of the oboe, the harmonizing on the chorus, and most spectacularly, the lyrics. The imagery this song provides is amazing! Mostly, the song is about finding personal freedom in a world that tends to demoralize and trap people - it is one of those uplifting (but not "gospel-esque") songs one could listen to when they felt that the world was against them, yet is entirely devoid of cheesiness. An example:
"The white moon appears like a hole in the sky
The mangroves grow quiet
In la Brisa de la Palma
A teenage Rasputin takes the sting from a gin
'When a woman learns to walk she's not dependent anymore'
A line from a letter, May 24
And out on the bay the current is strong
A boat can go lost"
I think this is absolutely fabulous!
This album marked the addition of what I feel is one of the group's greatest assets - Amanda Brown, the violinist/oboe player. The two instruments fill out each song nicely, especially "Right Here", which was released as a single. Fans of the '80s are not going to be overly excited by this album, because while it has its catchy moments, it doesn't offer the pop excitement of songs from the same period, like "Take on Me" or "Rio." Somewhat like Prefab Sprout, the depth of the great tracks alienated the album from the popular market, and the mediocrity of the other songs destined the album to a short radio life.