16 Lovers Lane
Mushroom Records, 1988
REVIEW BY: Jedediah Pressgrove
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/11/2009
Grant McLennan, who grew up on a cattle ranch, wasn’t a musician when he met Robert Forster in 1978. But McLennan picked up the bass after some encouragement from Forster, and the two began recording songs within a few months.
Initially, Forster was the principle songwriter and vocalist. But when The Go-Betweens’ first official album, Send Me A Lullaby, came out in 1982, it was clear that McLennan was a songwriter and lead vocalist himself. The friends continued sharing these duties for five more albums in the 1980s (16 Lovers Lane was their final release of the decade). McLennan died about three years ago after recording three new Go-Betweens albums with Forster in the 2000s.
I tell this story because it’s one that often doesn’t leave indie-pop circles. In fact, The Go-Betweens are still news to me. I wouldn’t have picked up this album three months ago if not for a knowledgeable friend and a $2 price tag. My friend called them the Australian Smiths. I can hear that, but they also sound like another great Australian band, The Church.
The album begins with two of McLennan’s songs, “Love Goes On!” and “Quiet Heart.” The former is an energetic and fun track (as it should be with a damn exclamation point in the title), with multi-instrumentalist Amanda Brown -- the subject of many of these songs due to her relationship with McLennan -- providing lush violins. Interestingly, the song isn’t as fun once you digest the optimistic but twisted lyrics.
I’m not as impressed with “Quiet Hear:” “I can only say it when we’re apart / About this storm inside of me / And how I miss your quiet, quiet heart.” McLennan is definitely sincere, but “Quiet Heart” plods a bit too much instrumentally, the highlight being a harmonica solo by Forster. The track also calls into question the frequent comparison between The Smiths and The Go-Betweens. Morrissey’s sexuality is ambiguous, perhaps even nonexistent, whereas McLennan is more likely to be smitten and not as humorous as Morrissey.
Forster’s “Love Is A Sign” fares much better. The lyrics describe the interplay between love and disappointment, accentuated by Forster’s dark and strange voice and juxtaposed by Brown’s bright mandolin. I also enjoyed Forster’s weird impatience on “You Can’t Say No Forever:” “You can’t say no in December / As the trees line the drive / I know your family remembers me by your side.” The obsession just makes me laugh.
The themes of fleeting love and futile optimism continue to run throughout 16 Lovers Lane, but the second half has the strongest pop songs and keeps everything from becoming too bummed out: “Streets Of Your Town” (featuring great backing vocals from Brown), “Clouds” (definitely reminiscent of The Church), “Was There Anything I Could Do?” (the cool verse guitar riff owes a bit to Andy Summers of The Police), “I’m Allright” (no, he’s not alright), and “Dive For Your Memory” (this one seems to allude to suicide -- fun!).
A final suggestion: if you like pop music but don’t want to bury yourself in a hole, buy this album and don’t analyze the lyrics. Otherwise, prepare yourself for a jangly pop record that almost matches -- without savage drug abuse references -- the melancholy of Dirt by Alice In Chains. And yes, that comparison is absurd, but so is love, apparently.