- 04 May 01
“I’ll bet it sounds like Simon and Garfunkel meets The Smiths,” sneered a friend as I headed deckwards with the cheap looking monochrome sleeve tucked safely under my arm.
“I’ll bet it sounds like Simon and Garfunkel meets The Smiths,” sneered a friend as I headed deckwards with the cheap looking monochrome sleeve tucked safely under my arm. No way pal Liberty Belle And The Black Diamond Express, the fourth album from the Go-Betweens is the densest, most challenging and most rewarding work they’ve yet produced.
Given the Jonah-like jinx which surrounds the band’s business dealings – they’ve gone through seven companies, in as many years – it wouldn’t have come as any great surprise were they to have gone for the soft option. A great disappointment to be sure, but even Australians like to eat, albeit, occasionally. Happily, Liberty Belle… sees The Go-Betweens curbing their early tendency towards more obtuse song structures, instead opting for a series of three- to four-minute sketches which offer little more than a nod in the direction of current trends yet, for the most part, remains gloriously commercial.
That the band’s writing team of Grant McLennan and Robert Forster are romantics is never in doubt but with “romantics” of all descriptions crawling from every conceivable crevice in the rock edifice it might be a useful exercise to try to pin them down – in so far as they’ll allow that. Their penchant for short story style scenarios places them roughly in Lloyd Cole territory while the surgical precision of their open heart love songs drags them back to the right of Morrissey’s cataloguing of the traumas and tribulations of the Single Man yet still leaving them to the left of Paddy MacAloon’s more florid confections. So where does that leave The Go-Betweens? On the evidence of Liberty Belle… the answer is firmly on their own turf. ‘Spring Rain’ occupies pole position on the album and serves a not dissimilar function as tone-setter to that of the great ‘Bachelor Kisses’ on ’84’s Springhall Fair. Better get used to those acoustics, folks! ‘The Ghost And The Black Hat’ oddly placed accordion riff immediately throws you off balance while lyrically recalling the early ’70s Australian cinematic qualities of Before Hollywood’s classic ‘Cattle And Cane’.
The first side’s standout ‘To Reach Me’ opens with “Never thought I’d ever hear from you/My slapped face has healed/So has the misunderstanding” before evolving into one of the most articulate yet emotive songs in the grand ‘Baby please come home’ tradition.
The album’s second side is no less impressive on the lyrical front but gets my preference over the other side due to its immaculate presentation of a bouquet of carefully nurtured and captivating melodies. Unfortunately in the absence of 12 inch remix-ability or HipGoHopNRG club hit potential there’s very little change of ‘In The Core Of A Flame’ or ‘Head Full Of Steam’ ever reaching the audience they so richly deserve. What the hell, if the dancefloor is to be one of the main criteria for success then I’ll gladly remain an unrepentant wallflower to the end of my days.
With Liberty Belle… The Go-Betweens have provided proof that eloquence and emotion are not mutually exclusive. It’s an achievement which their previous work barely hinted at and, as such, stands alongside King Of America as an example of modern songwriting at its very best. In fact, were you to twist my arm far enough up my back I’d even suggest that it’ll be a toss-up between this one and Elvis, sorry Declan’s! platter for the major kudos at the end of the year.
Call in the air!