Clocking in at nearly six hours, G Stands for Go-Betweens features newly remastered vinyl pressings of the Brisbane group's first three albums, a compilation of its first five singles and four CDs that gather no fewer than 70 rarities recorded between 1978 and 1984 (including demos, unreleased songs, B-sides, a pair of radio sessions and an energetic set recorded in April 1982 at Sydney's Mosman Hotel). This may be too much of a good thing for newcomers — some of the early demos and rehearsals sound a little rough — but dedicated fans will appreciate the exceptional quality of the remasters and the set's exhaustiveness. For them, the booklet alone may well be worth the box's hefty price tag: in addition to several excellent essays and a full discography, it includes a lengthy history of the band's early years by co-founder Robert Forster, a collection of the late Grant McLennan's poetry and plenty of rare memorabilia (handwritten lyrics, a photo of the group's first performance, a young McLennan's review of Annie Hall).
Musically, G Stands for Go-Betweens paints a picture of a group that suffered few growing pains: if debut seven-inch "Lee Remick" b/w "People Say" (which famously led to an invitation from Orange Juice's Edwyn Collins and Alan Horne to spend several months in Scotland) lacks the elegance and airy majesty of later singles, Forster and McLennan's biting lyrical touch and knack for killer pop hooks are already on full display. By the 1983 release of sophomore LP Before Hollywood, which shed much of Send Me A Lullaby's jagged edges and claustrophobia, the Go-Betweens had entered their classic period and the quality of their output would rarely sag: "Hammer the Hammer," "Cattle and Cane," "Five Words," "Part Company" and "Bachelor Kisses" (the latter three from 1984's Spring Hill Fair) all probably topped the charts in an alternate universe, and unreleased leftovers like "Emperor's Courtesan" or "Attraction" are nearly their equals.
While the Go-Betweens may not be as well known to music fans as the Cure, R.E.M. or the Smiths, this lovingly curated box makes a convincing case that they are more than deserving of being on any list of the greatest rock bands of the 1980s or any other decade. Baby photos seldom looked this good — and Volume 2 cannot come soon enough. (Domino)