Album Review: 16 Lovers Lane by The Go-Betweens (1988) (Mushroom Records)

After this album the main line up of The Go-Betweens split up. The band would reform 12 years later in the early 2000s but at this point the band was really just held together by the allure of the Forster / McLlennan song-craft as opposed to the inimitable cohesive and strangely intimate atmosphere that the original line-up exuded as a definitive band.

However, with this album they split at the height of their brilliance rather than when their star was beginning to fade. This album is undoubtedly their best, probably due to the completely antagonistic emotional contexts that were affecting both the song writing of Forster and McLennan and provides the album with a paradoxical portrayal of the polar opposites of the love spectrum.

Image result for images of the go-betweens

Forster was always the more morose of the two from a song writing perspective and although the credits display both names from a writing perspective it is easy to deduce his primary influence considering the emotional context of his break up with band member / drummer Lindy Morrison.  As such we see a track such as the true stand out of the album, Love Goes On (see below) lament the sleepless nights induced by the emotional trauma and loneliness of lost love that we can all relate with to some extent:

Late at night with the lights down low
The candle burns to the end
I know a thing about darkness
Darkness ain't my friend
Love goes on anyway!
Love goes on anyway!
The simplistic and repeated chorus line highlighting in a typically succinct The Goes-Betweens manner the angst involved in not being able to avoid the pain that lingers on the mind.

Love Goes On!
Similarly Streets of Our Town addresses the strange way in which people deal with lost love. t portrays the often expressed need to mourn a departed lover by being near them by association. In the same way that such grief may display itself with looking at old pictures, sniffing a T-shirt of an ex-lover or listening to ‘your song’, (yes this old fool had a heart once and I am sure most reading this did/do too!?) this feeling is portrayed by the more physical associations of lyrics such as:

I ride your river under the bridge
I take your boat out to the reach
Cos I love that engine roar
but I still don't know what I'm here for.
…As the final line so adroitly emphasizes. We do not know why we do such seemingly pointless things as it certainly never provided any real benefits other than the need to get self-wallowing out of the system. This track pinpoints such absurdity superbly.

The second part of the paradox within the album comes from the altogether different emotional context of the start of Grant McLennan relationship with the violinist in the band (whatever the mystery surrounding this band was, we can say with absolute certainty that there was definitely no prohibition upon relationships within the workplace!) Amanda Brown.

In my opinion this is where the best (presumably McLennan) song writing on the album is found. If I had one iota of talent towards lyricism my tendency might have been to have penned the sort of ornamented declaratory prose of ever-lasting love that explains the
sheer joy and excitement at the start of a relationship. That intense need.

However, that genuinely is not the style of The Go-betweens, whose preference was to deal with the other, more painful side of the insecurities of new relationship feelings, rather than all the ‘slush and gush’ that so much pop music throws at us in the form of boy bands with nice haircuts and bad boy Tattoos of Popeye along with anyone who owns an acoustuc guitar.

As such a track like The Devil’s Eye (see below) deals with the very real emotion of early relationship ‘yearning’. For the middle aged among us, perhaps now married for many years with physical proof of your fertility running around the recesses of your house and wallet…think back to the early days of your relationship and how you hated the insecurities of being away from your loved one. The lyrics below summate such pain with the typical perfection of this band.

I don't wanna let you out of my sight
don't wanna let you onto your flight.
The fortune teller might have been right
The bad old world can turn your hair white.

Devil's Eye

Similarly the idealistic portrayal of the ‘new love’ being perfection and the strange muted pain and fear of absolute resignation to being totally in love, is covered in a track such as Love Is A Sign:

Wave after wave
Our tension and our tenderness.
Wave after wave
Our tension and our tenderness.
Green and violet blue
No matter what you say no matter what
you do
I want to be the one and
Love is a Sign.
The final line is the most telling. It is as if it details that the very concept of being in love means that everything is forgiven. The tension is expected, almost craved for as it is part of the process of being in love and being in love is the ultimate human goal (the ‘Sign’). I may be completely incorrect in my summation, however it is the way that the lyrics invoite self interpretation that s another beauty of their song-craft.

Of course, just like any other album from this band, especially in their first phase, the swirling, jangle-pop that meets the atmospheric needs of fans of The Triffids and the indie-pop laconic / C86 needs of fans of bands like The Pastels, is still just as dominant.

However, somehow the music just seems to fit the emotional context of the inter-band relationships in the most inadvertent and perfect manner and provides a superb illustration of both total emotional fracture and pre-emotional fracture that has never been replicated in the genre thereafter.

An absolute classic.

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