Saturday, 17 September 2016

Grant and I by Robert Forster

"I woke the morning after his death with him telling me two things. The first was that I must put to paper everything that had happened to us, write our adventures down, which was the moment this book was born."
The book's title is slightly misleading. It's as much a Robert Forster autobiography than it is a Go-Betweens biography.

This bias, though, isn't born of vanity. Yes, Forster has never projected any lack of self-confidence (exhibit A: I Love Myself and I Always Have from last year's Songs To Play) but in this book we learn that "Grant was emotionally constrained and had to be approached respectfully."

Forster approaches Grant's life respectfully, and with great admiration for his talents. If you're familiar with Forster's music journalism, you'll know how he measures his subjects with a musician's respect and a fan's heart. He does the same with his songwriting partner.

Forster was in a relationship with McLennan for almost 30 years: "We created the most romantic thing two heterosexual men can, a pop group." He makes many acute insights and observations about McLennan as a person - his music, relationships with women and his family, his lifestyle - with a gently wise understanding that only his closest friend can.

Grant and I is a much better Go-Betweens biography than David Nichols' book. Nichols, perhaps as an Australian or an author in Australia without the means in a pre-internet age to properly explore the band's time in London, devotes much of his book to The Go-Betweens' very early years.

This shortcoming left a 5-year hole, 1982-7, in the biography. Grant and I covers these years - all years, in fact - with a critic's eye and an insider's perspective. No matter the tumult, Forster is a steady hand on the tiller.

Even so, Forster offers a much more intriguing historical view than Nichols' sociological leanings. You want to know what 1984 was like? It was a "sunglasses-after-dark kinda scene...A time when you didn't consider one consequence of your deeds, a time so unusual Dylan was making bad albums."

There's - predictably, thrillingly - no modesty in declaring any Go-Betweens songs classics. Equally, he's candid about the band's studio failures and why they never crossed over to the big time.

Grant and I is an incredibly easy, enjoyable read. This is largely down to Forster's spry prose which can sparkle with luminous wit. After breaking up with Lindy he realises that he's 29, at his physical peak and single in London: "rock'n'roll ambitions had me thin, and swivel-hipped dangerous."

All that remains is the casting for the biopic.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Chook Race - Around the House

Four years ago Chook Race announced themselves with Pop Song, where pop song meant scrawny garage, trebly jangle and tribal tub thumping. I was hooked.

Around the House has more conventional pop songs than last year's About Time album, where conventional means brighter tunes, more harmonies and slightly higher production values. It's a better album for all that.

There's very little polish because this is is still a Melbourne album. So Sun in Eyes is luminous slacker rock with a sharp eye for detail, like Scott & Charlene's Wedding. And Lost the Ghost is a relative of Dick Diver's Interstate Forever, compulsive longing compressed into a pop song.

Around the House is on the always reliable Tenth Court in Australia and the USA's Trouble In Mind, who have also scooped the mighty Dick Diver and Beef Jerk for the Australian wing of their roster. Great company for an undeniably great record.

The Tyde - Darren 4

You know how a new record can trigger a connection that makes you dig out an old record by a different band you haven't thought about in years? Well, the last thing I expected to remind me about The Tyde was a new record by The Tyde themselves.

But here we are, 10 years after Three's Co., and time has barely changed The Tyde's footprint which starts with Dylan's Positively 4th Street and ends with Felt's Poem of the River. These songs are - predictably, comfortingly, brilliantly - romantically introvert and hauntingly melancholic.

Like their contemporaries the Pernice Brothers, The Tyde pretty much do one thing. Sometimes they do that thing better than other times. Darren 4 is absolutely one of the better times. They're wise enough to know that if it ain't broke there's no point trying to mix it.

Friday, 26 August 2016

The Lilac Time - Astronauts

It was 25 years ago today that The Lilac Time released their best album. The world mostly didn't listen, but their press office thought they might so issued a press pack.

At least, my terrible filing system suggests they did, but some of the pages in this are from interviews years after, so I've mixed up pages from other albums somewhere. Some of this stuff must have been with a CD. Have you tried to keep A4 paper with CDs? It doesn't work.

Lilac Time devotees will enjoy these interviews, reviews and career overviews. Everyone will love this first interview for it speaks of kissing boys, punching record company execs, being in love and Nigel Kennedy ("I'd never record with him cos I'm better at playing the violin than him" - history would prove him wrong on at least one of these points).

A bonus mark to Stephen for saying he'd cover Stop That Girl by Subway Sect. Yes, I am still waiting for that.

"I got so depressed making this album [Astronauts] that I gave up before it was finished. I just stopped and split up the band. It came out six months later. Of course, this is the record everyone loves..."

Friday, 19 August 2016

Hockey Dad – Boronia

The exuberance! This is joyous powerpop like the Raspberries, The Go-Go’s and Teenage Fanclub in 1991. It’s a journey with the windows wound down and elbows in the breeze. It’s classic power chords, big bass lines and songs about girls, or more accurately the absence of them.

This is a very, very good album. I don’t know yet if it’s a classic – sometimes, like with recent records by Foley! and The Eversons, the bubblegum flavour wears off after a while. But Boronia sounds bigger than those albums.

It sounds fresh like The White Wires' WWIII and youthfully innocent like The Undertones’ Hypnotised. What’s that line from More Songs About Chocolate and Girls? “Relax and cancel all other engagements, it’s never too late to enjoy dumb entertainment.” Good advice. Stop what you’re doing and listen to Boronia.

The Cannanes - A Love Affair With Nature reissue

Which Cannanes album would you reissue if you had the chance? It shouldn’t really matter. None of them are perfect. They’re not meant to be. The Cannanes make imperfect pop. Sometimes – quite often, really – they play out of tune. And now you mention it the singing’s not always that great.

That’s the whole point. The Cannanes make scratchy pop music that jangles,  stumbles and threatens to fall apart any second. Like Beat Happening or The Pastels.

A Love Affair With Nature was recorded “at a secret location” in 1988. It sounds like that location was a garage or a basement or a bedroom. Maybe the band set up in all those rooms in the same shared house and set the tape running.

It’s experimental outsider art. When it works, nothing can touch it. This album works better than any other Cannanes album. It’s the one I’d reissue if I had the chance. Let’s not be too romantic here – sometimes The Cannanes’ experiments don’t work (the album before this, African Man’s Tomato, is pretty terrible).

But this album is an absolute gem. The reissue gives you an extra album of material. I only know the two singles, Cardboard and I Think The Weather’s Affected Your Brain, both ace. The other songs? No idea. You take your chances with The Cannanes. It’s usually worth it. That’s the real romance.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

The Hello Strangers

The Hello Strangers made one album, Goodbye, in 1987. It's a minor lost classic, trading on an intimate knowledge of Big Star and the Car label discography, with a side order of country melancholy, along similar lines to REM.

Its footnote in pop's annals is largely due to Miracle Legion's Mark Mulcahy playing drums, although it stands up just fine on its own. Don't take my word for it. Listen to Last Year's Wings

I mention this album for 3 reasons:

  • Miracle Legion are playing in London next Saturday (20 August) and I can't go. You should.
  • The Hello Strangers were originally Spike Priggen and Nicole Willis (yes, that Nicole Willis). This song from their debut gig is amazing.
  • Before Spike and Nicole were The Hello Strangers they were The Blue Period. Over to Spike:

The music was minimal pop influenced by Young Marble Giants/Weekend/early Everything But the Girl and Getz/Gilberto.The Blue Period turned into The Hello Strangers which initially was just Nicole and I, me playing guitar, both of us singing.Later we added Jean Caffeine (solo artist and former Pulsallama member) on drums and then Mark Mulcahy became the second drummer. I have a tape of the Blue Period rehearsing, recorded on my trusty old JVC box and will maybe put some files up at some point if there's any interest.
There is interest! If there's a 20-year reissue of Goodbye, pair it with The Blue Period recordings. Or even better release The Blue Period songs separately. I'm desperate to hear them.

Okay, Spike's site gives you all the details, including fascinating information about other great acts he's beeen involved in (Malcolm Ross, The Streams, The Caroline Know) and some great photographs