Friday, September 12, 2008

Robert Forster -- The Evangelist (2008)

Robert Forster -- The Evangelist (Yep Roc)

Some bands become favorites -- you know every note off each album. If you put a fave band’s track on a mix CD, when it’s over, you’re brain expects the next song from that particular album. That’s real devotion.
Other bands you like maybe one album. Or a song.

Of course, it’s not always so clearly delineated. Take The Go-Betweens. I love some Go-Betweens music passionately. I played "Bachelor Kisses" to death when I was at my college radio station. A few years later, I was awestruck by the band’s seeming swan song, the classic 16 Lovers Lane.

You think that would have been enough to get me to go back and pick up all of the earlier Go-Betweens albums. Instead, I bought the compilation Capitol put out and never got serious enough to go further. This really makes no sense, since the comp introduced me to even more great songs. The mysteries of being a music fan...

Nevertheless, when Robert Forster and Grant McLennan reformed The Go-Betweens, I felt a duty to keep up with the band’s output. Maybe it was penance for not catching up with the old albums. The first comeback album was alright, but the next one was better. And then Oceans Apart reached a level equal to the best recordings of the original incarnation of the band.

Here it was, the year 2005, and The Go-Betweens still had it. And then Grant McLennan passed away at a relatively young age.

Albums should be evaluated on their merits. Outside factors shouldn’t count. But it’s hard not to listen to this new Forster solo album without thinking about what could have been. Three of the songs on this album build on bits started off by McLennan.

"It Ain’t Easy" is a upbeat shuffle, with Forster’s typically forthright and erudite vocals. It’s easy to get lost in the loping melody and catchy chorus -- the chorus written by McLennan. But the song is more than just a light throwaway. It’s a loving tribute to Grant. Forster puts it so simply -- "it was melody he loved most of all." With economical lyrics, Forster captures the big spirit of McLennan, his imagination, and how he was a great friend.

The other posthumous collaborations are not as personal, but are equally wonderful. On "Demon Days", Forster sounds tender and vulnerable. The music is quiet and elegant, with lovely string accompaniment on a song about lives that are bound to an uncertain and unwelcome fate. Forster moves to the other end of the spectrum on "Let Your Light In, Babe", a sunny folk strum about giving of yourself. It has a small town feel, as Forster talks about taking in a single mother and child into his farm home. That might not sound like much, and it isn’t. It doesn’t have to be. The song is so infectuous, as the joy of giving to another is all that Forster needs.

Forster melds a Velvet Underground inspired tune with more string accompaniment on the title cut. On this song, a man tries to take his woman to the woods, to live his simple life. She eventually brings him back to her suburban world. Although he thinks his lifestyle is the better one, he concludes "I believe baby/I believe in us." The song is the essence of simplicity, Forster’s vocals front and center. Forster’s lyrics aren’t so much cryptic as they are intentionally incomplete. He gives just enough details to outline his story. It tends to give the words he does use that much more power.

Fans of The Blue Aeroplanes would latch onto "Don’t Touch Anything". It sounds like a great lost song from one of that band’s late-‘80s albums. "If It Rains" is a gentle, philosophical album opener, with big acoustic guitar chords, mixing with some fine lead work. The way this song is structured, it would seem to require bombast. But the reserved treatment manages to give it more power. It’s more resolute.

Resolute is a good way to describe Forster. I don’t necessarily mean that he soldiers on without McLennan, because making music is what he was born to do. What I mean is that instead of self-pity or mawkishness, he continues to look at the human condition from such interesting perspectives, and sets them to music that does the Velvets, Dylan, and others, especially Grant, very, very proud.

1 comment:

Matt Berlyant said...

Great review Mike. If you don't have Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express, which is from 1986, then I recommend them heavily. Jetset reissued all of the '80s Go-Betweens albums as 2 disc sets (many of the bonus tracks on each are fantastic, too), so you might wanna get those. A good thing to do is start from 16 Lovers Lane (the best one) and go backwards to Send Me a Lullaby (their debut and by far the weakest of the '80s albums). There's also the '78-'79 "Lost Album" and the live "That Striped Sunlight Sound", which was their last release before Grant passed away, and those are worth your while as well.